Developing Your Powers of Sensualisation
By learning how to maximise all your senses when creating a Sensualisation you will:
- Significantly improve your powers of observation.
- Provide yourself with a storehouse of accurate memories that may be used for creating further Sensualisations.
- Sharpen your senses. Like everything else in the human body, these organs function best when used regularly. To keep sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch in prime condition they need to be exercised frequently.
- Enhance your powers of mental focus. This will, in turn, enhance your performance on virtually every mental and physically demanding activity. Indeed the difference between a great thinker and a good thinker, or a supreme sports person and a merely highly competent one can often be found in their abilities to concentrate intently on the task at hand.
- The cumulative benefits of all these is an ability to see the world as it really is rather than as you might wish or fear it to be. Remember that much of the incoming information from your eyes, ears and other sensory apparatus is being edited by your limbic and other areas low down in the brain before passing into that very limited sphere of attention we call consciousness.This means that, especially when any b-locks are present, you become essentially deaf and blind to situations, circumstances or events as they actually are and perceive them instead through filters of self-delusions. The result is all too often FEAR or False Evidence Appearing Real.Equally the incoming information may be interpreted in an overly positive and unrealistic way, causing us to miss important warning signs alerting us to a need to make changes. This can lead you to perceiving challenges not as they really are but as you would wish them to be. Accurate observation, using all your sense, enables you to form far more accurate judgements about the world around you than would otherwise be possible.
Exercises for Building Powerful Sensualisations
The six exercises below involve listening, and smelling, touching, tasting and becoming aware of how your muscles are working to a far higher intensity than is usually the case. I suggest that you start by working with those sensations you found hardest to recreate in your imagination.
If you found all of them equally difficult to Sensualise start by improving your powers of visual imagery since most people find this the easiest sensation to develop. Next start adding sounds to those sights, then include sensations of smell, touch and – where appropriate – taste, before working on muscle movements. There is no need to set about creating formal training sessions, merely take whatever opportunities offer themselves to heighten all your senses by developing a greater awareness of your surroundings in variety of different situations. At first just occupy yourself for a couple of minutes since you will probably find it hard to focus for much longer on the task without finding your concentration disrupted by intruding thoughts, ideas and concerns. With only a little practice, however, you will find it easier and easier to focus the mind on just one sensory input – such as sights or sounds – for longer and longer periods.
Exercise One: Developing Your Visual Sense
When out and about during the normal working day start paying careful attention to all that you see while taking far less notice of information from your other senses. Start by reviewing the whole scene before you then start to focus in on smaller and smaller details.
If walking in the country, for example, survey the whole of a landscape as if seeing everything before your eyes for the first time in your life. Notice the way fields intersect, how hedges, walls or fences follow the contours of the landscape. Observe the shadows cast by trees and hedgerows, become aware of different colours and hues.
After a while transfer your gaze to examine more minutely some detail in your surroundings, such as the texture of bark, the way sunlight spills through leaves, droplets of dew on the grasses or the fine tracery of a spider’s web.
If in a town or city study the shape of buildings, the slant of roofs and the textures of walls. Examine shop window displays observing the design, shape and colours of items displayed. Look around you at the bustling crowds and pay attention to the way different people move, stand, gesticulate and converse.
Try and imagine how all this would all appear if you were a visitor from another planet and had never before seen buildings, traffic or people.
When you are able to focus intensely on the visual aspects of your surroundings for around two minutes at a time, change your emphasis from looking to listening.
One exercise I find helpful is based on the old saying “to know something like the back of your hand!” In fact the majority of us have absolutely now clear idea what the back of either of our two hands really looks like. If you don’t believe me try and describe either of them to yourself right now – obviously without cheating by taking a peep! What marks are there on your skin? Is the skin smooth or wrinkled? What do your knuckles look like, or your nails? Are both hands identical in appearance or do they differ in some way. Study them carefully for a few moments and try to observe them in a way you may never have done so in the past. You’ll find it an intriguing exercise.
Exercise Two: Developing Your Auditory Sense
Explore the sounds as carefully and intently as possible. Notice those at a distance and those closer at hand. Observe how they rise and fall, change, blend and merge into one another.
Focus all your attention on your sense of hearing and, if safe to do so close your eyes to avoid being distracted by the images. While listening in this way try and avoid labelling any of the sounds you can hear. For example instead of thinking: “Ah, an aircraft passing high overhead” or “a dog barking close by”, allow your brain to attend to their tonal quality and aural “colour”.
