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Coming to Our Senses - Mindful Journeys

posted Aug 16, 2016, 11:56 PM by Fidelma Farley   [ updated Aug 17, 2016, 7:14 AM ]
Have you ever gone for a walk on a nice day, only to find afterwards that you were so wrapped up in in your thoughts that you didn’t really notice anything? Or have you started to listen to music you love, only to find that after a few moments you’ve drifted into thinking about work the next day, or a daydream about holidays, or going back over a conversation you had earlier? Or maybe you’ve eaten meals that you’ve hardly tasted because you’re reading, or watching TV as you eat. It’s frustrating, when you think about it, not to get the most out of these really pleasurable experiences!

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the default setting of the mind is to wander. Recent research, however, has shown that ‘the wandering mind is an unhappy mind’. When our minds wander off into random thoughts, we’re unwitting passengers on a thought-train that can take us anywhere, to places and states that may be unhelpful and even distressing. Not only that, but when we’re caught up in thoughts in this way, we’re missing out on what’s around us – the presence of people we love, the feel of a cool breeze on the skin, the scent of flowers, the taste of delicious food.

Mindfulness is a way of being more present, and one way of doing that is to be more aware of what we experience in our bodies, through our senses. The more we practice, the more present we are and we’re hijacked less often by the thought-train.

A few years ago, I regularly cycled a particular route. It’s a pleasant journey, by the sea for the first part, then along tree-lined roads, then through a lively area with shops and cafes and pubs. I love cycling, and yet I noticed after a while that I would arrive at my destination hot and sweaty and out of breath and with no sense of having enjoyed the journey. What was going on? I began to notice that during the cycle my mind was racing with all sorts of thoughts, and because my mind was racing, my legs apparently wanted to race too! I was caught up in my thoughts and cycling very fast, and wasn’t getting any enjoyment at all. So I selected a few landmarks along the route that would be my mindfulness triggers, and when I passed them, it would remind me to ‘come to my senses’ – to pay attention to what I could see around me, what I could hear, the feel of the wind on my skin, the sense of my body moving and my breath. Of course, after a short while, my mind would wander off again, but then I’d pass the next landmark and come to my senses again. The whole experience was transformed – I got such pleasure form each journey, and I arrived at my destination calm (and not sweaty!).

Why not try this on the routes you take regularly, whether walking, cycling, driving or public transport? Pick out a few landmarks, like a crossroads, or a church, or shopping centre, or a hotel, and when you pass them, take a few moments to ‘come to your senses’ – what do you see around you? What can you hear? What can you smell? What do you sense in your body (e.g. what are your hands in contact with? Your feet? Do you sense wind or rain or heat on your skin)? Just a few moments of mindfulness will change your experience, even of a very familiar journey.

I wish you ‘bon voyage’!