Present Sense № 7
Welcome to Present Sense – a weekend curation for your seven senses with a recommendation to SEE, HEAR, SMELL, TASTE, TOUCH, BALANCE and ENVISION. Each week also includes an audio guided meditation.
This week’s edition is a bit early, ahead of the holidays.
Gratitude can often irk me. I blame social media for turning a wholesome practice into a performative act, equating it with a selfie in the Bahamas along with the hashtag #grateful. Living a decade in Los Angeles – where spirituality conflates with entertainment – only further amplifies my gratitude views.
Whenever a word is overused or misused, it can lose its meaning and power. So I’ve been weary of engaging with gratitude in recent years. I don’t want the candied-flavored, chemically colorful version – I rather taste the real thing.
So my inclination is to wait for gratitude to naturally arise, let it come as it pleases. But gratitude isn’t passive: it doesn’t just show up and swoop you – you have to go to it. The silver lining is that it can be picked up anytime, anywhere.
Searching for gratitude can feel particularly unrealistic right now. When I try to conjure it these days, it’s often accompanied with guilt. But gratitude shouldn’t be limited to moments when our life is running smoothly, and the world is in harmony (was there ever such a time?). It is most needed when the hour feels darkest and gloom is looming.
Gratitude isn’t just a feeling – it’s a powerful tool that can change our thought patterns. Our brain is wired to scan for threats; notice problems; and fixate on the negative. It’s part of our survival mechanism. As a result, our default mode is to constantly brace ourselves, become defensive, and closed off. Pile on top of that any personal trauma – and that pattern becomes multiplied tenfold.
Since the mind already has a PhD in negative thinking, it could use a little guidance when it comes to noticing the positive. That’s where gratitude comes in: as an exercise in awe, wonder, and connection. The loud sirens of danger will keep blasting their alarms, but there’s always another life melody being played. If we can’t find gratitude, it’s because we’re not paying close attention.
Gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of our lives (or the world), nor falling into toxic positivity. But it’s learning to make space for both – misery and beauty, pain and joy, despair and hope – to co-exist at once.
Just like meditation, gratitude takes practice. And similarly, its effects are exponential: the more we notice, the less we need to acquire, consume, and accumulate. We realize we often have more than enough – comfort, connection, creativity – in our lives. As Lynne Twist writes: “What you appreciate, appreciates.”
Today is the (lucky!) 7th edition of Present Sense – my weekend sensory recommendations and guided meditation. Typically, it’s for paid subscribers, but today I’m making it available to all. I’m genuinely grateful to each one of you, for your attention, time, and support.
PS: there will be no ‘Present Sense’ next week as I’ll be publishing my free monthly post – exploring a different creative-spiritual topic through the senses, every full moon.
‘Traveling Mercies’ | book by Anne Lamott
Available at indie bookstores and online
I tend to read Anne Lamott’s books in a single sitting, always accompanied with tears. Her writing is deeply honest, empathetic and beautiful. My first Lamott experience was ‘Hallelujah Anyway’, which still remains my favorite. I followed that by her classic ‘Bird by Bird’ which is an essential guide for writers.
I learned about ‘Traveling Mercies’ thanks towho recommended it in an interview with . Anne Lamott never disappoints and this book was no exception.
‘Thanks’ | poem by W.S Merwin
Fittingly, this poem was featured as the opening page of Anne Lamott’s book ‘Traveling Mercies.’ I found it both heartbreaking and heart-expanding – it beautifully epitomizes how to encompass life’s paradox, and remain grateful in the face of it all.
I grew up in a French Alpine town, where mulled wine is a local seasonal drink. It’s far from a traditional Thanksgiving beverage, but I actually think it beautifully compliments the holiday flavors. Granted it’s something you “taste,” but what I love most is its warm and spicy scent. Here’s the recipe I’ll be making this week:
1 navel orange
1 (750-milliliter) bottle red wine
1/4 cup brandy or cognac, divided
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
6 whole cloves
4 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
2 cardamom pods
optional garnishes: star anise, orange slide, cinnamon sticks
- Cut or peel a long strip of skin from the orange with a vegetable peeler, approximately 1 x 5 inches in size. Remove any white pith from the piece of zest. Cut 2-3 slices of orange.
- Combine the orange slices and peel with the wine, sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and cardamom, in a large saucepan over very low heat.
- Stir in the sugar to dissolve. Make sure the wine does NOT boil, or alcohol will evaporate and the flavor of the mulled wine will be affected.
- Keep the heat low and let the wine steep with the spices. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor. I like to steep it for 30-60 minutes.
- Once the wine is ready, strain it and let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- When serving, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of brandy to each mug and top with an orange slice, a star anise or a cinnamon stick.
Even though I’m (half) American, I mainly grew up in France so I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving until I moved back to New York for college. My very first Thanksgiving was in 2005 and I happened to spend it at Willie Randolph’s house with his lovely family. I didn’t know who he was and all the baseball paraphernalia didn’t tip me off either.
Thanksgiving obviously revolves so much around food. And amongst the many flavors, my ultimate favorite is cranberries. Every year, my partner makes his homemade cranberry sauce, but the real treat he serves is cranberry sherbet. It can be savored as a dessert or as a mouth cleanser (fancy!) between dishes. Here is his recipe:
1 x Bag Fresh Cranberries (8oz)
1 x Lemon (juice)
1 x Egg (egg white)
1 x Cup Sugar
1 x Cup Water
- Add the cranberries and cup of water to a sauce pan and boil until the berries pop and soften.
- Add the sugar and stir. Add less if you prefer a more tart sherbet.
- Mix in the juice of the lemon and force the sauce through a sieve to separate out the skins.
- Fold in a stiffly beaten egg white to the sauce mixture and freeze.
- Stir the mixture every 20 minutes for the first hour to mix the egg whites.
- Serve frozen
I’ve been trying to spend less time on my phone and be more present in real life. Lately that means leaving my phone off for a full 24 hours (either Saturday or Sunday). This week, I’m hoping to extend that to a couple days. Once I clear the screen distraction, I find that one of the most efficient ways to get out of my head is to get into my hands. Whether that’s choosing to read a book; writing with pen and paper; or spending time outdoors. Instead of scrolling this week, I invite you to spend a screen-less 24 hours and to get analog: play a board game, make some art, take a walk in nature – get in touch with yourself and others.
Guided Meditation: Gratitude
Intro/Outro music by
Gratitude can often feel like a public performance, when it’s actually an internal exercise to nourish our mind. It helps us become aware of the subtle moments of joy in our life, the small acts of kindness, and the infinite beauty in our environment.
Daily Gratitudes | Journaling
I tried this experiment a few years ago, which was my first attempt at a gratitude exercise.
Apparently, it takes 21 days for your mind to develop a new habit. So to train my mind to start noticing the positive, I wrote 3 gratitudes daily for 3 weeks. I’m doing it again starting this week, and this time I’m striving to keep up the practice until the end of 2023 (and hopefully beyond).
Gratitudes don’t need to be grand. In fact, in our daily lives it’s often the small moments that can bring joy. We can be thankful for the things we often take for granted: the air we breathe, the clean water we drink, a warm shower and meal. With a practice of gratitude, we start savoring all these wonders through our seven senses.