By David Joel Miller.
A mindfulness exercise for all the senses to improve mental efficiency and memory.
Most people rely on one or two senses to do all the work. How many do you routinely use?
One reason memories fade over time is our excessive reliance on one or two senses to store and anchor information. You were probably taught to remember things by converting them to words and then creating a story about the person or thing you needed to remember.
Memory functions better when you use more than one sense to store that memory.
Writers struggle with this problem frequently. We envision a scene; paint it with colors and plenty of verbal descriptions. We describe the shape of things, the size and arrangement. With all that description the scene should come to life. It doesn’t. Our scene is flat.
What has gone wrong?
Life is more than shapes and colors. Visual is important, ask any photographer. There is more to a life event than what is customarily captured in a two-dimensional picture.
Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to help you improve your powers of observation, use of multiple senses and improve your memory as a result.
Take a walk. Find a place where you can pause to explore your situation without the use of your eyes. A park bench, bus stop or seating areas at public buildings make great places for this exercise.
Sit with your eyes closed, or if safety is a concern look down and focus on something small and plain. (Check my post on Shrinking the World by Staring at a Rock.)
Don’t try to figure things out, simply experience them.
What smells do you smell? Are they constant or do they fluctuate? Can you identify them? Are they pleasant or disturbing? How would you name them?
What are the sounds you hear? Without looking can you identify what is creating those sounds? Can you imagine the bird making that song? As you concentrate on the sounds you may well find that you notice more sounds and that they vary in pitch and intensity.
If you hear traffic, is it a car, truck or bus? Which direction is it traveling? If there are people nearby what are they talking about? With whom?
What sensations do you feel on your body? Can you feel the wind on your skin? Where is the sun? Find the sun by feeling not by looking.
What tastes are you sensing? Was this something you brought with you, part of your breakfast or lunch or does this place have a taste as well as a smell?
Notice, but do not dwell on what you mind is thinking. If thoughts come racing through your mind let them go in peace. If you must capture that thought and not let it go I find that having a pen and paper in my pocket allows me to write the thought down and get it free of my mind, and then I return to my mindfulness exercise.
Do not allow yourself to judge your senses. Unless a professional has told you that there is some reason for a deficit in one of your senses it is likely that you can improve your underutilized senses by practice and by being more observant of the things they try to tell you.
Pay special attention to the times your senses of smell, taste or hearing disagree with the story your eyes told you about this place when you sat down here. Sitting by a fountain can be especially helpful here.
I once sat on a bench by the fountain on the college campus where I teach. There are many fountains down the center of that walkway. I had walked by repeatedly and seen only fountains that constantly throw water in the air. This day seated and experiencing the fountains I discovered that they each had a cycle, the flow fluctuated and with that fluctuation, the sounds varied. It length I realized I could predict when the fountain nearest me was about to subside by a faint feeling of spray on my cheek even before the fountain had dropped in volume.
The constant pattern of fountains masked constant changes in the same way our over-reliance on sight may mask the changes in smells and sounds that go unnoticed in our daily life.
Learn to rely on more senses and you will find that your mental efficiency grows and your memory improves.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Body remembers what the mind forgets (counselorssoapbox.com)
- Forgetting things may not be a memory problem (counselorssoapbox.com)
- Shrinking the world by studying a rock (counselorssoapbox.com)
- Learning to feel (counselorssoapbox.com)