Are You Trapped Within Your Thoughts? Here’s a Way to Savor Your Senses

Today I’ll say more about the difference between having a conscious experience and just thinking about it. When I was working as a psychotherapist I noticed that people seemed to live in their concepts instead of in the flow of their own sensual experiences. When asked, “What are you feeling now?” clients would often say how they had usually felt in similar circumstances, how they thought they should feel, how they imagined that most people would feel, what they thought I wanted them to say they felt, how they had generally been feeling in the past few minutes, or what sort of feeling they thought others would applaud. Few were able to tap into the detailed, second-by-second flow of their own stream of awareness.

A woman might initially say, “I feel sad,” for example, but after carefully focusing on her experience she might discover to her own surprise that she was mainly feeling angry. (Perhaps she was taught by her parents that good girls don’t get mad.) Her beliefs about how things seemed to her experientially were quite different from her actual state of mind. Incidently, this could be one cause of the placebo effect. When people expect an inert “drug” to ameliorate their symptoms, they often report that it does. This may be partly because they are not competently monitoring their own sensations. They are living more in their concepts than in their own bodies.

I observe – I assume. This technique from Gestalt Therapy helps us “come to our senses.” It can be practiced in many different situations, but at first try using it in situations where you can observe other people without distraction. Sitting in a restaurant or watching TV are two excellent opportunities. Look at someone unobtrusively and notice something you observe about that individual. Then notice what you are assuming, inferring, or speculating about this person. “I observe that he is wearing a tie. I assume he is a rather formal fellow.” “I observe that she is wearing a red blouse; she probably likes that shade of red.” “I observe that he is laughing; I speculate that he has a nice sense of humor.”

Continue alternating between things you observe and things you guess or assume. See if you can catch yourself confusing an assumption for an observation. For example, “I observe that she is sleepy” is false. You aren’t inside of her head and you can’t be sure sleepiness is what she is experiencing. “I observe her yawning, and I assume she is sleepy” would be correct. But she might be bored. By practicing this technique you can begin to see how much of what we take as obvious facts are merely conjectures. It is remarkably easy to live within our concepts instead of our actual experiences.

Roger Christan Schriner

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