emily p freeman

A Five Sense Check-In (Getty Edition)

About six months ago, I spent a Saturday at the Getty Museum.

After walking around the various exhibits on display, I sat out in the garden for a little while, and before I left I did a five senses check-in and wrote the details in my notebook.

I forgot about it for a little while, but recently found it and wanted to share. I love the way these check-ins can fully capture a moment. I remember everything about sitting there writing this, and it made me want to go back!

5 Things I See

1) The garden, made up of all kinds of colors. There are purples, oranges, and yellows. Flashes of red, hints of blue and never-ending variations of green.

2) People. There are families, couples, individuals, photographers, and friends.

3) Clothes. Alongside the smiling faces and posing people, I see so many unique outfits. Some are casual, comfortable, made for walking around the museum. Some are trendy, fashion forward, an expression of style and color much like the art you’d see inside. And others are bordering on fancy, as if they were going or coming from church. They dressed up for the occasion—for the art and the artists.

4) Levels of people and plants. The garden is set in three different levels, giving people a few paths to take around the garden. I’m on the second level, sitting on a bench, and people move both in front of me and behind me. Off in the distance is a big grassy hill where people walk or sit down, taking a break, and enjoying the outside, even if it’s a little chilly today.

5) The Getty. Beyond the garden and beyond the hill is the Getty itself. Tall and beautiful. It is relaxing to look at, and can be viewed as a background to the garden or an element of the foreground with the sky behind it.

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4 Things I Hear

1) Footsteps in the dirt path. Both slow scraping steps from tennis shoes or flats, and quick clicking steps from heels or wedges.

2) Mumbles of multiple conversations taking place around me. Most prominently “did I get it?” or, “do you want me to take another one?” in regards to the series of photographs being taken all around the garden.

3) The water from the fountain. It is a steady stream of water but it is not too loud or overpowering to the rest of the natural noise. It acts like background music, cutting through the silence but not in a distracting way.

4) Children laughing in the distance as they roll down the tall grassy hill. Their laughs echo off the building and travel across the water to me. They are having a good day.

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3 Things I Feel

1) The wood bench beneath me. It is hard but supportive. When a couple sits down next to me, a single plank pushes a little harder into my back. But they quickly decide to move on and the plank relaxes behind me.

2) Tickles of a plant beside me. When I move my head, the leaves casually brush against the back of my neck, flicking my pony tail, causing it to wobble.

3) A small breeze that, when combined with the cloudy sky that the sun can’t quite break through, can be cold. I’m glad I wore a jacket, but I have a bit of a chill! I think I might pick up ramen for dinner on my way home. (And I did!)

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2 Things I Smell

1&2) The flowers. It is amazing to me how their scents can combine and compete, but not in the way that candles and colognes would. They blend and compliment one another, waiting patiently to take their turn as you shift your head or walk around the garden. Each spot on the path has a different scent, and even that can change based on how close you stand to the flowers.

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1 Thing I Taste

1) Perhaps the briefest memory of the jolly rancher I had earlier. That reminds me—I’m hungry.


You can find more Five Sense Check-Ins here.

Finding Focus with Your Senses

With so much going on and so many reasons to both worry about the future and get lost thinking about the past, it is easy to lose sight of the present.

I know I have a tendency of focusing on the if/when’s of the future or the “if only’s” of the past, and at times I can think and worry about them until I spiral down to a point of near paralysis. As a result, I often look for ways to reconnect to the present moment, as it’s the only thing I have any control over.

Recently, on an episode of the podcast The Next Right Thing, host Emily P. Freeman shared an exercise geared to get you back into the present moment by focusing on the senses. She said, “senses bring us back to the present moment, reminding us what is rather than what we are afraid could be.”

The exercise asks you to notice and/or write down the following:

Five things you can see

Four things you can hear

Three things you can feel

Two things you can smell

One thing you can taste

As I write this blog in a low sitting chair on the beach, this is how I would go through the exercise:

Five things I can see

  1. The waves moving in and out
  2. A ship far off in the distance
  3. My brother’s sandy feet
  4. The freckles on my knees
  5. A feather stuck in the sand

Four things I can hear

  1. The ocean
  2. Kids playing and laughing
  3. An airplane overhead
  4. A seagull squawking

Three things I can feel

  1. A slight breeze
  2. The sand between my toes
  3. The heat of the late morning sun

Two things I can smell

  1. The ocean
  2. Fresh (non smoky) air

One thing I can taste

  1. The bagel I ate for breakfast

What I love about this exercise is that it can bring you into the present both to diffuse a stressful or anxious situation, or to magnify a good one. It can bring good things into focus so you can appreciate them and it can bring negative things into focus so you can move away from them. It can also act as a good distraction from intrusive or anxious thoughts, and give you something to do for a few minutes besides just breathe—which sometimes just doesn’t cut it.

This exercise can be a great go-to on anxious days, long trips to the DMV, stressful family gatherings, slow moving traffic, mornings when it’s hard to get out of bed, nights when it’s hard to fall asleep—really any time when your mind needs something to focus on…other than what it’s currently focusing on. Or, on good days, it can be used to focus and perhaps memorize the things around you that make this moment perfect so that you can remember it forever.