I want to use my senses
February 21, 2017 10:33 AM   Subscribe

My five senses are intact, but I simply don't USE them effectively. It's almost as if I don't trust physical sensation as a reliable source of information. Sensory information feels like an overload or useless noise that I'm now increasingly recognizing as not quite useless: to either ignore or fixate on all the wonderful sights, tastes, sounds, smells... would not only negatively impact my wellbeing, but also lead me to miss out on a good portion of what makes it so great to be a young human being!

I'm not necessarily subpar at noticing details in my environment, but that sensory information just isn't well-integrated into the rest of my experience. This makes me susceptible to either fixating on or ignoring sensory details. It also keeps me from enjoying certain sensory experiences in moderation -- I err on the side of being very stingy with myself in all sorts of matters, such as staying warm/cold, responsiveness to pain/lightheadedness, food, drink, clothing-- while also paradoxically being overly sensitive to or overindulgent in those physical experiences. I'm not good at driving, and I could never choose a surgical field as my medical specialty because I'm not great at truly being in the physical moment. Sometimes I feel like words and ideas form the scaffoldings of my existence, rather than actual, present, lived experiences and the physicality of being. Throughout my life, I've felt varying degrees of disbelief that the entire world is actually a physical thing.

I enjoy hiking because it is a lower-pressure way of interacting with a physical environment where I do not have much of a way to constantly search for some deeper or hidden meanings or connections (except when I go nuts about geology and botany). The same goes with traveling to different cities-- I can read all I want, but so much of the experience is grounded in just physically being there. I also like tea, music, art museums, but I think I like the latter two because I'm constantly searching for patterns and symbolism and history, not because they're exclusively sensory experiences.

Anybody here know what I'm talking about? Anybody else start out with this kind of predisposition (sort of head-in-the-clouds, disconnected from physical environment) and end up improving on this (and hopefully enjoying life more in the process)? Will it get better as I get older? Any essays, books, experiences that helped you? I'm looking for things beyond the oft-suggested mindfulness meditation, yoga, therapy, etc.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You could have sensory processing disorder and need occupational therapy. Disclaimer: I’ve written about SPD before.
posted by tooloudinhere at 10:37 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just as one example - one time I had a therapist recommend pulling myself out of an anxiety spiral by closing my eyes and slowly smelling a bunch of different essential oils one after the other. I was extremely skeptical that this could work, but it totally did, and it was sort of a singular experience.

If you want to experiment with this kind of thing, I'd recommend focusing on a single sense at a time - so, closing your eyes in a silent room and smelling a bunch of different things, or lying down in a totally dark room and listening to music, etc. Make it deliberate. The next 10-15 minutes are Smelling Time, etc. Maybe write about it afterward.

Shrooms definitely also help with this but, you know, ymmv.

I definitely get this feeling too.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:42 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also have a tendency to "live in my head, not in my body" too much. One thing that I've been making a point of doing lately has been to go for a walk each morning (on weekdays this is my commute, lucky me) during which I try to pay attention solely to my surroundings, rather than all those other things I'd normally be thinking about. It helps when I can take a route without [a lot of] traffic. I try to notice when I can hear birds singing (and which different kinds of birds they are), look at the clouds and the way the tree branches overlap as I walk under them, etc. I guess one could also make a point of asking oneself: what can I smell right now? what can I hear? what am I feeling in my body as I walk?

I've only ever done about 10 weeks of yoga once twenty years ago, but one thing I learned from it was how to hold myself at the boundary of discomfort (but not actually in discomfort) and "look into it" without shying away.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:07 PM on February 21, 2017

I used to think that the sense of smell was kind of unnecessary, and did not quite understand people's enjoyment of it. Then I got obsessed with reading everything on a perfume oil website (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab). Through the reading of stories, poems, book excerpts, and how they were tied together with how the scents were decided on, I learned the importance of smell. I also learned to distinguish scents, what notes I liked, didn't like. By coming in to it from a totally different direction I learned and became engaged with it. My smell awareness, in general has completely changed and grown.
posted by Vaike at 12:21 PM on February 21, 2017

Unplug. Unplug unplug unplug. It is very possible that you are processing so much data input visually via devices that you have lost the habit of using your other senses. Yoga, or better yet, a whole day at the beach or park spent with absolutely no device at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:16 PM on February 21, 2017

This is me all the time! Mega plugged in or way out of focus. Try life drawing, kink (rope, pain, blindfolds, fear play), float tanks, deep tissue massage, dance clubs, edgy sports, distance running. Shrooms — take with coconut milk for a delayed body high or shot of lemon for a near-instant visual high. How about a cold shower or pinch to the inner elbow! You'll sharpen right up.
posted by fritillary at 2:33 PM on February 21, 2017

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