Woman in Field smelling flowers


What are your senses telling you right now?

You are probably already aware of what you are seeing, and possibly hearing.

How about your other senses—do they keep a place in your consciousness, or do they rise to the surface only when they come by something really good or really bad?

Our senses are our inputs from the physical world, but they can also influence our inner lives in ways we might not even realize.

When I’m in a natural place, such as the woods or a marsh, the inputs I get from my senses drive my emotions and set the tone for my frame of mind. Those experiences always create a space of contemplation and introspection for me, which can influence my inner life moving forward.

Our senses and our emotions are inexorably intertwined. The smell of honeysuckle in the summer inevitably brings back memories of running around outside as a kid. A certain perfume smell can bring back emotions as strong as if I was in the presence of the woman wearing it.

Other emotions can arise with familiar smells: snow, autumn, saltwater—each of these smells summon specific associations in my mind.

Every year, the taste of eggnog brings back a whole host of memories and feelings. Hearing certain songs always gives me goosebumps. The sound of waves crashing has an undeniable association for me—it gets my heart racing and my adrenaline pumping.

But how much attention do we pay to our senses? How much of the information that we get from our senses makes it into our conscious thought? When I meditate, part of my process is becoming totally mindful of my senses (except sight, since my eyes are closed). I love to meditate in a little Zen garden I made in my back yard. When I’m there, I can hear all of the sounds of suburban life happening around me; I can hear the animals going about their day, and I can hear the weather (whatever it’s giving me that day). I can smell the flowers and the decomposition of the leaves. I can feel the wind, or the humidity, or the fog, or the drizzle. I don’t fixate on any particular sense, but only acknowledge them and let them drift by (like thoughts).

There are also activities which involve all five of the senses, such as sex and swimming in the ocean. So many people go through the motions while they engage in these activities that they miss the subtleties. The next time you’re engaged in one of these activities (choose your favorite!), take the time to notice each of your senses, and what it adds to the experience. Don’t just pay attention to the usual suspects—pay attention to all five. You might find different approaches and different ways of thinking about them. You might find something you’ve been doing for years seems like a brand new activity, and one that can stay new through the input of different senses. Be patient, be mindful, and fully experience the activity. It (whatever it is) will be way more enjoyable.

Being mindful of your senses is a significant part of being mindful overall. Whatever you’re doing, your senses are giving you feedback—letting you know how it’s going and giving you the results of your efforts. If we only give a glance at what we’re doing, we’ll never be completely mindful. If we give our full attention to all of our senses, we will experience anything we do much more fully and more deeply.

Our senses are the tools with which we interact with the world. They constantly provide a wealth of highly nuanced information. If we can fully incorporate that information into our consciousness, we will lead a much richer and more vivid life.

What are your senses telling you right now?

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