I have recently noticed an epidemic afoot in the general population that seriously disturbs me. I call it the “near life experience.”
I didn’t invent that term, and can’t say who did, but it accurately describes the symptoms I am seeing: although people appear to be carrying on their lives as usual, they aren’t really aware of their surroundings. The most obvious are those distracted by digital communication gadgets to the exclusion of the present experience.
And they aren’t the only ones. There are the store clerks who seem unable to engage the customer in the smallest ways; the parent having a conversation with a child, all the while thinking about the next tasks on the “to do” list, and the passer-by who can’t meet my eyes when I smile and say hello.
This culture is full of distractions, visual, auditory, moving and static, people and things that demand attention at every moment. Sensory overload is real. When we allow our attention to be distracted by multiple inputs, we lose contact with sensations in the present moment, and create a disconnect between ourselves and our environment. We learn to cut out our attention, to set up barriers so we can carry on about our lives. This is basically an unconscious act of survival under pressure. The problem arises when we are unaware that this disconnect becomes our default way of being, and we forget how to re-connect, how to fully engage with our experience.
As an antidote, I am a passionate proponent of intentional awareness: that is, activities that honour the body by encouraging awareness of the senses.
Look in order to see. The natural world is a great place to start, and a man-made environment also has its own beauty and symmetry, and stands as a tribute to the many that contributed to its construction.
Listen in order to hear. Listen for the smallest sounds and watch your reactions. Listen for the most beautiful music, or words, or the most annoying.
At your next meal, notice the variety of tastes. Slow down, have a drink of water, and pay attention to how it feels cooling your throat.
When did you last notice a smell? Was it pleasant, unpleasant, familiar or new?
Many of us are highly trained to specialize in intellectual pursuits and skills: we live in our heads. We may not notice our bodily sensations unless they are unpleasant: pain, discomfort, an activity that causes physical stress. However, the body thrives on pleasure, and if we notice, will teach us which activities are pleasurable – enabling a re-connection to our selves at a deeper level. Pleasure exists to teach us the body’s best way, your unique body’s best way. Our natural state is health, encouraged and supported by the senses. The long-term effects of constantly blocking sensations result in imbalance in the physical body as well as the emotions.
To fully embrace what it is to be human, the senses must be alive and functional. Living in awareness and gratitude for our surroundings is an important part of an intentional life, and contributes to the enrichment of all experience, solitary or shared. The pure joy of physicality is universal, and to be treasured as we honour the body as our only vehicle for the human experience.
Jean Wrohan is a student of Science of Mind, and a Nia instructor in Campbell River. “In movement we find health.”