A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimension” Oliver Wendell Holmes jr
In this article, I would like us to explore together human experiences, these moments in time that define our life and our identity. After all, that is what life is, a collection of experienced moments, one after the next. I would like us to ponder how we can make each and every moment a little better, or the best it can possibly be. Simply, how can we enjoy a better life experience overhaul.
There are a lot of life advice that sound great, but are actually not really applicable nor necessarily truthful. For example, “live life to the fullest sounds great”, but what does it even mean? And how do we do that? What starts with a positive inspirational intention quickly becomes a cliché.
Here, I want to focus on moments instead of life as a whole, because I believe that if you can consistently enhance your moments, then you enhance your life. In the same way that to change a community, it is sometimes more effective to change individuals first.
So to begin, what is an experience? A couple of definitions of experience is: “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone.” or “a practical contact with and observation of facts or events.” We could simply call it an encounter with life. The traditional definition is too “passive” in my opinion. Experiences are more interactive rather than just a receiving from or an observation of the environment. It takes two to tango, the world and the individual.
The integration of that encounter though is very complex and takes place on many different levels. In this article, I distinguish four. I believe an experience is felt through different dimensions, all being integral parts of the whole, which are: physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, and we could say spiritual.
We will explore all of these aspects in the hope that we can influence each positively, to increase our overall enjoyment of and the impact of our experiences.
I like to imagine that learning to experience life fully is like learning to surf. I find surfing to be a fitting analogy for how experiences in our lives unfold, similar to waves. I know nothing about surfing, but I enjoy listening to a good friend of mine who is a surfer. He describes surfing in a deep and metaphorical way that can certainly have life applications.
He mentioned to me a few concepts in surfing, not really technical but more of a philosophy (and I am sure there are plenty more that I have missed).
Here are the concepts I find applicable to experiences:
-There is an element of randomness, you don’t know exactly what you are going to find, even if you prepare for it, and that’s part of the excitement, to be taken along into the unknown.
-You have an influence over when you are going once you ride a wave obviously, and that increases the more experience you have, but you do not control the wave. There is a dichotomy of control, which is the same in our experiences, a push and pull, a will and a give.
-Surfing often works best by finding the path of least resistance, or flow, knowing to go over or under, which wave to choose, when to ride the wave, etc, it’s the difference between flopping like a fish out of water like me and an experienced surfer. In life, I would call that wisdom.
-There is a sense of progression, previous experiences paved the way for the next one, you get a little better everyday, as you overcome fear and hone your skill, but because you are always just outside your comfort zone, the fear/excitement, never goes away.
Just like we can learn to surf the waves of the ocean, so we can learn to surf the waves of our life experience. To tune in to the flow of natural events and opportunities, to be in harmony with life and ourselves, to feel at the right place at the right time, and make the best out of all situations.
PART 1: The physical dimension:
We are all grounded within our bodies. Each and every moment, we experience physical sensations and feelings. Our senses help us navigate our environment, to make sense of the world.
Primarily, our experiences are composed of senses responding to stimuli. These senses integrate and interpret stimuli, either from internal or external sources, arguably both at the same time.
It is through our senses that we have the capacity to experience. Without senses, there is no recognition of stimuli and therefore no experience. We need to have or need to have had senses at some point in time to experience. Emotions and thoughts do not exist in a vacuum.
If that is the case, we can infer then that the quality of our experience also depends on the quality of our senses. So then, Can we better our senses? I am not entirely sure. But we can definitely be more in touch with them.
All our knowledge begin with the senses” Immanuel Kant
The most obvious step to increase our sensitivity is mindfulness. This has been said time and again, yet mindfulness is a sure method to increase the quality of our experiences.
It is the act of noticing and paying attention to these senses in order to fully discern and appreciate their dimension. There is so much more going on that we care to notice.
We will explore mindfulness a bit more in the other parts of this article, but here is some starting points, to be more mindful of experiences:
.Chose and sensory point of focus, be it sight, sounds, sensation, taste or smell, pay your full attention to what is going on, letting yourself fully enjoy it, as if it was the first time you ever experience that sensation. You can imagine that it is like a mystery. That if you pay enough attention, something will be revealed to you.
