Note to Self…
Every day, we surf a tidal wave of stimulation—of noise and imagery, fast travel and global communication. This constant stimulation dramatically increases stress levels and deadens sensation. It’s as though you rubbed the same patch of skin on your arm over and over: First, it would stop feeling good, then it would stop feeling at all.
In the same way that New York City would be unthinkable without the sprawling green sanctuary of Central Park at its heart, life in modern society would be impossible to bear without a connection to nature, to quiet, and to subtlety.
To practice sensing, you meditate on the process of your senses. That is, you mindfully tune into the experience of your senses. Think back to the first time you experienced some particularly wonderful sensation. It could be your first kiss, your first snowfall, or the first time you smelled your baby’s skin. Those “firsts” remain vivid because their newness held you, kept you present, during the experience.
Sensory awareness meditation is our means of re-creating that first-time freshness.
Barring some abnormality, all of us have sensory organs that are working all the time. The question is whether we’re having a rich sensory experience, or only a superficial one. A rich sensory experience demands two things: slowing down and mindful awareness.
Try this two-step to engage in mindful sensory awareness and reduce stress…
Step 1. Slowing Down
Things naturally become more sensual if you slow them down. The simple act of washing your hands can be anything from a perfunctory splash-and-rinse to a luxurious ritual, depending on how fast or slow you do it. This is because, for an act to become sensual, you literally need to allow time for the processing of sensations. Take something as automatic as picking up a pencil to write. Do it slowly, giving your senses time to explore its color, weight, temperature, and texture—and this simple act becomes fascinating.
When I began exploring sensual dance movements, my body quickly taught me the connection between slowness and sensuality. I found that slowing the tempo gave my body a chance to “feel” into the move—that is, to really sink into it physically and emotionally.
Step 2. Mindful Awareness
Once you’ve slowed down, you’re not only open to sensation; unfortunately, you’re also open to distractions. All sorts of random thoughts and anxieties can flood in to fill the time: This is silly. I feel stupid. What’s for dinner? That’s why sensory awareness also requires mindfulness.
You have to give that time over to your senses. This means keeping your awareness focused. Move at the body’s own pace and rhythm, and allow your senses to engage for as long as they are intrigued. If you do this, it’s likely that your senses will draw you deeper and deeper into the discovery of savory minutiae.
Exercise: Mindful Moments
As you go through your day, occasionally choose a task and carry it out in a slower, more deliberate, and receptive state. Do this with tasks that are normally unconscious: putting on socks and shoes, using your door key, washing your hands. See how it feels to perform these tasks at an extremely slow speed; spend half a minute picking up your coffee cup and taking a sip, and so on. It may feel very strange—as though you’re drugged or sleepwalking. Notice how easy it is to become distracted by outside thoughts, and how tough it is to maintain your concentration on the sensory experience. As you notice your mind wandering, direct it back to your sensations.
The Benefits of Mindful Sensory Awareness
Although I’ve been talking about the process of consciously engaging your senses, that’s not to say the senses don’t engage unconsciously all the time—all of us are grabbed by things. We look up and gasp at a sunset, or melt into a back rub, or smell a pie baking. These are hard to miss.
But there’s a world of subtler sensation that often goes unnoticed. And it’s these subtleties that you’ll discover through mindful awareness—in the same way that you spot more stars as your eyes adjust to the darkness. In fact, even those high-voltage sensations—those sunsets and brass bands—become richer, more exciting, more nuanced, when you experience them consciously. That is, when you focus consciously on the physical thrill they’re causing.
If you don’t believe conscious attention and pleasure are connected, try kissing your partner while balancing on one foot. You might succeed, but it probably won’t be the best kiss you ever enjoyed. The more conscious, undivided attention we give to our senses, the richer the experience will be.
The benefits of conscious, mindful sensory awareness are:
➢ O ur senses become more acute.
➢ We gain more information about the world around us.
➢ We perceive more accurately.
➢ We learn to live in the moment.
➢ We experience more pleasure from the things we perceive.