What makes this little gentleman so appealing?

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‘Sensory awareness’ is an exercise I sometimes suggest to my clients with long-term pain. ┬áPersistent pain is a strong pull for the brain’s attention- whilst one part of the brain is trying to figure out where the pain is so that it can deal with it as a potential threat, another part seeks to block out the associated unpleasant sensations. This continual battle means that many people who suffer from long-term pain can find themselves becoming, understandably, less aware of pleasant sensations. Sensory awareness helps people to start noticing pleasant sensory experiences again. I invite people to write down as many things they can think of that make them smile, give them pleasure, enjoyment or comfort, categorising each experience into either their sense of sight, smell, taste, touch or hearing.

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I am often amazed by the power of this simple exercise. People start to recognise how blocking and pushing away painful sensations means that they can lose the potential to enjoy things around them. At first, many people struggle to write down even ten things in each category and are usually shocked at just how difficult it can be to think of pleasant sensory experiences after living with pain for so many years. Over time and by consciously focusing on using their senses during everyday activities, many people report experiences such as starting to really their taste food again; appreciating stroking their pets; noticing all the colours of green in their local park; hearing bird song as if for the first time.

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This exercise reminds me of how important it is to find ways to consciously use our senses everyday. We can get playful with them. The first thing I think of is my love for the feel of velvet. Maybe it stems from my 1970’s upbringing when velour, a cheap substitute for velvet, was high fashion. Not until my 20’s did I acquire anything containing the real stuff- a second-hand riding jacket with a scarlet red velvet collar. I wore it everywhere. Lately I’ve been dropping heavy hints at home about wanting to spend my leisure time reclining on a burgundy velvet sofa. Nothing has materialised as yet!

In the meantime, any mention of velvet always makes me smile. Like this description of I recently came across in a book, of moles as “the little gentlemen in velvet.”

Could there be anything more appealing?

What sights/sounds/smells /tastes and textures make you smile or bring you pleasure, enjoyment or comfort ? Are there any ways you can incorporate these into your life more regularly?

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Training my wild elephant to help with post-holiday blues

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How do you deal with the end of the summer holidays? For me, this time of year brings the routines of home and work into sharp focus. Having got used to spending more time outdoors or dedicated to creative activities, in the house I notice my impatience in the midst of sorting socks, stacking plates, folding washing and sweeping floors. In the workplace, as someone who is used to handwriting and dealing with paper folders of patients’ notes, I’m aware of having to dig deeper to tolerate my organisation’s increased reliance on unfamiliar electronic recording and storage systems. Being prone to the winter blues, my mission to bring more playfulness into my life feels even more important as I contemplate the coming months of nights drawing in.

In his article, 6 Hacks to Create a Job You Love, Paolo Terni proposes that we turn the routines of life, the activities we find mundane, into games. I’m experimenting with this idea. How about breaking all the rules of effective time management and turning your ‘to do’ list into a lucky dip?  Or awarding yourself points for tackling those tasks you keep putting off and giving yourself a reward at the end of the week for a high score?

This idea reminded me of one of the exercises developed by Jan Chozen Bays in her book ‘How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness‘. Bays suggests that we look deeply into our food- using our powerful brains to imagine where the food we eat comes from- bringing to mind all of the people involved in planting, growing, harvesting, packing and transporting that food to our plates. She advocates envisaging all of the people whose energy has contributed to the journey that food has made to reach us. In a nutshell, she wants us to notice that everything and everyone is connected and that remembering these interconnections can help us to approach everyday activities differently.

I realise that I can choose to adopt this playfully curious approach to virtually any of the routines I participate in. Even sorting socks.

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