ESC Observations

Buddha face by Helena Cuerva

Mindfulness … I’m sure you’ve heard about it. It is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Whether you know about it only through the news or you practice it daily, you can’t deny its popularity. It is a form of therapy that helps many people … and I’m one of them.

One of the things I like about mindfulness is its flexibility. You don’t have to follow strict directions, only have one kind of outcome, and be like everyone else. My thoughts, emotions, and experiences vary from day and benefit from being released from my mind. I need that energy release.

The main way I practice mindfulness is with what I call ESC observations (Elements Senses Colors). Elements are a combination of the classical and feng shui … fire, earth, metal, water, wood, and air. Senses are the traditional five plus one … sight, touch, thought, taste, smell, and sound. Colors are, well, colors … however many I feel like observing at the time (anywhere from 0 to the entire basic rainbow).

The following charts list some examples I use for observing the various elements, senses, and colors. It is by no means comprehensive, so if you think of something else that fits, add or move it to where it makes sense for you. You can also be as general or specific as you like.

I also try most of the time to keep things positive … so I don’t start spiraling down into negativity that’s difficult to come back from. However, I understand our need to address the dark side … they do have cookies after all. It is a good thing to not ignore the “negative” in our lives. If we keep pushing it down and ignoring it, it festers and grows into something ugly. Addressing it sooner rather than later diffuses that energy, helping to weaken it. I’m not saying that “looking at pretty things and appreciating all the wonderful things that our beautiful lives have to offer” once will solve all your problems for the rest of your life. (“It won’t?! Tsk!”) Oh, it can definitely help and occasionally you may get closer to that wonderful sense of euphoria. However, it won’t last … especially without effort on your part. It’s a marathon, maintenance kind of thing. It requires constant work. (“Ugh! I don’t wanna work!”) I don’t mean chained to the spot, drudgery kind of work, but something more than just do-it-once-and-you’re-set-for-the-rest-of-your-life kind of thing. I also don’t mean that you’re in trouble and all is lost if you don’t wake up before the birds every single morning, write exactly 50 positive-only words, and turn clockwise towards the west on even days. Hey, if that works for you, go for it! But know that whatever works for you is good! It can be only doing it once a week … if that. Start somewhere and just see where it takes you. Try not to get caught up in checking all the boxes.

OK, now for the examples.


Sun, bonfire, fireplace, candle, lightbulbs, lamps, electricity, lightning, salamander, dragon, phoenix, lava, Prince Zuko, heat
Ground, sand, gravel, rocks/stones, boulders, concrete, gems, ceramic, dirt/soil, gnome, snake, land mammals, glass?, fossils, monoliths, mountains, mines, Toph, massage, potatoes
Jewelry, coins, silverware, tools, weapons, armor, automotive, construction, brass & other metal wind instruments, cymbals, mines, Toph
Ocean, lake, river, spring, waterfalls, rain, snow, ice, shower, bath, soup, fish, water mammals, boating, Katara, drinks
Trees, plants, flowers, wood furniture, fabric, wool?, fur?, hair?, plastic?, xylophone, ATLB swamp people, veggies, fruits
Wind, breeze, breathing, whistle, singing, wind instruments, farts, burps, Aang, sneeze, cough


Light, color, shape, pattern, texture, movement
Temperature, discomforts/aches/pains, how something feels against your skin
Ideas, something “simple” that crosses your mind, something more “profound”
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, drink
Food, drink, herbs, flowers, dog shit (see, I told you it doesn’t HAVE to be pleasant), rain, snow, autumn
Music, ambient noises, birds, ac unit running, tv on in the background, neighbor’s leaf blower, thunder


Here is where I give myself a bit more leeway with what I choose to observe. I’d be doing this for the rest of my life I I had to observe every little nuance of color … there are many! *queue the Captain Smek quote* So, I usually just observe what I easily see. Sometimes I put in more effort to search for some colors, but won’t hurt myself to find something that’s not easily there. Oh, you can also think of your favorite examples if you don’t feel like just observing what’s around you. Think of answers to “When you think of [color], what comes to mind?” You can also think in categories, eg, food, Muppets, movie things, travel places, animals, etc. Keep in mind that you may be drawn to a particular color over others and have more observations for them. That’s just fine.

My purple fountain pen, Gonzo, grapes, Oh (Boov)
Sky, my shirt, Cookie Monster, smurfs
Foliage, avocado, Diamine Kelly Green ink, Shrek
Y18, mustard, canaries, Oz brick road, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, American school busses, Big Bird
Orange, Zoe
Apple, “Little Red Corvette”
Chocolate, brownies, poop (Ew, really? Hey, it is brown … usually)
Space, asphalt, coal, cast iron, my mobile phone, rhymes with Jack
Traditional western bride color, my coffee cup, song by The Cult
What Gandalf used to be before he “died” (sorry if that was a spoiler for you), my go-to writing ink color
Oooh shiny! (I see a bit of what Tomatoa is talking about)
Sage green
A shirt I got for my birthday
Black & White
Zebras, Dalmatians, yin yang, old-fashioned newspapers, old-fashioned tvs

Usually for my observations, I keep things close to in-the-now … keeping with the actual mindfulness thing. It ranges from what I’m seeing and hearing at that moment to what I felt or smelled that morning.

Occasionally I go beyond in-the-moment and think in longer-term … like a best-of list. That can span from what I experienced last week to reminiscing about my all-time favorites. Particular events (like festivals, vacations, and holidays) and spans of time (like month, season, year, generation, etc) are also great to work with. It’s like making a mental album/scrapbook/journal of sorts.

Many things I’ve come across can be considered a combination of things if I want to be more specific like that. For example, lava … that’s more a combo of fire and earth. Another combo observation is a windchime … it’s metal (usually), involves air (wind), and makes sound.

I don’t always get to journal about my ESC observations and sometimes I simply forget. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it … especially when I’m in a I-don’t-wanna-adult-today way. However, I have a quick, less-than-a-minute version that I can do mentally that helps when I still feel like doing something. It usually goes something like this …

FIRE—it’s sunny/daylight out; EARTH—the stones in my rings; METAL—my rings; WATER—the saliva in my mouth; WOOD—my hair or my clothes; AIR—*inhale & exhale*

If moved to, I’ll then continue with senses and maybe even color, but doing just these element observations gives me enough of a sense of accomplishment for being mindful.

I hope these mindful observations help you like they’ve helped me. Give it a try … I’d love to hear about it!

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