Once again, use your own body as a “sounding board” while lying quietly in bed at night. Focus on the sound of your breathing and, without making any judgement about it or labelling it as, for instance, smooth or laboured, just listen to it.
How does it sound when it enters and leaves your body? Are there any differences in the sound of an inhalation and exhalation?
Exercise Three: Developing Your Smell Sense
When you feel comfortable about being able to focus on sights and sounds at will, turn your attention to the different aromas around you while now paying as little attention as possible to anything else. Once again it will probably help you maintain intense focus if you close your eyes.
Distinguish between the various scents in the surrounding air and, as with the sounds, try to get out of the habit of putting a label on them or coming to some value judgement about them, such as “that’s a pleasant pine smell” or “what a horrible stench of motor exhaust.”
Remain as neutral and non-judgemental as possible.
Although we may only become aware of odours when especially pleasant or repugnant, they can still frequently exert a profound influence over our behaviour often without our ever being consciously aware of their effect. By triggering memories and emotional associations buried deep within the limbic system they can alter our mood and change our behaviour from one moment to the next.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples in literature is how the smell and taste of lime tea and a Madeline cake led French novelist Marcel Proust to write his massive autobiographical novel In Search of Times Past by evoking overwhelmingly powerful memories of his childhood.
In my own clinical experience I recall one woman who developed a profound hatred of her mother-in-law at their very first meeting. Since the lady was gentle, charming and extremely kind this response was both inexplicable and damaging to the relationship with her husband. Under hypnosis the mystery was solved when it emerged that she had, as a very small child, been cruelly treated when staying with an aunt while her parents were overseas.
This mean and abusive woman had used lavender water and this was exactly the same perfume as used by her mother-in-law. Although she had long repressed the memory of her unhappiness between the ages of twelve months and two years, the scent triggered a potent yet apparently irrational dread and loathing of the older women at their very first meeting. Once the problem had been identified she was able to remove this b-lock and the two rapidly developed a warm and friendly relationship.
One reason for the power that odours of all kinds have as memory joggers is that, unlike information being sent from the eyes and ears, signals from the millions of scent detectors lining our nasal passages pass directly to the brain. Perhaps because of this, our memory for smells is more powerful than for most other information.
Research has shown that people can distinguish between odours smelled 30 days previously with 70% accuracy. This compares with an accuracy of only about 10% for visual and auditory information, over the same period.
So never ignore your sense of smell during Sensualisation training. Skill in recalling the scents associated with a particular event will enhance both the realism of that scene and recall of memories associated with it.
Remember too that both our memories and our smell sensations are handled in the limbic system, which means a smell can often be responsible for first creating and then triggering a b-lock.
Exercise Four: Developing Your Taste Sense
Carry out this exercise whenever eating or drinking.
Again it may help you to close your eyes as you focus on the different sensations produced. Notice not only the taste but also the changing texture and consistency of the food as you move it around in your mouth. Taste and smell are, of course, very closely associated although our olfactory system is around 25,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste as judged by the concentrations which can be detected.
If you have ever seen a map of the tongue in a textbook that showed taste buds that detect sweet things at the tip and bitter tastes at the back then forget it. All these widely published maps are wrong and based on a misinterpretation of the work of a 19th century German researcher.
The fact is that any taste bud, which occurs in onion shaped clusters of between 50 to 100 in bumps on the tongue called papillae, is able to perceive any one of five flavours, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The final one, only recently identified and named after the Japanese for “delicious” has a sort of Parmesan cheese flavour.
When we extol the virtues of gourmet cooking, therefore, what we are actually talking about is not so much the taste as the subtle aromas of the food. Chemicals in the food are released by chewing and evaporate up into the nose via the throat.
Including taste sensations in your Sensualisation training will not only help you create more powerful virtual realities fantasy, but will also prove of great advantage when removing certain types of b-lock.
If attempting to overcome acute anxiety caused by eating in public for instance (a common phobia) being able to taste the meal as you Sensualise a meal with others will make it far easier for you to create a rounded recreation in your mind’s eye.
Exercise Five: Developing Your Touch Sense
Although you can carry out this exercise for enhancing the sense of touch almost anywhere, by focusing on signals from fingers and hands, there will clearly be certain situations in which these sensations are especially powerful.
As you get into a hot bath or stand under a shower, for example, while walking barefoot through grass or over sand, when making a snowball with bare hands or stroking the coat of an animal and so on.