.Being mindful often requires slowing down. We try to fit in more and more, going faster and faster in our busy lives and be always focused on the next thing instead of in the now. We need to reclaim the act of doing things slowly and enjoying ourselves in the process.
.Softening the body and relaxing the body is a great way to become more receptive to sensations and enjoy them more. Make a point of periodically tuning into the body and mindfully loosen the muscle, and any tension that is there. Feeling comfortable in the body and grounding ourselves in its aliveness will open ourselves to more sensation and enjoyment.
Becoming in touch with our senses:
The three primary senses:
It is thought that humans are mostly visual creatures. We make sense of the world with our eyes, and mental imagery. In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), there is a supposition that people experience life predominantly from one of three senses, and are categorized as a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic person.
Of course we all experience through all of these senses, unless of a disability, but we seem to operate naturally more from one sense or a combination of two senses.
This determines what we pay most attention to from moment to moment. A visual person will notice landscape, objects, and sights more than others, while a kinaesthetic person may be well aware of their body most of the time. This means that it directs our experience a certain way.
Here is a tab on primary senses, type of people that likely fit in that category, and accessway to the present with a mindfulness technique specific to our natural inclination:
|Primary sense||Type of people/ activity||Access way in the present|
|Visual||.Drawn toward visual arts.Drawing, painting, videos.Visual conceptual thinkersArchitects, designer, manufacture of objects and products,Entrepreneur visionnaire.Using visual representation of ideas. Learning with images||.Connect material space, and emptiness.Point of focus on objects.Visualising actions and movements.Contemplation.|
|Auditory||.In tune with sounds and music.Love talking.Thinking by talking to themselves.Musician, video/audio edition, Conversational interactions.listen to audio programs audiobooks, conferences etc..using auditory concepts, words.Learning with words, sounds||.tuning in to Soundscape.being silent.Mantra. mental pacing.self-Talking.music|
|Kinaesthetic||.Attracted to physical pursuits;Dancing, crafts, sport, outdoors.Physical interaction, athletes, experience centered.Experience feelings and sensation physically. .Learn by doing, feeling instinctively||.Aliveness of the body.Grounding. connecting to the earth.Something to doodle, focus the hands.feeling of the breath|
the senses being the explorer of the world open the key to knowledge Maria Montesori
Exploring the other senses:
“If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.” – Remy, ratatouille
To our sense of taste, this day and age is both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because globalisation allows us to taste so much variety of dishes and food. Accessibility has never been so great, and you can access almost any kind of food anywhere in the world. The development of the culinary arts keeps progressing, and the range of experiences that you can “eat” is ever expanding.
It is also a curse because the standardisation of food through industrialization leads to a lot of traditional dishes and flavors being lost. This is especially true for the general quality of fruits and vegetables. The standardisation of farming focuses on weight and appearance, and the resilience of the crop over taste and health benefits. There is a lot of diversity in the varieties and tastes of our “common” fruits and vegetables, yet we miss out on these differences, as our fruits and vegetables become more and more uniform.
Our habits surrounding eating have changed as well. We eat more and more distractedly, often while watching tv, on the go, performing other activities. In certain parts of the world, eating has become less social and more automatic. Because we are so distracted, we need ever so strong flavours in order to feel anything, and we are served industrial dishes that are too sweet, too salty, with tones of artificial flavors and/or msg. In some ways, our pallets have become less able to distinguish subtleties.
That does not mean that we have to give in to the norm and be alienated from our food, here are some way to reconnect with our food and our taste:
-Eat in silence
-try blind tasting/ blind dinner
-Seek and eat organic/alternative varieties
-Keep a food/meal bucket list, and try to seek out new experience
-describe to yourself what you eat
-Eat less food and eat less process, so that your taste buds are in top shape
-try tongue brushing, and keep a good oral hygiene
-Slow down when you eat, chew more
-eat as mindfully as possible
-try to combine different tastes receptors during meals (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami, oily, numbing) and different textures (soft, firm, crunchy, wet, dry, etc)
The way we experience our food can change our life. The way we eat is intimately related to the way we treat ourselves and our body, and how we interact with the world in general. Making an effort to change our relationship positively with food, is likely to have an impact in other areas as well.
“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”― Patrick Süskind the perfume
The Sense of smell is definitely forgotten and underutilized in our day to day.We still use our smell much more than we think on a subconscious level. We are primed and influenced by smells and compounds that we cannot even detect on a conscious level. Yet we forget this part of nature as if it didn’t exist.
