Our morning circle was attended by a tiny grandmother acorn person who introduced us to our task of the day – to explore the forest using our many senses, just as the animals and insects do. She introduced us to our guide who feels his way over rough redwood duff and smooth leaves on his single slimy foot ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. Snailey the snail formed an intimate relationship with each child as they took turns carrying him along on the hunt. While he taught them to sense the forest as a mindful snail might, I’m sure that the children taught him a thing or two about new ways for him to explore his habitat as well!
Using our sharp eyes we each collected three different kinds of leaves and gathered them together to discuss differences and similarities and to group them in various ways: by texture, shape, size, and color. We were attracted to a magical place where meadow meets forest and were asked to lay on our bellies and examine the terrain as an insect might. While in a rush of excitement to run and climb in new territory, we were tasked with finding two types of ferns in the midst of waist-high plants. It was a challenge to stop to observe something before passing it by, but we did take this moment to notice smaller unassuming components of our surroundings. Hundreds of spider webs glistened with dew as we ran through Deer Meadow. We pondered why some grass stood tall and straight while other batches lay flat. We ran our fingertips along the bark of different trees; textures of soft thick redwood and rough tight oak made us wonder – why the differences?
An old wildly growing apple tree called to us to climb her and find snacks that the deer could not reach. We thanked her by returning our cores to the nearby ground to be decomposed in one way or another.
The next task involved simply listening. We paused for a minute or two and heard a woodpecker, a jay, rustling grass, our heartbeats, and an airplane; sounds that would likely be missed over the squeals and chatter that a group of enthusiastic children brings.
An old stump in the middle of the meadow, perfect for climbing on and hiding in, beckoned us over and asked us to listen to her with our hearts and collaborate on a story about how she came to be what and where she is today. Entranced by the forest, we entered and soon after were asked to investigate at least four different plants using our sense of smell. We tasted a couple of plants that we are familiar with from other adventures in our bioregion to find that they taste just the same as they do several miles away.
We stopped off to appreciate handy work of fort builders of the past and some felt inspired to build their own structures. Others got the acorn gathering bug…you know, when you start looking for something and your visual perceptions sharpen allowing to focus on exactly what you are looking for and then you just can’t stop collecting. My bet is that these two linked mechanisms are survival based and were honed by the necessity of gathering. It sure is fun to observe the magic of gathering and collecting with young folks! Speaking of finding things, we stumbled upon a gathering of tiny acorn people in a tree hollow that asked us each to select one to accompany us on our journey in the forest and back home. The sensory hunt ended with a game where the children were blind-folded and challenged to select matching items from a sack. We wondered whether “turning off” some of our senses allowed one particular sense to sharpen.
We cultivate awareness of many kinds through what we do and how we do it. As we continue to strengthen our relationships to one another and to our natural world we will take these lessons with us and remember to listen with all of our senses, for we want to remain open to what life, others, and our surroundings have to teach us. We might be greeted with a “hello” by the smell of a plant friend or notice the dance of an insect alerting us to pay attention to the big picture. By using our complete toolbox of senses, (smell, taste, vision, touch, balance, hearing, feeling with our hearts, and more), we can explore life with an openness and curiosity. We can form connections with our environment based on familiarity, sensory memories, vivid real life experiences, fondness, empathy and care.
This article offers an overview of the 12 senses (Not just 5!) as defined by Steiner.