Activate Mindfulness by Accessing Your Senses

Photo: Martin Edic

You have the tools you need

It’s one of those lovely fall days when everything on the planet seems right, regardless of the pandemic, BLM, politics, and all our civilization issues. The air is mild and the breeze is light and soft. Leaves are falling and the ground is carpeted with intense yellow. Somewhere someone has a wood fire and the fragrance of the smoke ignites memories. Though the usual sounds of traffic and the city surround, a church bell chimes the hour and things simply pause.

Everything goes still for an endless moment. And for a microsecond you’re simply there.

That’s mindfulness, and we accessed it, not by trying with our mind, but by paying attention to the senses we all have. It’s a paradox that the thing we have that gives us the ability to intellectually recoginze this place is not the tool we need to access it. We’re in that moment described above because of sensory input, our physical ability to see, hear, smell, taste…

There are endless stories, guides, and self-help books with instructions for reaching this state, a place that settles things for a bit and helps us regain perspective. But instructions are for the logical mind and this state defies logic. You can’t think your way there. But you can feel your way there.

We are given many ways to find this calm. Silent walking. Counting breaths. Mantras. Focusing on a candle. But these techniques require a thought process and a thought process is exactly what we want to bypass. But silence, breath, chanting, and focus are all exercises for the senses. The way there is to simply pay attention to your sensory interaction with the world in a given moment.

A core concept of Buddhism and other mindfulness disciplines is that there is no self or ego that is separate from everything else. We are an integral piece of a puzzle that makes no sense without all the pieces being in place. It really makes more sense than the idea that we have our own integrity, distinct from other things and people. But we lose track of that.

If you are focused on the day to day pain, stress, desire, happiness, etc., it is very difficult to let yourself be where you are now. One of the reasons so much literature about this is opaque, like a Zen Koan, a riddle unsolvable by logic, is that logic is not the tool we need to stop the world.

We are raised to be focused on achieving goals. This is how we survive. And sometimes when we are unable to reach them, stress sets in. ‘Why can’t I have the things others have? Why doesn’t that person want me? This is too hard.’ I don’t kid myself, like everyone these things sometimes rule my world. But on a perfect fall day, in a garden fenced off from the world, I feel a breeze and let it take my attention for a microsecond that is eternal.

The paradox here is that I can remember a moment like this but I cannot access it at will. But I can let my skin feel, my ears hear that ringing bell, my eyes fill with drifting yellow leaves. I need to remind myself of that. We all do.

Former software marketer. Former musician. Writer, nine non-fiction books, two novels, Buddhist, train lover. Amateur cook, lover of life most of the time!

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