Life can be fast, moments and experiences happen without us consciously connecting with them as deeply as we could. By learning to live more mindfully, using our senses to connect with what surrounds us, we can enrich our experiences, build awareness and create inner calm.
It's easy to bring more mindfulness into your every day. Stop and pay attention to what's happening around you. what can you see, not just a general view, but what can you see in detail? What do you notice about the colours or the shapes? How do they interact with each other? Now close your eyes and do the same with sounds and smells. Lastly do the same with your mouth. Do you have any lingering tastes? It's all about really using our senses, provided to not only provide us with pleasure but to aid our well-being.
This sensory heightening is a form of meditation. It's not trance like, but it is creating for ourselves a space in which we can appreciate small things which become meaningful and take away the larger concerns of our lives, if only for that moment. Using our senses deliberately also means we are opening our brains to hearing signals. Those signals might be ones of discomfort, levels of fatigue or anxiety and in that way we can learn to respond. We may need to slow down, to rest, to breathe, to take a break and by understanding what our bodies and minds need we can increase our levels of well-being, productivity and reduce stress. Let's take the senses one by one to explore how we can improve our sensory connection. With all the exercise, breathe as slowly and calmly as you can. You're looking to connect with the process itself. Mindful sensory experiences should not be rushed!
Undoubtedly our eyes are complex structures, sending image information rapidly and intensely to our brains. We see, but do we really look? A group of trees might be green but how many greens do you see, what textures can you make out without touch, what shapes are the leaf formations, what shape do they form as they grow, what does the bark remind you of? Can your eyes imagine what the various parts of the trees might feel like? Down to a minute level, take any small object, it might be in a nature (a flower) or something on a desk or in a kitchen. How it is formed, what do you notice in terms of shape, finish, structure, detail. Can you ask you brain why and how?
The sense of smell is the most powerful when it comes to recollection of experiences. A passing scent of the perfume I wore as a young women still reminds me of the guy I was dating at the time. Closing your eyes can help you focus on smells. At first you don't think you smell anything and then gradually you can start to pick up scents and try to identify them. The more your practice this the better you become at it. Smells will come and go too, especially if you're outside, so it's a changing sensory experience. The smell of food is something we may also neglect. Before you eat (or drink) something, take a moment to close your eyes and smell it - the Italians do it all the time! How does it make you feel, what can you smell, what does it remind you of, how does the smell relate to the taste?
According to research conducted by The British Academy of Sound Therapy*, sound is a fundamental contributor to mental and physical well-being. We all know about the power of music to create mood, calm us or stimulate energy but everyday sounds are also hugely beneficial. Wherever you are try to focus on the sounds but on identifying them individually. Like smells, the sounds will come and go and this makes for a very interesting experience.
You can find some beautiful bird song and nature sound tracks from Artemis Swann on her Blinking Owl Media YouTube channel: Blinking Owl Media - YouTube
We've missed out on a lot of human touch during the restrictions of the pandemic. Shaking hands, touching others and those beneficial hugs have been banned and many of us have really missed it. Thankfully touch contact is returning to our lives help boost our sense of belonging and connection. Of course, touch also relates to objects and other living things and the same mindful touch approach as we apply to our other senses. It works well with nature, something tactile which looks interesting. It might be a piece of bark, a leaf, a field of wheat (the familiar Gladiator moment!). Instead of just touching it, really think about what you can feel through your fingertips. Try to develop your awareness around the sensations, how would you describe what it feels like, does it change as you move your hands and fingertips over the object? What's the temperature of the object, is that surprising, how does it make you feel when you touch it? How does holding it feel inside your hand, against your palm, does it weigh what you were expecting?
"Meditation will not carry you to another world, but it will reveal the most profound and awesome dimensions of the world in which you already live. Calmly contemplating these dimensions and bringing them into the service of compassion and kindness is the right way to make rapid gains in meditation as well as in life."
Zen Master Hsing Yun
Taste is a crucial sense to encourage us to eat to stay alive, it creates pleasure when we taste things we like, it generates well being when we taste a cold drink on a hot day or a warm bowl of soup in the midst of winter.
But all too often we eat but we don't really taste. Food is quickly taken in and swallowed but we are really missing out if we don't prolong the process of chewing. I often remind my clients that there are no taste receptors in the alimentary canal! We have five taste receptors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (“essence of deliciousness” in Japanese and relating to the taste of glutamate creating a savoury depth of flavour). These sensors are in different places on our mouths (upper surface of the tongue, soft palate, upper oesophagus, the cheek, and epiglottis) so food needs to hang around long enough for us to register all the tastes we are getting. The result is deeper and faster satisfaction, enriching the experience we get from food and helping us control the quantity of food consumed.
On my podcast there's a guided mindfulness exercise. LISTEN One ear bud in, one out and enjoy what you see, hear and feel (oh and if you can get outside and take your shoes and socks off....)