Sometimes people attempting mindfulness will use an item as a sensory support to aid their attention on the present, for example a candle flame, or the sound of a resonate instrument, such as a gong, or bell that has a beautiful tone.
The question arises: what is mindfulness for people who perhaps already live in the present? People who may not have the cognitive capacity to anticipate a future, or remember a past, arguably live in the present moment all the time. Does this mean they are mindful all the time?
In my book ‘Sensory-being for Sensory Beings’, I theorised that a present that is made up of many jumbled sensory experiences, such as a noise over there, a flash of light from here, the scratch of that on this…and so on does not feel mindful. But if you could find a sensory experience that was so beautiful, so entrancing that it soaked up all of that presentness into one experience, that would be a kind of sensory mindfulness. I call this ‘sensory mindfulness sensory-being’.
A wonderful thing is that these sensory-being experiences can be shared by people of all cognitive abilities so you can benefit from this too.
What you need
Find an object you believe would inspire sensory-being in the person with whom you plan to share this experience. Look for an object that holds sensory appeal. One that is meaningful to you can be especially precious to share, for example you could both touch a much loved childhood teddy bear, or you could both look at a mobile you bought back from holiday. Looking for objects that appeal to early developmental sensory skills can help you choose items that will be accessible at a sensory level, and that are also calming to perceive.
Guidance and instructions
- Position the object somewhere where it is clearly perceivable by you and the person you are sharing the experience with.
- Ensure that you are both able to sit, lie, or stand comfortably as you attend to the object. Aim to be positioned in such a way as to be well supported and grounded, e.g. sit with your feet flat to the floor in a chair that has arm rests, rather than perching on a bench.
- Allow your own attention to rest on the object. Attend to your breathing, do not try to control it, simply notice it. Allow it to regulate itself into calmer deeper breaths.
- How you are is an important part of this experience for the other person. Our bodies attune to one another, you can observe this when you walk down the street with someone and fall into a matching step pattern and there are many other subtle and tiny ways our bodies and nervous systems attune too. As you quieten and still your own body the person with whom you are sharing the experience may benefit from your increasing calm as their body attunes to yours.
- Once you feel yourself to be in a relaxed and focused or state of awareness on the object, you can choose to keep attending to the object or to share that attention between the object and the other person.
- If you choose to also attend to the person then gently shift your attention from the object to their attention to the object, notice their looking, their listening. Notice any agitation or calm in their body. Notice these things without judgement. Try not be disappointed or delighted by their apparent response, there is no right or wrong way to experience this and this is therefore not a time for praise or correction.
- Once you have become aware of the person with whom you are sharing sensory-being, shift your attention back to the object.
- Aim to peacefully shift your attention back and forth between the person and the object. You can think of your attention as being similar to waves lapping on a shore line, they go in and out in a gentle rhythm. The rhythm is a natural one, it’s not caused by the waves wanting to be in one location or another. The experience of shared attention on an object can be a connecting one, and the experience of being ‘held in another person’s non-judgemental attention’ can be a steadying, calming one. These experiences can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing and health.
- Share in the sensory-being experience for as long, or as little, time is comfortable for you both. When you feel that time is coming to an end, you will find you naturally begin to move your body more, in a sort of waking up process. Do not rush to speak, but re-enter the flow of the day slowly. Packing away the object you have used, signals at a sensory level the end of this shared experience.
What to observe, assess and record
Notice how you felt before the session began and how you felt afterwards. Notice also any changes in the person with whom you shared the experience. It is particularly important that you reflect on how the experience was for yourself, as your experience is also a part of their experience.
© Joanna Grace: Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, author, trainer, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.
For more guidance and information on how to make objects for sensory-being and what types of sensory experience are most likely to be accessible, read Sensory-being for Sensory Beings by Joanna Grace, published by Routledge
Connect with Jo on social media to continue this sensory conversation:
Created October 2020