Sensory Awareness Foundation


Sensing and Mindfulness

The relations between sensing and mindfulness practice are multiple and rich, and for those in the mindfulness community, sensing can offer a meaningful expansion of practice. One of the key differences in emphasis is the disposition toward passive observation in mindfulness, and sensing’s inclination to experiment actively. This is especially clear when physical activity is the object of attention.

Often, the mindfulness practitioner is instructed simply to slow down an ordinary activity, and break it into its parts. Thus, in mindful walking, the emphasis might be to slow the steps down sufficiently that, paying attention to the sensations in the foot, one can note “lifting, moving [through the air], placing; lifting, moving, placing.” After developing sustained attention to walking in this way, a more refined practice instructs one to focus on preparing to lift, lifting the heel, lifting the ball of the foot and toes; beginning to move through the air, gliding above the ground, descending toward the ground; touching the ground with the heel, the ball and toe, and finally resting the foot on the ground – then turning the attention to the other foot.

Sensing’s approach could be different in any number of ways. One might well spend an extended session focused only on gradually lifting the foot from the ground, then little by little returning it. But almost certainly, one would be invited to become aware of the effect of this lifting and re-placing throughout the entire person. Or one might be invited to walk, either slowly or at a normal pace or quickly, and to attend to the way in which the whole organism comes into play – the shifting sense of balance, the connection with support, and of course the ever changing character of breathing.

This holistic focus is one of the key differences between the two practices as they are usually offered. In my experience, mindfulness practitioners who take my sensing workshops often have a very easy time adapting to this sort of attention, and their experiences are often colored with something between relief and exuberance at stepping into this wider world of experience. The chance for expanded insight also arises – insight into the dynamics of the body, where they might be holding, and so on. But it is also possible that this simple physical activity will give rise to insight into larger issues in life, such as the ways they do or don’t accept the support that is always available to them. . . .

I hope these thoughts, which have already gone on long enough, are only the beginning of an exchange on the relations between mindfulness and sensing.

What are your thoughts on the connections, the conflicts, the possibilities for outreach . . .?

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–Michael Atkinson