Using the 5 Senses
The Western tradition behind mindfulness asks you to consider in each moment that there is a more self-honouring, self-loving alternative to your habitual way of engaging life. One of the most challenging parts of this approach to mindfulness is remembering to remember that there is an alternative. In my last blog I wrote about the SILO approach to practicing mindfulness, as a way to remember to be mindful. Today I will share another tool for developing mindfulness called 5 Senses.
The purpose of being mindful is to reinforce new neural pathways for making more self-loving choices. Each time you do something that steps outside of your habitual consciousness you stimulate neural activity in the brain that when repeated sufficiently become a pathway. The slim line between reality and imagined means that when the pathways is sufficiently ‘worn in’ there is a tipping point in behaviour where the more self-loving behaviour becomes the new habit, which sees you being naturally aligned with that behaviour instead of the old habits.
To ‘wear in’ that new neural pathway requires repetitive attention (mindfulness) to the self-loving alternative. So here are some tips, using the 5 sense as way to remember the self-loving option.
Smell. You might choose to light an incense stick on a regular basis as a reminder to be more aware and more mindful. Or every time you apply your fragrance, it is your trigger to think about the more self-loving ways that you could turn up in life. If you are a smoker, the smell of tobacco could be the prod to reflect on your behaviours around smoking that could be more self-loving. You’ll notice that in every case the only change in behaviour required is the recollection of a more self-loving alternative.
Sight. Visual reminders, especially creative ones, are a great way to help you to remember to be more mindful. In the past I have used gold stickers that I purchased from a newsagent to be visual reminders. One of my clients used gold stars, and had one in the centre of her steering wheel in the car, as a reminder to be more peaceful in the traffic. My client was then pulled over for an RBT, which she passed, on which the officer said, ‘Right love, you can go. Oh and give yourself another gold star!’ Visual reminders could be fridge magnets, flowers, a message written with mirror chalk on your bathroom mirror. It could be a message on the wallpaper of your mobile phone or computer. These days, people are using tattoos for visual reminders.
Sound. A friend and colleague has the sound of a Tibetan gong go off every hour to remind him to be mindful. I lived in a mountain village in southern Italy for a year and used to hear the church bells every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. It became a lovely reminder to be aware and more mindful. Even though they drove me crazy initially, I ended up missing them after I left. You might have the regular call of various birds where you live. You could use their frequent warbles, trills and chortles as a reminder to be mindful. You could work in an office and hear the ‘ding’ of an elevator door, and use that to be reminded to practice being mindful. Find or create a sound that can be a regular reminder to be mindful.
Taste. I like to use drinking tea or coffee as my trigger to remember to be mindful. The nice thing is that the commitment to being mindful can last the whole cuppa. How about when you are brushing your teeth day and night? The flavour of the mint could be your trigger to remember your commitment to practicing being mindful. Generally one savours the taste of a good red wine. You could choose to link that moment with a reminder to stay committed to mindfulness. (It may even help you to be mindful about how much wine you are drinking!)
Touch. Kali Beads, Rosary Beads and Worry Beads are all examples of sensory tools that could be used to help you remember to remember that each moment offers the opportunity to experience a more self-loving alternative. I have a gold necklace with a personal symbol that I use as my ‘touch’ reminder to live more mindfully. If I find myself in a stressful situation, I will often reach for the symbol and hold it between my thumb and finger and rub it. While rubbing it, I stop and consider what a more self-loving option could be in this situation. You often see people with elastic, plastic bands around their wrist, many times with words of wisdom or inspiration printed on them. These can be a great sensory reminder. We don’t endorse the medieval ‘touch’ reminder of self-flagellation.
As you can see, there is a plethora of things that you can do to help you remember to act mindfully instead of habitually. To act mindfully is to firstly be aware of what a more self loving alternative would be (and its benefits), and not to choose to act in that way, but choose to remember that it’s an option. That’s what feeds building the new neural pathway, and it’s that, that brings sustainable change. And that is the hardest thing for most of us to get our head around. This is why having so many tools to remind us to live more mindfully are so necessary, because it’s mindfulness that foster lasting change, not applying will and discipline.
I want to invite you to identify at least one thing associated with each of the five senses that you could do to help remind you to be mindful! Good luck!
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