Try the “Five Senses” Experience

Feb 24, 2021

Decades ago, I worked for a professional photographer. Although it was a pretty damaging relationship for a twenty some, it was also a time of great learning and growth.

He taught a course back then called Learning to See where he took students through junkyards challenging them to photograph all the letters of the alphabet but not in a literal sense – you had to look deeper than that. His challenge was to find the letters of the alphabet within the natural shapes of the junk. It was a super cool exercise that got you to really “see” the things around you, not just look.

Do you “see”, or do you “look”?

Through routines that are sometimes boring and mundane – like a commute to work or the same view out a window – we stop seeing the things around us. What a shame that is, as we miss so much. To put it into more perspective for you, think about the person who drives with tunnel vision (we all do it) thinking only about the drive home and not about their surroundings. You most times get home safely, but have you ever pulled into your driveway and thought that you really don’t remember the drive home and although you can recite the route you took, you can’t recall one new thing you saw? You were most likely looking and not seeing.

Or how about the people that get off the commuter train or the subway and shuffle their way to work in the crowd with their heads down looking at the ground or their phones – every day, 5 days a week. Are they truly seeing? I used to do this same commute to school and then to work, and I remember always playing a little game trying to notice new things along the way. It not only helped to pass the time, but it also taught me how to experience my ride, not just be in it.

A friend has been walking every single day since the first Covid-19 lockdown in Canada in March 2020. Every day she posts a picture to Instagram of something from her walk. Sometimes the image is of something that is easily identifiable, sometimes it’s a bit ambiguous. Her images are always thought provoking as they are a record of the things she’s “seeing” on her daily walks. She’s not just going through the motions of the walk; she’s experiencing her walk and documenting it.

Imagine if you applied this to all your senses? Just imagine the new things you’d discover! Imagine “hearing” instead of “listening”? Or “smelling” instead of “breathing”? Imagine “feeling” instead of “touching” or “tasting” instead of just “eating”?

Life has a way of passing before our eyes like a blink! A lot of that time is spent going through the motions, doing routine tasks and sleeping. According to a study done by the Productive Club, we spend 23 years of our entire life sleeping, the rest doing mundane tasks and 22 years actually living! (based on an 80 year lifespan)

Here’s another example; my sister loves snow shoeing. She was telling her yoga students the other day that when she snowshoes, she often thinks about her intentional steps, feeling her feet sinking lightly into the snow and how she intentionally lifts up and sets down her feet as she walks. She’s letting her body “feel” the walk, not just touching her feet to the ground.

When I walk, I try to experience my surroundings. I have stopped at the side of the road to take in a beautiful sunrise and record the moment. I have sat on a beach and smelled the watery air and felt the dry sand between my toes. I have been to concerts where I let the sights, sounds and smells wash over me. By experiencing life mindfully through your senses, it creates an ultimate experience, one that you can draw on to bring you back to calmer and sometimes happier times when life gets in the way.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling a little down – most likely one part winter blahs and two parts Covid brain fog. I was mindful as to how I was feeling and knew I had to find a way to get myself back into a better mindset. I used the Five Senses Experience to change my mindset to a more positive and productive place. It just so happened to be a sunny day, so I rubbed some sunscreen on my face, put on a playlist that reminded me of summer and melted into my hot tub and closed my eyes. The smell of sunscreen, the great songs I was listening to and the feeling of the hot sun and the warm water took me back in my mind to a beautiful sunny, carefree summer day at the cottage. The smell, sound and feel were enough to get me back on track and in a better headspace – all that was missing was the taste of a Caesar (the vodka and Clamato drink of Canada). My kids thought I was nuts, but it did the trick and reframed my brain through a sensory experience. Don’t have a hot tub? Try a warm bath – same thing!


Here’s your homework:

During your day today, tell yourself you are going to be mindful. To make this exercise the most effective, close your day off with a journal entry writing down the things that you Saw, Heard, Smelled, Felt and Tasted today – each with a renewed sense of wonder and intrigue.  

Being mindful is practicing being present, slow down and enjoy what’s around you, even if it feels dull and mundane at times. By focusing on your senses and how they play a part in your experiences, you can not only use them to be more present in your life, but you can also tap into your senses to visualize your memories in more detail during those times that your life is feeling grey. Imagine truly experiencing something and not just being there? By tapping into your senses, you can do just that! Good luck today, I’m super excited about what you’ll discover.

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