Sunday, 18 March 2018


Last Saturday morning, I caught one of my sons gazing glumly into his bowl of cereal. The cereal in question was one of those brands you can get which are a bit chocolatey but low in sugar. When I asked him what the matter was, he told me it didn’t taste of anything. That’s because you’re used to having more sugar in your cereal, I told him, so you’re not used to tasting anything but sugar. At that point I had a sudden flashback to when I was a boy, to times when I used to spoon such a thick layer of white sugar onto my Weetabix that you could have measured it with a ruler. So what I ended upwith was the texture of Weetabix with the taste of sugar. It was only when I was heading into adulthood that I actually discovered what Weetabix tasted like when not slathered in the white stuff. The same thing happened when I gave up sugar in my tea and coffee; the initial experience was really weird, but I soon got used to the distinctive and subtle differences in flavour between different types of coffee and tea.

This really got me thinking. Not only are most people in the modern age overexposed to sugar and other strong flavours to the point that we can often barely taste the food in front of us, but the same thing applies to varying degrees to all our other senses. You can’t go into a shop without being bombarded by Muzak, for instance, even in the loos! I don’t know about you, but I personally have no desire to listen to generic pop music while doing my business! We’re also bombarded by adverts of various kinds demanding our attention - the genius of the advertising industry lies in its ability to constantly draw us out of ourselves into a world of want. And then of course, we stick on the TV or the radio or get involved in the seductive world of social media on our mobile devices, and before we know it, we’ve lost all relationship with what’s actually going on, with our own inner life and experience.

And then I recalled another experience which resounds down the years as clear as the moment it happened. I was on retreat once, when somebody put a cup down on a work surface in the kitchen. I’ve no idea how many countless times I’ve heard cups going down on work surfaces, but this noise struck me for its exceptional purity, like the striking of a beautiful bell. The reason was that I’d been meditating a lot and was enjoying states of unusual mental and emotional clarity, free of the usual distractions of modern life. This enabled me to enjoy and relish even the simplest of sense experiences. And the experience resonated so strongly with me that I’ve never forgotten it, even a quarter of a century later.

These days I like to take time out to do nothing, to throw down my mobile and switch off the TV, to experience the simple messages of my senses in all their subtlety and shades of beauty. I’m not saying I do this very often, but when I do, I feel at my most relaxed and alive. There really is so much richness in even the little experiences conveyed by our senses. So my advice would be to do the same, at least every now and again. Turn off the box, turn off your phone, turn off your computer and give yourself the chance to enjoy the beauty of even the most ordinary and mundane of experiences. You’ll experience a richness that you would never otherwise have thought to look for.