Entry 43: Mindfulness vs. Sense-fullness

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

When I told my mom that I was starting a podcast on Mindfulness, she, being the research librarian she is, started avidly researching the topic – online and at bookstores. She came back and told me that mindfulness is “a big trend right now”.  

I agreed with her, but I reflected that there are a lot of common notions of mindfulness that I disagreed with.  Here are my beliefs about mindfulness:

  • Everyone can access mindfulness– you don’t have to be the Dalai Lama, a Zen master, priest, shaman, yogi, etc.
  • There’s no way to “do it wrong”. 
  • There’s no such thing as “not doing it long enough”. Sometimes one moment of mindfulness is what we get, and that is ok.  

We don’t have to be in a beautiful/tropical/quiet location in order to experience mindfulness.  

We don’t have to attend a week-long silence retreat in order to experience mindfulness.  An important corollary to that, we don’t have to spend large amounts of money to experience it either.  

My mindfulness journey actually started not with my mind, which was usually running 100 miles a minute with thoughts, judgments, schedules, to do list items, self critiques, and also anxiety.  The first experiences of mindfulness I felt were when I followed my senses. 

    • Tasting and savoring a bite of food on my tongue
    • Listening to the sound of the ocean and letting the sound waves (pun intended!) roll over my ears
    • Walking and sensing the soles of my feet on the sand
    • Smelling the scent of a flower in my nostrils

These were things I experienced without planning or forethought.  What I started to realize is that those sensory moments stopped me from focusing on the many other things around me –  I was in the moment.  And then I started to actively pursue experiences where I would use my senses for slightly more extended periods of time.

    • Smelling the aromas of dinner, and feeling the salivation before taking a bite
    • Breathing, and sensing the rise and fall of my belly and feeling the breath go in and out of my nose
    • Focusing on one body part at a time, sensing any tingling or tension or comfort in each one
    • Sensing food and water travelling through my digestive tract

The reason that I have not included “sights” in my examples, is that the sense of sight is frequently multi-tasking, and seems to me to be intricately connected to the part of our minds that is reacting, planning, and therefore can be an obstacle to experiencing mindfulness.  I do believe that it is important to cultivate mindfulness sight, but it is a difficult one to start with on one’s mindfulness journey.

Sense-fullness

Through these practices, I coined a term called Sense-fullness, a state of being when one is receptive to external stimulus through the senses.  

Sense-based activities can be an effective way to enter on a mindfulness journey.  I am not sure why that is – maybe the senses aren’t as judgmental as the mind/brain, and so we’re able to stay connected to the moment.  Maybe our senses are eager to do their thing and have us notice!

So, if you have had the thought, “I’m not doing it right”, try starting with sense-fullness activities. And remember that being connected to the sense for even one moment, is one moment more than if you didn’t start the practice.  Do not critique yourself for the judgment that it’s not long enough.

Try a sense-fullness practice

Pick one of the senses: hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling.  Think of an experience that will allow you to use that sense prominently, and if possible, close your eyes while you do it as it may heighten the other sense.  Some examples:

    • Taste – Eat a salty/spicy/sweet/sour food. Drink a beverage, like cold water or seltzer.
    • Smell – Sniff aromatics like herbs, essential oils, perfume, bath soap.
    • Hearing – Listen to songs a little louder than you normally would.  Pay attention to natural sounds like city sounds, birds, ocean, or the ambient sounds in your environment.
    • Feel –  Place something textured on your skin.  Your fingertips, like sight, can be a difficult place to start because they get lots of daily experiences. Try the skin on another part of your body (knees, cheeks, soles of the feet, arms, top of your hands, hips, etc)

As you are experiencing, passively notice the sensations.  There is no way to experience it wrong, so remember there is no judgment your brain needs to pass.  This is just the way your sense experiences its stimulus. If you try this practice, I would love to hear what you experienced.  Or if there are other sense-full experiences that you have had, please share those too!

Try the Podcast: A Mindful Moment

And if you are interested in a mindfulness podcast, try A Mindful Moment.  I share short and accessible mindfulness practices for those of us who are busy and can’t travel daily to an ashram to meditate.  Some of the practices are as short as 3 minutes!  Search for A Mindful Moment wherever you listen to podcasts, or click on the links to connect to it on your podcast platform:

And if you’re read this far, thank you!!  I know it’s quite different than my typical post on this blog.  At some point I may spin it off to a new location, but for now, here it is, on Accidental Perfectionist!

Entry 27: My Boring Morning Commute

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

I travel the same boring route to work for over an hour every morning.  Much of it is on a slate gray, two lane highway, and on most mornings, the sea of cars lurch forward, then rock back as we navigate the traffic in a collective wave.  Each morning, I pass the same field, and the same gas station.  The same rotary circles by the same prison, and the same American flag covers the entire back side of the farmhouse.

There is nothing spectacular about my daily commute, it’s likely as unremarkable as your own. But one day, there was something magical about the snow-lined branches.  Another day, it seemed a miracle that the sun pierced through the stubborn winter clouds that had been present for over a week.  And today, I found fascination in an outrageous bumper sticker– how does the owner decide what bumper sticker will represent her best?  I am similarly fascinated with how one settles on tattoos and Tweets.

Anyway, I digress.

These days, I stick to this boring route, even if Waze tells me another route will be shorter.  I take glances at the sun glistening on the snow, where the field houses a massive and lonely boulder.  

One day, my mind wandered to the inside of the prison walls and wondered if it was here that Jose, a spirited and joyful resident at a homeless shelter, learned transcendental meditation.

Another day, I saw a flock of birds fly over my line of sight, not in the typical V-shaped pattern, but in an elegantly organized cluster.  I am not sure if they were heading north, or south or somewhere else entirely, but they seemed to be taking the scenic route.  

I have come to love my boring commute.  In its routine, I am freed up to connect with my surroundings, and acknowledge what is unique about today.  Even the road more travelled by, with attention, can make all the difference.