“When we’re in touch, when we are fully aware of the wonder of walking on the Earth, each step nourishes and heals us”Thich Nhat Hanh
Have you ever wondered if people see colour or hear music in the way you do or do they see different hues and hear different tones?
We have five basic senses: vision, smell, taste, hearing, and touch and there is a whole range of other ones. There are nine ‘confirmed’ senses including proprioceptive (our awareness of our body in space and in relation to other objects), twenty one confirmed, but less focused senses including synaesthesia (where information received by one sense stimulates another, like seeing colour when you hear music) and thirty-three debatable senses, including extrasensory perception, gut feelings, etc. (Bodytomy).
When we need to come to our senses we have a lot of them to come back to!
I see human beings as antennae, receiving information all of the time, processing and making connections, creating new ideas, and then expressing them in our work and actions. The more we can learn to tune in to our senses and filter between what we do and don’t need, the more scope we have for making new creative connections.
However, when we are stressed, distracted, and overtired, spending hours in front of screens and on social media, or when we’re doing work that does not stimulate us, we are either swamped in sensory overload or our senses are dumbed down. Our creative capacity is diminished.
But there are ways to come back to our senses and I have listed eight below that I am fond of.
1 Get back to basics: Rest. Sleep. Eat. Drink water.
If stress and exhaustion are an issue for you then this is the place to begin. Prioritise getting as much rest and sleep as you can, and make sure you eat a healthy diet, drink sufficient water, and try simple techniques to manage your stress (some of the other items below will help). Coming back to basics gives you the capacity to build energy, and resilience and remain more alert and awake to your experiences.
2 ‘Embrace boredom’
A friend recently described boredom as the feeling we get when we would rather be doing something else. I had to think about that one for a while. I found the description an interesting reframe because it acknowledges preference and choice.
Boredom is a form of discomfort, one that can seem really uncomfortable. It is actually a key element in accessing our creativity. We need to allow for ‘fallow’ times when our attention is not engaged in activities, where we are present to our senses and open to receiving new ideas!
So try not to be so hasty to jump straight for distraction and comfort when you feel that tinge of boredom. Choose boredom. Sit with it for even a few minutes, holding the experience with curiosity and a willingness to embrace your senses.
With headphones or speakers, play some music and let yourself receive it as if you are hearing it for the first time. Close your eyes, and notice how the beat and rhythm land in your body. Where do you feel it? Do you have any impulse to move? Do you see colours, images, or patterns?
When someone is speaking let yourself listen without thinking about your response. Try to let the words land in your ears and in your body and notice with curiosity how your body receives their words and ideas. Take your time, and respond from a place of having really listened, from the inside out.
When our senses are stimulated so is our creativity — it is part of how we make sense of the world.
One of the best ways I know to come back to my senses is to dance. Our bodies are made to move and as we do we engage our muscles and bones and we tune in to our energy levels and aliveness. We listen, balance and judge, bringing more awareness to our bodies and the space around us (proprioception).
Through movement, we learn to listen and tune in to the internal condition of our body. This is called interoception and in my experience, it is a key sense for our creativity. We ‘perceive, appraise and use’ signals from our bodies like attention regulation, noticing, trusting, and not worrying. (Alex Leviton)
So dancing makes us more creative!
5 “Quit social media!”
I’ve been curious to learn more about how I can manage my time better and become less distracted in my day today. Many experts studying attention are saying that our addiction to social media is killing our capacity to concentrate and to be creative, and if we are to do any meaningful work we need to quit social media altogether (‘Indistractable’ by Nir Eyal and ‘Deep work’ by Cal Newport.
Social media has been a powerful way of creating connections to new ideas, places people, and events allowing us to learn and co-create. But the extent to which it has been developed to hook and maintain our attention is frightening. I believe that the technology and methods used by the large social media corporations to maximise our time on screens need to be reined in.
A recent article in the Guardian gives a sobering account of how our attention is being stolen and warns that “social media may be downgrading humanity, stripping us of our attention at the very time when we face big collective crises that require it more than ever”. For more information, you can watch “The social dilemma”.
6 Get out into nature
Yes, I mention this, most weeks. Because it is so important for us to connect to the natural world. We can do that by walking, sitting, and observing.
Feel the earth beneath your feet, the wind, and the sun on your skin, and take in some of the wonders of nature: a tree, a flower, or the sky.
7 Practice mindful eating
On a Vipassana retreat, one time and I decided to see how slowly I could eat an orange — the more I slowed down, the more I enjoyed the smell, feel, and taste of it. I spent 30 minutes enjoying that orange and I don’t think any other food has tasted as good since .. and I’m not even that into oranges!
This is one that you can practice every time you eat. Take space and time for your meal — don’t let it be in front of a screen! Let yourself smell the coffee, notice the texture of the toast, and taste the herbs and spices in your curry!
8 A simple exercise
My go-to short exercise is a mediation inspired by a philosophy teacher of mine. You can try it at the beginning or end of your working day or settle yourself if you are feeling a little frazzled. I made an 11:23 min audio recording that you can try for yourself. Just press play.
When we come back to our senses we connect with our pure creative potential, we nourish our bodies hearts, and minds, and we open ourselves up to new possibilities.
Try some of these ideas this week, let me know how you get on, and tell me if you think of other ways to come back to your senses!
Wishing you a beautiful week!