The Art of Sensation
“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”
I often wonder how we can have perspective on our own experience. I’ve heard that some people taste more than others. Some might have stronger basic tastes like salt and sweet. And others might have more nuance of aromas, like smoke, flowers and herbs…like a sommelier who can detect the subtle qualities of a wine.
I wonder, when I put a piece of chocolate in my mouth…how might it be different when you put the same piece of chocolate in your mouth? What is your experience?
At some point in our development we trended toward a baseline for our sensations. For some of us a lot of attention was drawn into watching our environment, so we became sensitive to very subtle shifts in some of what was going on around us. Some of us did not need to keep an eye on the environment and might have had more of our attention free to notice the sensations happening in our bodies, a light breeze on our arms, the particular smell of the first few days of spring.
As time goes along and we accumulate life experiences, and stay with the same patterns for longer periods of time (because we haven’t found a reason to change what’s worked so far) we build on our baseline sensations and assemble new baselines.
These baselines are built by our favorite activities, as well as by the things we never do or attempt to do. So they are all individual, but also cultural.
We develop skill and control in the activities we practice, and we lose the activities we don’t practice. This latter tendency is sometimes called sensory motor amnesia, which is the slipping away of sensations that we don’t value and don’t practice. It happens through disuse and also happens after an injury causes us to avoid using an area or a particular movement pattern.
We have nothing to compare our experience with, so when some sensation gradually shifts, whether it slips away or becomes amplified, we probably notice it as much as we notice our hair growing. Only once it’s starting to flop into our eyes does it occur to us that our hair has gotten long.
I’ll never know whether you see the same shade of green that I do, or taste the same smoky flavor in this chocolate bar. And I’ll never know what the sensation of stage fright feels like in your body, or the healthy feeling of strength in your legs as you hike up a mountain.
If we gradually lose the ability to feel, we will have nothing to compare it with. And if we never cultivate that ability to begin with, we won’t know what’s possible.
We can never know whether the amount of sensation we experience is “normal”, and it really doesn’t matter. “Normal” is just a comforting comparison with our peers, but it doesn’t tell us about what’s optimal or desirable.
So, it’s a bit of a question…what sensation is optimal or desirable when we have nothing to compare it too? Not only how much sensation but, what qualities are we looking for? We will have to decide for ourselves, based on the explorations we undertake ourselves, because no one else can tell us.