The Subtle & Life-Changing Power of Paying Attention
Subtle and life-changing. A strange combination, right?
If you give me 10 minutes, I'll show you how effective it can be.
Let's put it in context...
What's The Point Of Sensory Awareness?
The survival of any living organism depends on its ability to respond to sensory stimuli. Everything from an amoeba, to a plant, to a bird responds to stimuli (either external or internal):
- Amoebae use chemical cues to find food.
- Plants grow toward sources of light to maximize their exposure.
- Many birds tap into cues of day length, temperature, and the earth's magnetic field to organize the complexity of seasonal migration.
This sensory processing is the most fundamental form of cognition, and it's something that all life takes part in. Of course we humans engage in more complex forms of cognition, but the root of it is the same. It links us beautifully to the rest of the living world.
What's At Stake?
Unfortunately many of us grow disconnected from this moment-to-moment form of understanding. We don't take time to consciously engage in sensory experience, and we pay the price in many seemingly unrelated ways:
- We move poorly because we're divorced from intrinsic sensory inputs.
- We chase short-term dopamine hits through drugs and alcohol, porn, and social media attachment.
- We numb ourselves to real connection and relation through increasingly surface-level interactions.
- We let days, months, and years blend together with few contrasting sensory experiences.
In short: when we lose touch with our sensory experience, life grows dull, insipid, and hardly worthwhile.
But we can reverse this trend with a deliberate practice of sensory awareness. I'd like to introduce you to a practice I call the sensory scan (or "orienting to the environment").
It's a staple in my coaching practice because it quite literally puts things so clearly in perspective. It also has some potent stress-reduction benefits...
It's a shortcut to some very advanced technology we've developed over millions of years. Let me give you a quick hypothetical the illustrate.
Let's say you're a cave(wo)man back in the day, walking through the bush when you hear a rustle behind you...
You turn toward the sound.
The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You tense through the shoulders and hips, ready to take off. Your eyes quickly scan to identify the source of the noise.
You don't quite make out the details, but your brain registers: predator.
Before thinking it through, you're off running.
You tear through the environment, hoping to escape.
You feel exhaustion kicking in after nearly a minute of all-out sprinting, vaulting, climbing, scurrying.
What happens next?
You reach a clearing.
You're still and quiet. You look. You listen. You tune in to your surroundings and find yourself safe and sound.
And a flood of neurotransmitters triggers a cascading hormonal response eventually leading to a huge sigh of relief.
The sensory scan is a conscious way to dip into that stress-relief mechanism. No lions, tigers, or bears required.
Here's what a few other clients experienced with the process:
It's surprisingly simple. Just take 5 minutes to really tune into what your senses tell you about your surroundings.
(I've included a follow-along audio to guide you through it).
After going through that process, what do you notice about yourself? Or about yourself in relation to the world around you?
It's important to keep in mind that this isn't a one-and-done kind of practice. Sensory awareness is a daily necessity if we want to fully engage in the human experience.
Comment below to let me know what you experienced.
And if you liked this article, share it so that others can try this out too.