When picking something up try and notice how your fingers are responding to the texture. Does it feel rough or smooth, silky or oily, hard or soft?
Close your eyes and trace around the outline of your features with your fingertips. What do the contours of your face feel like? What about the face of your skin? Smooth beneath your touch or rough and weathered?
What do the lobes of your ears, the shape of your nose, your chin, forehead and hair feel like? Trace your fingers around your lips – are they full or narrow, dry or moist?
Exercise Six: Developing Your Kinaesthetic Sense
Of special interest and importance to anyone who takes part in a sport and wants to improve their performance or give themselves a competitive advantage.
Kinaesthetic sense, which elite athletes, gymnasts, acrobats, dancers, actors and mime artists possess to a very high degree, refers to a sense of what is going on inside your body. By turning your focus inward and noticing what happens when sitting, lying, standing or moving you will build up a much better picture of your biodynamics, that is how you are use the more than two hundred bones and six hundred muscles of which your body is constructed.
You will also be able to pick up needless tensions, especially in the muscles of the face? Check now – is your forehead wrinkled or smoothed out? Are your back teeth clenched? Is your tongue resting loosely in your mouth? How are you sitting, what is happening inside the muscles of your lower back and shoulders? When moving around try and observe which groups of muscles are contracting and which are relaxing. Remember muscles cannot “push” only “pull” to make a movement.
When “slicing” the lemon in the exercise above, for instance, your biceps contracted and your triceps, at the back of your upper arm, relaxed as you raised the blade. Then, as you brought it down to slide the lemon, the triceps contracted while the biceps relaxed.
Not only is such bodily awareness essential when constructing a Sensualisation concerning a sporting activity or similar activity in which movement is all important, but it will also help you become more aware of any barriers you may unintentionally be erecting that prevent effective breathing.
When carrying out these training exercises, bear the following points in mind.
1: Don’t be surprised or disappointed if, at first, you find it difficult to concentrate on any single sensation since it is quite likely that unwanted thoughts will intrude. Should this happen simply notice you were distracted before calmly returning to the exercise. After a while these intrusive ideas will gradually decrease until you are able to focus all your attention to the sense being trained.
2: Try not to categorise or label any of the sights, sounds, smells and so on as you attend to them. Merely notice them in as neutral a manner as possible.
3: Do not evaluate the information, at this stage, as pleasant or unpleasant, attractive or unattractive and so on. Just experience the sensation as objectively as you are able.
4: At first you can practice focusing on different sensations in various locations. Once you have gained some experience, the next task is to take just one scene – preferably somewhere you find relaxing and agreeable – and explore it thoroughly using each of the six senses in turn. Then, during Relaxation training (See Understanding Your Anxiety) you can, if you wish, use that scene rather than the one I provide. You may find this helps you relax even better than my “off the peg” Sensualisation since it contains memories that are personal and therefore very special.
5: It is important not be become part of a Sensualisation in the sense of watching yourself as if you were acting in a movie. Always see events through your own eyes, hear them through your ears, touch, smell and taste it via your senses just as you would if you were really there.
6: If you had difficulty conjuring certain features, then return to the real life scene as soon as possible to enhance your memory. Focus mainly on those sensations which, although they formed an important part of the original scene, were poorly recalled during the Sensualisation.
- Be specific. You must see yourself carrying out some particular activity.
- Create surroundings and events in your minds eye that are as vivid as you can make them. Use sights, sounds, taste, touch and smell.
- Perceive everything from your own viewpoint rather than from the position of a detached observer watching yourself in action. You are the key actor in this drama of the mind not a member of the audience.
- If you start getting unduly anxious, switch scenes immediately and return to the Relaxing Breath procedure taught in Understanding Your Anxiety.
- If you are uncertain of exactly how you want act in a particular situation, rehearse several different versions. You might be assertive in one, less dominant in another for example. Imagine how others present are likely to respond to your various approaches, and then consider your own responses to them.
- At first you may find that your Sensualisations are neither as clear nor as easily sustained as you wish them to be. You may also start getting unhelpfully anxious almost as soon as you picture yourself in the stressful situation. But with a little practice you should find it perfectly possible to create and sustain powerful mirrors of real life events.
- Initial anxiety quickly declines with each repetition of the scene, allowing you to deal in a relaxed and confident manner with even the most stressful of challenges. Then when you come to attempt them in real life this rehearsal will help you keep your fears under control.
- Once you are able to cope confidently while Sensualising a challenge you will be ready to deal with it in real life.