Sense & Savor
Enriching Our Everyday Lives
By Jesse Wolf Hardin



I pull the mail out of its post office box and eagerly sort through it in hopes of a check. An intense wind had smashed one of our solar panels, essential for our communication with students and publications like this one. Finding nothing, I put another week’s groceries on the local store bill, hopped into our lifted truck and headed back to the Animá Center.

For as long as I have counseled and taught, I have never charged for any of our services. The shamanic and women’s events, the retreats and correspondence courses are all offered as a gift, with the main requirements being the participant’s openness and willingness to apply what is shared for their own betterment and fulfillment.

There is a suggested donation, since we have absolutely no other source of support for either the restoration and maintenance of the wilderness sanctuary or the passing on of the insights that arise from it. We have some folks come who can offer very little money but are moved by their experience here to come up with what they can, offer craft or work trades, or send us as little as ten dollars a month following their departure.

On the other hand, we have people who give more than the amount suggested for their quests or retreats, or who sign up as supporters providing seasonal tithing because they appreciate this way of exchange as well as the spirit and substance of this work. The reason we do it this way is to ensure that our driving motivation is always to share and assist, rather than profit on what is in many ways a magical and spiritual calling.

While we may wish we could afford quicker vehicle repairs or proper medical insurance, we never think of ourselves as poor. We are endowed with an enchanted home and valuable purpose, never lack for the most wonderful gathered or purchased foods, and have managed to trade for lush ethnic clothes from around the globe.

But there is another dimension of our wealth, that does not require a riverside retreat center like this one, comparable home-cooked feasts or stuffed closet. It is available to anyone with eyes open to see it, sensitized fingers eager to touch, a tongue easily teased, a mind to pay it attention and heart available to appreciate. Everything that is and happens is some form of gift or treasure, to the fully aware. One prospers when they intently sense, and savor.

I get out of our truck and walk towards the house, feeling sorely short of a panel, and yet anything but poor. The uninterrupted beating of my heart feels like a blessing, never to be taken for granted. The crisp pine-scented air I drew into my lungs. The sight of brilliant New Mexico flora, alongside a monument of green-draped purple mountains. The sensuous heat of El Sol on my back, the song of the river self-ladled over mossy rocks, the voice of our young Rhiannon as she welcomes me home.

I realize that all of life — its text and texture, challenges and rewards — is an enriching experience... whenever we fully notice and engage, permeate and participate. We are each surrounded by and move through a wealth of information, experience, magical connections and consummate beauty. And it is thus that scratchings and splashings on canvas become something more than inscrutable or irrelevant variations in form and color, lifted by our eyes and hearts to the level of art.

When we are fully noticing, wholly sensing this world of which we are a part, nothing proves insignificant and it is impossible to be bored. There is no inconsequential background upon which stage exceptional occurrences stir, for everything we see, smell, hear, taste, touch and intuit — everything we feel — stands out and speaks to us with meaning and relevance, communicates something of the entire universe in its own language of being, and with its own characteristic elegance.

As such, our lives are enriched by the sights we take in, find beauty, soul, lesson or message within. And by trials that make us smarter or stronger. By the panoply of smells, before we take a single bite from our plates. By the diamond sparkle of visible stars, the royal blue of a night sky, the droning chants escaping through the walls of a neighborhood Buddhist stupa and squeals of children in the playground we walk past.

By flitting hummingbird jewels, the amber of the dawn and the gold of the sun. By even second-hand clothes, when we take note of their style and pay attention to their warmth, look closely at the patterns the woven threads make, find pleasure in the colors they are dyed, and envision the hands that ran those machines that provided what we wear.
The wealthiest person is but a pauper, who is too preoccupied to focus on the flavor and aroma of their gourmet food. The lives of everyone, including those who can afford little in the cupboards to cook, are affluent when they intently taste and enjoy their meals.

Being rich is not the end of wanting, it is valuing what we encounter and paying attention to and deeply enjoying what we have. A rich life hinges not on “dollars and cents” so much as “coming to our senses”. It can be measured by the extent of our delight, how much we learn from or are inspired by awesome reality, how greatly our emotions are aroused and our bodies excited and sated, how fed our spirits and inspired our responses, and how deep our resulting satisfaction and contentment.

Subsumed by worry over our income, expenditures, or future security, the opulence and sumptuousness of everyday reality is easier lost to us. When we trust we will get what we need, we are better nourished and informed by what already is, and therefore better able to give.

Awareness and sensitivity are not just the province of the Shaman or Medicine Woman, the Master or Adept. It is our birthright, as well as evolved capacity to “feel” through the complex symbiosis of emotion and instinct we call the heart, the perceptive mind, the “five senses” and those unmeasured faculties such as intuition and precognition that scientists call the “sixth sense”. Those capacities labeled “extrasensory” are in actuality intrasensory and ultrasensory.

We become more spiritual through intentional resensitizing, not the transcendence of our physical senses. We can never wholly understand life through analysis or study, but only like a baby, humbly and appreciatively touching and tasting the world of which we are an integral physical part, launched bodily into the experience/knowledge of being and place: The eyes seeing every nuance of undressed life, sucking its hitchhiking molecules up through the passages of the anxious nose.

Reading the vibrations in the air as they play across the taut tissues of our eardrums. Trying like that baby to put the entire world into our mouths, constantly reaching out to handle it. In this way life “makes sense”, and our senses make the experience of life.

We are immediately rewarded for any “return to our senses”: The ears that willingly discern each element of discordant traffic are bestowed with the songs of the birds in every trimmed shrub. The nose trained to remain alert even in the presence of unpleasant fumes, has a field day in line at the bakery. The eyes that meet the eyes of the world, behold the magic of unveiled truth. The hands that reach out, are grasped in return.

Stepping into my cabin, I am afforded the scent of drying herbs and potted vines, ceremonial copal incense and a top note of jasmine and rose oil. Here is an open-door trove greater than the serial-numbered paper and shivering change of any vault. My eyes soak up the familiar but still arresting beauty of the ancient wooden masks and Native American weavings on the wall, and the painting of Merlin telling stories of enchantment and wonder to an eager cluster of children.

I take in the shine of the brass cupid candelabra and the waxy sheen where a red candle had dripped down his side, slide into an envelope of tribal sounds emanating from the solar powered stereo. I discern every instrument, sense the emotions of the musicians, and revel in the primal cadence. I stroke the fur on an ancient headdress, enjoy the touch of the old French-lace curtains as I slide them back from the windows, and thrill to the hugs I am given.

Truly, the human body is an ecstatic organ, an agent organ of Gaian bliss. The practice of its reinhabitation involves refamiliarizing ourselves with the feel and function of our flesh. And why deprive ourselves, why diminish the depth and richness of a single lived moment?  

It really is bountiful, this sensuous world we work, play and dance through, a glad explosion of hue and shape, story and possibility! To experience the true wealth of this life and world, we must first “come to our senses”. And in our coming to them, we prosper.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Animá earth-centered practice and the author of five books including “Gaia Eros” (New Page 2004). He and his partners offer online Animá correspondence courses, as well as host students and guests for retreats, counsel, vision quests, internships and events in their river canyon and ancient place of power... including Sensual Sacraments Weekend for women Sept. 22-24, The Medicine Woman Intensive Nov. 10-12, and the rescheduled Shaman Path Intensive Dec. 1st-3rd. Contact the Animá Wilderness Retreat Center & Women’s Sanctuary, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830. Please visit

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