Tune in to the present using your senses

Our thoughts can be incredibly distracting. I was watching a live performance recently and found I couldn’t focus on it for more than a few seconds at a time before I kept drifting off – literally lost in thought.

It made me think how much of my days I spend not where I physically am. Not being present.

A good practice I’ve found to overcome this pull of thoughts is to use each of my senses to root me in the present.

Sight – I like to choose a not so common colour such as purple, bright pink or fluorescent green and then try and find as many instances of it in my immediate environment. The more obscure the colour the better and more present you’ll be.

Smell – this works best if you are in an environment with quite potent smells such as a kitchen, restaurant or the countryside. Really tune in and challenge yourself to pick out as many different scents as you can.

Taste – again this one works particularly well during certain moments such as eating. Can you detect how many different flavours, textures and complexities in a dish? Or maybe the air carries a certain taste. Smell and taste are significantly linked.

Sound – sound is one of my favourite ways to tune in because you can’t choose what you’ll hear next and you can’t choose not to hear it. If you really hone in you can hear a cacophony of sounds, even in a quiet room. The hum of a refrigerator can have several different frequencies. And in the most quiet of places our own breathing and movement will always provide some sound.

Touch – Of course your fingertips can provide a multitude of finer sensations, texture and temperature but touch doesn’t start or end at the fingertips. How does your body feel? Can you feel the weight of it in a chair, the ground beneath your feet? Your clothing brushing against your skin or wind in your hair or eyes.

There is so much available for us to experience in any given moment and our senses provide us with a very tangible and immediate way in. I usually cycle between several of my senses until I find one that works best for the situation I’m in.

As with all the senses but with smells especially, try and retain a lack of judgement and just accept what is. It can be easy to slip into thinking ‘that smell is horrible’. By judging something we’re more likely to slip back into a thought pattern about the experience rather than the experience itself.

Using this practice is not too dissimilar to concentrating on the breath doing meditation. But in the words of Jon Kabat-Zin:

“[…]we sometimes suggest to our patients who feel similarly bored with watching their breathing: take the thumb and first finger of either hand, clamp them tightly over your nose, keep your mouth closed, and notice how long it takes before your breathing becomes very interesting to you!” – Full Catastrophe Living