Come to your senses

Thinking, thinking, thinking. The virtual reality in our minds prevents us from experiencing what’s really happening in the present moment.

So much of our mental coin is spent ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.

Anxiety’s increasing in adults and children alike, and the desire to numb out and escape what’s going on in our heads is understandable.

We can feel powerless over the swirling, expanding tornado of thoughts and emotions, and feel a victim of life’s situations and the tendencies of our minds.

Negative thoughts are sticky. Because of the mind’s inclination to the negative, called the inherent negativity bias, the virtual reality we dwell in most is often one of difficulty and challenge.

Ruminating and spending time going over the past, or the anticipated future, prevent us from experiencing the life we’re actually living. We become distracted and have trouble concentrating on what’s right in front of us, creating even more difficulty.

When challenging situations arise, getting caught up in life’s dramas has consequences. It keeps us stuck in the fight-or-flight response, and our rational mind seems to fly out the window. Our minds, our bodies, and our relationships bear the consequence of this very human tendency.

Have you ever snapped at a loved one because you’ve been lost in thinking about a difficult situation? I sure have.

There’ve been times when, sitting in a beautiful spot, surrounded by peace and beauty, I was suffering. All I could think about was a problem from the past. I missed out because I’d been locked into the virtual reality of my mind, worrying, ruminating, or holding virtual conversations in my head.

The problem wasn’t happening in that moment, there was nothing I could do about it at that time, but it seemed like the only reality, because I made it so.

I felt like a victim of my mind, not knowing what to do to help myself out of the hell in my head.

Stuck in the virtual reality of my mind, I’ve missed out on goodness, such as words shared by a loved one, the taste of wonderful meals, the reality of my physical space, and the truth of what’s happening now.

How can we awaken from this tendency that creates so much suffering in our lives?

I’ve found relief from mental torture in a very simple practice.

Come back to your senses.

Take several slow, deep breaths, feeling the breath as it enters and leaves your body. This is not thinking about the breath, but actually experiencing the breath.

Now, come to your senses; pay attention to what’s real with your physical senses.

  • What do you hear? Notice the sounds around you without judgment. Listen to sounds near and far. Notice if you can hear more sounds now than when lost in thinking.
  • What do you smell? You might need to close your eyes to really notice this sense because we often overlook what we’re smelling.
  • What do you see? List the objects you see in detail: the names, the colours, and textures of what you can see.
  • What do you taste? Can you taste anything? Notice the mouth. How does it feel inside the mouth? Feel the teeth, the saliva, and the tongue.
  • Finally, check in and become aware of what you feel in your body. Feel your feet on the floor, and your clothing as it touches your skin. Feel the temperature of the air, and any other physical sensations happening right now.

If any tension remains, consciously soften your face and shoulders, take another deep breath, and relax your body.

Check in again. How are you feeling? Do you feel better? Has the mind slowed? If not, go back and repeat the steps. For me, this usually means I was thinking about the senses instead of using and sensing them.

My thinking usually slows, and things start to become clearer. This means I’ve invited the executive centre of my brain into action, and deactivated the fight-or-flight response.

This technique is helpful, not only when I get stuck in challenging thinking, but also when I’m feeling overwhelmed or nervous about something. It’s super helpful when challenging thoughts invade sleep time.

Coming to our senses is a simple, yet a powerful technique. It’s portable and private, but helps put us back in the driver’s seats of our lives.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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