Jon Kabat Zinn writes about coming to our senses in his recent book of that name. Founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusets, he has helped many patients to access their inner resources and promote healing through mindfulness and meditation. Kabat Zinn sees coming to our senses, and he includes the mind as a sense, as vital to healing both ourselves and the world.
Blessed by a visit from my sister and her friend Jan, I have learned a lot about coming to my senses in the last couple of weeks. From 25 feet, Jan can smell the scent of a flower that I can barely make out even when I bury my nose in it. She can distinguish nuances of flavour in foods that I cannot even taste, and is constantly touching things to feel their texture. Since she has been here I have walked barefoot on beaches and in the grass, things I have not done for years. I an starting to wake up sensually, really just at the point of starting to stir out of my sleep, but with practice I can come to my senses and stay in them.
Coming to our senses brings us into present moment awareness and takes us out of the endless stream of thoughts, 50,000 a day apparently, that keep us out of our senses and out of awareness of ourselves and the present moment. When we are aware we notice things inside as well as outside ourselves. We become aware of patterns of thought or emotion, and how they affect the choices we make. We may develop awareness of physical patterns like habitual posture, rhythms of breathing, or muscular tension that we have not noticed before. We notice our judgments and we notice whether our minds spend most time in the past, the present or the future.
Awareness is the key to wholeness and wholeness is the key to healing. In fact both wholeness and healing come from the same etymological root.To become whole is to heal. Holistic healing means committing to and embracing wholeness, and while physical health is not usually the main focus, illness may be the factor that starts someone on the road to becoming whole. Even when the only desire is to heal physically, healing has to encompass more than a focus on the body alone. But focus on the body through coming to our physical senses, can lead to a greater awareness of neglected aspects of ourselves.
The problem is that we resist present moment awareness. A friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer told me that she did not feel it necessary to explore aspects of herself that she either needed to change or had not paid much attention to in the past, because she prefers t0 play to her strengths. We all do. It's easy to get results quickly and efficiently that way. But when we stick in our comfort zone we tend to focus on what we know and to lose awareness of new data, or of unexplored areas in our life. Just as I have lost awareness of smells and tastes by not coming into my senses, it is also possible to lose awareness of connection with something greater than ourselves, or of the feelings we may have about a relationship.
This week you may want to practice coming into your physical senses and into awareness of the present moment to see how this feels. Perhaps go outside and connect deeply with a plant by using as many senses as possible. Or eat a meal in silence. or with your eyes closed, and focus on how the food tastes and feels in your mouth. Or sit quietly and watch your posture and your breathing pattern without wanting to change either - just notice them for a while.
It may help to keep a journal of your practice and progress in coming to your senses. Writing things down will help you remember what happened and will signal to your subconscious that this is an important activity.