Attentiveness is not limited to just one sense. You can probably remember a time, maybe all the way back in elementary school days, when you were told to “pay attention,” so you consciously perked up your ears or fixed your gaze on whatever it was you needed to focus on. This probably worked for you to a certain extent, at least long enough to write down whatever the message was, but it was just as easy to slip back into a comfortable state of distraction shortly thereafter.
Without meditation, we’re forced to turn presence on and off like a switch. Putting extra strain into being in the moment can be exhausting, and our brains are not wired to be acutely aware of all that’s going on around us and within us at all times. Meditation provides that training so that we can live in a state of heightened sensory awareness, and therefore heightened attentiveness, without even having to think about it.
We’ve talked before about how mindfulness can make music sound better, food taste better and art look better. That’s because when our thoughts aren’t pulling us away to things we can’t control or stressful situations that occurred in the past, we’re able to experience the full magnitude of what’s happening right in front of us using the senses we know we have. In that way, presence is like an extra, sixth sense that makes us privy to peak experiences that others aren’t.
Practicing meditation gives us a presence of mind to understand our own reactions to situations and give us a roadmap for handling the feelings that accompany those reactions. We’re better able to tell ourselves this too shall pass because we recognize a feeling as one that has passed before. When you’re more mindful, you’re comfortable with emotional honesty and don’t run from stress and anxiety. With meditation you learn to welcome those feelings without letting them get the best of you.
Being fully present also gives the mind power over the body. Pain and illness aren’t as debilitating because we don’t view them that way when we’re mindful. You may think that this heightened sense of awareness of our senses means that we feel more, and thus worse, but pain is often exacerbated by the story we attach on top of it – how it will keep us from doing the things we enjoy or how this is always happening to us. When reduced to its purely physical form, pain actually hurts less because a mindful brain puts it in proper perspective.
Capturing the world as it moves around us and as it swirls within us is not a matter of trying extra hard with the senses we know we already have. It’s about unlocking the mind to work on a subconscious level and give us a new sense with which to experience the world – one of presence and objectivity. Meditation is the key to the sixth sense that’s inside your mind.