Music Appreciation, Wine Appreciation, Body Appreciation?
What do these three have in common? They are all about getting more out of sensation.
Heightened sensory awareness means that we become more alive and more immersed in all that the present moment offers.
In order to live well in a body it can help to appreciate, and intentionally explore, its capacity for sensation.
This can be particularly helpful in giving us greater discernment about which sensations are helpful and health promoting and which sensations aren’t.
For instance loud noises and bright, flashing lights could be considered fun, but if we could feel our body amongst all that sensory bombardment we might find that we’re having a stress response and very tense.
Maybe this is why the world seems to trend in the direction of faster, louder, harder, brighter, and spicier, saltier, sweeter. We all want to feel sensations. Sensations make us feel alive.
The trouble with a lot of intense sensory stimulation is that it makes it impossible to feel more subtle sensory information. After eating ranch flavored chips a fresh, sweet carrot can taste quite bland. But there is still a lot of delicate flavor in the carrot. In fact I would say that the fresh, crisp carrot wins hands-down for truly satisfying sensory stimulus, but it’s subtle. You might even have to close your eyes and direct your attention into the experience it offers.
Heightened sensory awareness doesn’t come from having more intense stimulus in our environment. It comes from developing our own capacity to feel, taste, listen and generally sense things. It isn’t just noticing our surroundings, it’s noticing how our surroundings interact with us, and how we respond.
We are alive.
In each moment we are responding to and being shaped by anything and everything that’s around us. This state of aliveness goes much deeper than our thinking, self-aware brains. It runs through our tissue and exists on levels that we’re not conscious of. We, our bodies, are aware of and influenced by our environment at less than conscious levels at all times.
For instance, if you were riding a roller coaster everything in your environment would be so intense that you would probably be completely unable to notice how you were feeling. But at the end of the ride you would see how you responded to your surroundings when you tried to pry your stiff and tense body out of the seat.
Driving on the interstate, while more ordinary, can also feel like this.
If you want to reach toward the greatest range of subtle sensations, you would start in stillness in a quiet room with your eyes closed. Like this you could direct your attention to the quieter sensations that you can feel inside your body. Then move on to the surface of your body and the space just around you, and then notice the environment, like smells, and sounds in the distance. This all takes some time. It’s not a single sitting sort of thing.
From here you could do two things. Still with your eyes closed, introduce a little movement someplace in your body and savor all the sensations of that movement with curiosity.
Or you could open your eyes, turn your head this way and that, and notice instances of a particular color.
Then you can take this practice out of the quiet room and onto the street so to speak, noticing the sensations of your body while in the midst of a conversation, or while sitting in the corner of a coffee shop. Or start to notice the sensations while engaged in more vigorous movement.
It’s important to stay curious, without analysis.
There’s already a tendency to spend more time trying to figure out our bodies, then there is listening to them, noticing them and feeling them.
Feeling our body is a way to spend more time becoming alive…but a lot of our sensations are as subtle as the flavors of the carrot.