It’s time to wake up! Most of us are living our lives in a mental construct as opposed to experiencing the world as it is.
In the name of safety, efficiency, science, and progress we’ve insulated ourselves from the richness of life – our sensory perception.
And as our senses dull, we lose our natural animal instincts. We also remove ourselves from the present moment and become a slave to our thoughts and emotions.
Most importantly we miss out on all the beauty and mystery the world (and our bodies) have to offer. Too many people have isolated themselves from the natural world and even their own bodies.
It’s time to stop dulling our senses so we can be comfortable. It’s time to regain our curiosity, the boundless energy, the alertness, the sensations, and the fun and beauty of waking up our bodies to the world around us.
Into the Wild
Wild and undeveloped places are one of the best places to hone your senses; after all, our senses evolved in these places for thousands of years. In case you didn’t know it, you are an animal. You have the ability to survive and thrive in the wilderness.
For you skeptics, we even have scientific proof that connection with nature is important for our wellbeing (I can just imagine Thoreau rolling over in his grave if he knew that we are engaging in this type of “research”).
Below is a list of some of the ways to get the ball rolling. It is by no means comprehensive and most of them can even be practiced in the city. Some of the things might even be inherently dangerous especially if you are coming from a place of very little cultivation in these areas. Take your time and listen to your instincts; they are in there somewhere!
Take your feet out of those casts you call shoes. I’m talking about fully barefoot. Minimalist footwear is only allowed after you’ve gone without shoes first (and only in the beginning as you toughen your feet).
When you walk barefoot, it forces you to be aware of your surroundings and out of your head. You get to directly interact with the elements around you.
Also, a little known fact, your feet are waterproof! It’s okay to get them wet and muddy. And shy of walking in freezing temperatures, snow, and extreme heat, they can also get cold and/or hot with no harm. It’s just another sensation; experience it!
No excuses about broken glass and dog shit either. Where I live in Mexico, there truly is broken glass and dog (and other creatures) shit everywhere. Additionally there are cobblestone roads, plants with stickers, scorpions, puddles of unidentifiable liquids, uneven surfaces, gravel, broken concrete, and exposed rebar.
I walk everyday barefoot on these streets and guess what? I’m forced to be keenly aware of what’s going on around me. If you can master the urban jungle, a walk through woods on a dirt trail will be nothing.
Check In With Your Surroundings
On your next hike, stop every five minutes for at least 30 seconds to check in with your surroundings (remember this is about awakening your senses not finishing the trail in record time).
What do you hear? Any birds, any rustling in the bushes?
What do you see? Look behind you. Look up into the trees. Check out the ground and the plant life. Notice the colors.
How about smells? Does the air smell clean? Is there any smoke or burning smell? Can you smell the rain coming? What do the leaves smell like? Do deer pellets actually have a smell?
Since you are walking barefoot, you will already have some idea of what is going on with your sense of feel. But also be sure to touch and feel things. Is the bark of the tree spongy or hard? Does that rock seem heavy or light for its size? What’s the weather feel like (and are you warm or cold)?
As you check in resist the urge to identify things by their name, engage in a “nature lesson,” get philosophical, or do anything else that takes you away from experiencing your surroundings.
Wide Angle Vision
Most of us view the world in a very focused way and we even “look inward” as we think. In turn we see very little of our surroundings and have very little awareness outside our narrow view.
Wide Angle Vision (a concept I learned from the Tom Brown Jr. books) is a great way to gain a broader perspective of your environment without sacrificing focus.
Start by letting your eyes unfocus so you can see the full area that your vision allows. Keep your eyes this way as much as possible. As you see movement or anything else that “catches your eye,” focus in on it for second as to identify what you are seeing.
After you know what you are looking at and assuming it requires no further attention, let your eyes go back to their unfocused state.
You will be amazed at how much more you notice and are aware of. This practice is also beneficial to keep you in the present moment. It is almost impossible to do any heavy thinking without focusing your eyes.
Climb a mountain a mountain or a tree. Scramble up a rocky outcropping or even scale a rock face. Sensory perception and instinct is vital for climbing.
There is also something about that view from above and the sense of accomplishment of getting up there that clears your mind and makes you feel alive.
Swim in Natural Body of Water
Take a swim in that lake at the end of the trail. Feel the muck between your toes as you walk in. Notice how your breath is taken away in the cool water, feel yourself adjust to the temperature. Close your eyes and float on the surface.
On the other hand, you could float down some rapids on a river, body surf in the ocean, or stand in a waterfall. Or The power of moving water is both humbling and extremely exciting at the same time.
Take a Walk or Hike at Night
This one takes our crutch, site, out of the equation (or strongly diminishes it anyway). Lean on your other senses instead. To help make your transition to a creature of the night, be sure to “check in with your surroundings” every once in while.
Hunt and Gather
I used to fancy myself as an accomplished outdoorsman. After all I was an avid climber, mountaineer, whitewater rafter, and backpacker. I used to manage the Outdoor Rec Center in college, was a counselor at an outdoor adventure camp, and I even have a bachelor’s degree in Forest Recreation Management.
So let’s just say hunters didn’t exactly impress me. I used to think they were a bunch of cheap beer drinking, ATV riding, macho, backwoods rednecks. How hard could it be to shoot Bambi with a high-powered rifle?
So when I got the chance to go with some friends, I figured I might as well go for the experience. While I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to shoot an animal (both literally and emotionally), I smugly thought that I would be a master of the wilderness. Turns out I was wrong.
I have found some of the negative stereotypes to be fairly common, but what’s also true is that experienced hunters have a profound sense of the rhythms of the wilderness that tree huggers and hikers (like me) don’t.
If you have just been walking on trails your whole life, you are only experiencing a fraction of what the woods have to offer. Stalking an animal will make you feel more alive than almost anything you can do.
Even if you don’t want to kill an animal, go “hunting” with your camera. See how hard it is to track and stalk a deer. It’s not easy. It requires far more than theoretical knowledge. It requires you to use your senses, stay present, and tap into your instinct.
While not as intense as hunting, searching for wild edible and medicinal plants are another great way to experience nature and wake up the senses. You also get to exercise your sense of taste and there is nothing more flavorful than fresh and wild-grown foods.
Play some hide and seek with your kids or even your adult friends. Don’t be too cool for this kind of thing; it’s a lot of fun! There is a reason you played it every day as a kid.
To really challenge your sensory perception try a game of Steal the Treasure. This game requires at least 4 people but more the better.
Start with one person blindfolded and sitting on a chair (or log or rock). He/she is the guard. Some sort of treasure (like a hat, ball, etc.) is placed near the guard. The rest of the players should form a loose circle roughly 50 ft away.
The goal is for the players to “steal” the treasure without the guard being aware of it. If the guard hears and then points directly at a player, that person is out. Whoever is able to steal the treasure without the guard being aware is the winner and the new guard.