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“Taste what you eat, and smell what you breathe.”  – Douglas Wood


Sounds like simple advice, right?  I thought so, too.  And then I started to really, REALLY practice the task put forth by Mr. Wood.  It is more challenging that I anticipated to stay present enough to truthfully say I taste what I eat and smell what I breathe all day long, for days at a time.  The events of the day have a knack for grabbing our attention and pulling it into whatever is shouting loudest.  So much of the time we eat, we breathe, we walk, we converse……..we tend to exist in a state of distraction.

There is a chipmunk that frequents the patio space between the woods and the outside my home office door.  Most days he darts across the patio, from behind the rock pile next to the house and stops abruptly to pick up a seed.  Looking around, he takes a few sniffs of the air.  Then he nibbles diligently with his tiny hands turning the seed to his liking and stores it away in his cheek to finish later.  This goes on for a few moments until he has a full cheek, and then he’s off to the rock pile again.  I would wager a guess that my resident chipmunk tastes all of the seeds he chews-in those moments there on the patio, eating is what he is doing, so eating is what matters to him.   Eating that seed gets the whole of his attention.  And those few seconds when he stops to sniff with his nose tuned into the breeze?  I bet he is breathing that air with his whole being, taking in the scent of the moment as it unfolds.

Wild creatures have a way of living in the present that we humans too often neglect to nurture.  Sure, a chipmunk doesn’t have bills to pay or papers to file or clients to meet like I do.  But he does have a body to sustain and a life to live.  Just like I do.

How can we be more like our wild neighbors and let our attention be in one place at a time?

When multi-tasking is threatening to splice my attention into little bits of distraction, I try to remember to do a few simple things.   When I can remember to do these simple things, I can honestly say that I am present in my moments and that I taste and smell and see and hear and feel with my whole being.

I go outside.

Even if it’s cold, cloudy, or raining.  There is something about connecting with the air of the world that exists outside of human- made walls that forces me to focus on the moment of “right now.”

I touch something wild, something that is earth or close to it.

Maybe it’s just a hand on the bark of a tree, or maybe it is bare feet in the dirt of the garden.  Maybe it’s slipping into the icy cold water of the lake on a sweltering day or maybe it’s laying in the midst of the prairie grass and wildflowers that punctuate the field next door.   Direct physical contact with nature is essential to wellbeing.  It grounds me to reality in a way that nothing else can.

I close my eyes.

When my eyes are closed, I am forced to rely on something other than sight.  I can tune into the vibrations of a Sandhill crane’s call as it flies overhead, or the feel of a sunbeam on my upturned face, or the taste of a rain drop that rolls off of my cheek in its journey toward the earth.  Relying on the other senses plants me directly in the center of presence.


When I do these three simple things, I come back to earth in a way that honors each moment as it happens.  I can truly taste what I eat and I can smell what I breathe.   I can see with the eyes of a wild creature and remember that my body, my community and my environment are best served when my attention is in one place at a time.

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr is the author of 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life (due out in January 2021) as well as four other works of non-fiction. A commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet provides the foundation for her work. She lives in Minnesota with her family where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. Despite working for an app-based tech start up, she plans to put off getting a smartphone as long as possible. Learn more about her work at