Sensory Awareness Foundation


The Benefits of Sensory Awareness

A great deal of research is now available on the subject of mindfulness and the impact of contemplative practices on our health and well-being. Measurable benefits result from consistently engaging in present-focused states of being. Brain waves, heart functions and respiration become synchronized. The functioning of our immune and endocrine systems improves. As we feel more connected to ourselves and the world around us, compassion and empathy often develops naturally, resulting in more authentic interpersonal relationships.

We spend our lives unconsciously developing habits of thought and behavior. What fires together, wires together.  When brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens. Neural pathways are formed through repetition and then those pathways are more often taken, becoming reinforced even more. With enough repetition, they become automatic. Each experience, including our feelings, thoughts, sensations, and muscular actions becomes embedded in the network of brain cells. In the same way that dysfunctional patterns can become entrenched through repetition, we can also cultivate a responsive way of being if we practice on an on-going basis.  The more we pause and pay attention, the more we remember to pause and pay attention. As we gradually become more aware of automatic patterns and reactivity, we have the option to change them.

Sensing does not have a ‘goal’ of relaxing or an ideal of how we should be, but of just being more fully attentive to what we are actually experiencing in any given moment, thus deepening our understanding of ourselves. Through direct sensory experience we find out how we, in particular, are. What we notice is that we are always in relationship: with gravity, the air, everything (whether we know it or not). Whatever is needed has the space to emerge naturally. Sensory Awareness experiments are just that: experiments. A seasoned leader has learned how to ask questions which deeply explore a broad range of sensory experience. Over time, we can internalize this consciously exploratory way of being and carry it into our daily lives.

You may find that:

  • your ability to focus and pay attention is enhanced.
  • cognitive flexibility increases.
  • you have greater self-insight, curiosity and patience.
  • you experience more empathy and compassion.
  • you experience wonder and gratitude more often.
  • you are better able to cope with stress and challenging situations.
  • your listening skills improve.
  • you are able to engage in your life with less effort and energy.
  • you have a greater awareness of the interconnection present in all of life.
  • you experience joy and pleasure in simple, every day activities.
  • you become more responsive and less reactive.

Above all, you learn to trust the natural wisdom of your own responsiveness and aliveness.

Featured image, “Popcorn” © Robert Smith: visit his on-line gallery

Learning To Receive


hands and stonesBe it through hearing, touch, taste or seeing, when the senses are stimulated the whole organism is transformed into a feeling entity – into a sensitive entity. However, this can only happen when the mind is clear. That means not sharp. That means cleared out like when you make general cleaning and you take all the furniture out, and all the dust away and all the dirt and everything, so that the whole room becomes cleaned and open, quiet. This ‘radio in our head’ becomes silent as you let go of thoughts, and peace can come, when you are more quiet, more open in your head. That is not sleeping or dreaming – it’s like when something is really clean, so it’s free for reception. And then we have to learn to allow that what is happening inside: the beating of the heart. The coming and going of air. Not creating anything. Letting everything be as it happens and letting it change, if it changes. No expectations, no criticisms, no emotions. Just like a clear lake, very quiet.

This article is an edited excerpt from the newly published audio tape by Charlotte Selver’s July 30, 1992 class on Monhegan Island in Maine.

Featured image: “Branches” © Robert Smith Visit his on-line gallery

How can we bring this practice into our daily lives?

By Robert Smith
sharing circle
Creating a conscious bridge from the workshop to daily life.

At every workshop, we take some time to envision how we might bring this work home with us.

Without some conscious commitments to practice, the workshop fades and we are back in our habits and routines.

Many people find that if they just choose to pay attention during some daily activity they begin to form a ‘habit of awareness’. So how would it be for you to choose among the many things that you do each day?

Showering, brushing your teeth, drinking a beverage, waking up, eating, driving, walking the dogs, cleaning, etc.

You don’t really have to do anything special. Just notice. For example, how is breathing and your relationship to gravity?  Is there extra efforting anywhere? Can you be present for brushing your teeth, without zoning out into whatever you think you are going to do later, on any given day? If you ‘zone out’, can you notice how that is? Do you brush your teeth the same way every day?

Upon awakening, do you let yourself be supported in lying? After a bad dream, perhaps you feel distress and tightness all over, but tomorrow, you awaken relaxed and feel more of your own weight sink into your bed. Neither way is right or wrong, but how is it that you experience waking up this time? What sounds are there? What play of light and shadow and color? What textures? Is the light different in winter and in summer? How do you experience temperature against bare skin or the texture of fabric?

You are basically, calling yourself ‘here’ during this one activity that you choose and eventually, it spills out into the rest of your life some of the time. No matter how much more of you is here, there are always more possibilities for presence.

Why bother with this? Find out for yourself. Maybe being present for the simplest of tasks, opens you up to the world.

At workshops, many participants feel a deep sense of connection to themselves and everything alive around them. You have the capacity for this. You just have to remember to wake up.


Featured image, “Nightshade-Lichen” © Robert Smith: Visit his on-line gallery