Smell is also an interesting sense because it is very primal. Unlike other senses that are connected to
our prefrontal cortex, our sense of smell is directly connected to our amygdala, and is a more ancient and instinctive part of our brain. Smell is strongly linked with survival. For this reason, sent is very associative, and can trigger old and strong memories.
This aspect is interesting to play with. It is easy to associate smell with certain activities to make them more memorable. We also come to associate specific smells to people we know well. For example, my wife chose a specific perfume for our wedding, and only wears it on specific date occasions, which brings loads of positive memories and reinforces our bond during these new experiences.
Smell is partly inaccessible because our language is limited. Learning how to name the nuances of fragrances, aromas, and scents is the first step to reappropriate this semt. There is a lot of sophistication around scent, and the enjoyment of them is in a way an acquired taste and a training, but a training that can bring another dimension to our life experience.
There are a few ways to rekindle your sense of smell. Try to surround yourself with and seek smells in your life, for example:
-Perfume hunting date or with friends
-Use aromatherapy at home, with essential oils and candles
-Make a point of smelling the food you eat
-Make a point of smelling the scent of the products you use
-Pay attention to the smell of others, as long as you’re not being creepy
-Smell the air, especially when you spend time in nature, stop and pause to smell plants and flowers.
Touch and textures:
this is how
― Sanober Khan
Touch is generally a sense that we alienate ourselves from as well. We often only truly experience touch during intimate contact with loved ones and sometimes not even then. However the sensitivity of our hands can bring much enjoyment and fulfilment. Touch allows us to connect to the world and matter. It is a very primal feeling that can have a profound impact on our body and psyche.
Kinaesthetic people are generally more tactile as well, but we can all benefit from being mindful about touch. It doesn’t require much at all. Simply that we pay attention to this part of our experience. We can seek out different textures and different temperatures to explore and play with.
Experiencing touch can leave us like a child again, exploring the world as if new. As with all senses, a strong experience is about being receptive and aware.
Go around and try to touch something new each day, paying full attention about how it feels.
Also pay attention when you touch your close ones, you may feel a special connection. Becoming receptive to each other’s touch can only deepen a relationship. After knowing someone for a long time, our sense of touch with them can numb. Staying mindful and holding the person in a “special” place in our heart, so that they don’t become “common”, allows us to maintain and even increase that connection.You can also allow yourself to learn the textures that you enjoy and touch them often, from rough, smooth, soft, hard, sleek, rugged, and an infinity of sensation beyond, there is plenty to explore.
Walking around and trying to touch everything, or going to the fabric store are good places to start.
Opening your senses:
I believe that we can expand our senses and have access to fuller experiences as a result. As mentioned above, the first step is to be mindful of our sensory experience. Half of the challenge is not that we do not feel but rather that we do not notice that we feel.
Even though we may be drawn to experience life from what is most natural to us, trying to expand our focus to our other senses can allow us to take more of life in. It goes without saying that
multi-sensory experiences will be deeper and more fulfilling.
We can also be purposeful with exploring our senses. We can make a point of involving as many senses as we can during experiences by going through a mental checklist. With a deliberate, systematic approach we can involve all of our senses into this moment.
Using descriptive language, and developing a vocabulary about our senses, to describe to ourselves what it is we feel is an important step towards really being in touch with ourselves and open up a new dimension of nuances about our experience.
It may be a bit much to open our senses all the time. We can start with specific experiences and activities. A good place to start is while eating food, sensory eating, and while making love. Try to make a point of slowing down and involving all of the senses. With focus, you can even increase or imagine that you increase (which serves the same purpuse), your sensations.
Another way of opening our senses is through interaction with others. I believe it is very positive to interact with people who operate from different primary senses than ourselves. Of course, this is also true for world views and mental models. Diversity expands our horizon. Refer to the table above, find if you can engage with activities and people that do not seem to be appealing at first.
I believe that this kind of challenge is a key to broadening our capacity to experience.
Imagine that people are like windows to others worlds, opportunities to the exciting unknown.
Seeking people from different cultures, interests and sensory acuity and background can only deepen our appreciation for the world, and allows us to extend our own primary sense and world view.
“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.” ― Buddha