Present Sense Awareness

Image: Girl Runs Up San Francisco's 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. Photo by Abe K via

Girl Runs Up San Francisco’s 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. Photo credit: Abe K / / CC BY-NC-ND

This exercise brings together meditation and writing suggestions designed to help you heighten your awareness of the things you see, smell, taste, hear, and feel. Increasing your sensory awareness can help you to bring sensory details into your work, which can make your writing more vivid.

This exercise can also help you to center your awareness in your body. Here’s why body awareness may be important to your writing process:

Writing is a thinking activity. We most often do it while sitting. If we’re really engaged in our work, we may forget to get up and stretch. We may forget about our bodies completely. Sometimes when we write forgetting about our bodies is a good thing. It means we’re not distracted by our aches and pains. Of course, we can always write about our aches and pains! On the other hand, when we habitually focus on thinking and ignore or deny physical sensations, we can lose the ability to access our emotions, since physical sensations and emotions are so closely tied.

For instance, our faces get red when we’re embarrassed or angry; we avert our eyes when we’re ashamed; and stress may give us a headache or an upset stomach. As writers it’s important for us to be able to draw from all aspects of our being—intellectual, spiritual, emotional, physical. Cultivating our sense perceptions can help us to deepen and enrich both our awareness and our writing.

Meditate and Write Your Senses

You can use this exercise to begin a writing session, to warm up to writing, or to slow down and stay present. Allow a minimum of five minutes for the meditation and ten minutes for the writing. Read through the instructions first. You may also want to take a minute to stretch before you begin.

Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and tune into your body…. Notice any places where you might be holding tension, and gently breathe into those places…. Let your breath find its natural rhythm….

Now pay attention for a few moments to everything you hear. What are the qualities of the sounds that surround you?… Notice the sounds that come from inside you, too, the sounds of your breath and your body….

Pay attention to what it feels like to sit here, to the way your body feels against the chair or the floor … to any little aches or pains you might feel … to any feelings of discomfort or comfort….

Notice what you smell and taste….

Pay attention to the things you see in your mind … to the colors and shapes and images….

Now send the breath of relaxation through your whole body…. Feel your breath filling you as you inhale, feel the fullness of breath…. Feel the release of tension as you exhale … and notice the pleasure of the pause between breaths….

Pay attention to your breath for a few moments, and let your thoughts come and go easily, like clouds passing overhead …. and see what it’s like to just be here, to just sit here in your body and breathe.

When you are ready, you can begin to write from your senses. Write everything you see, smell, taste, hear, and feel. If you find yourself drifting away from the present moment, bring yourself back to the here and now and continue writing from your senses. If it becomes difficult to sustain the focus on your present sense awareness, let your mind go wherever it wants to go, and write about whatever comes to you.

One Sense at a Time

Every day for a week focus on a different sense. On sound sensation day, make note of all the sounds that come into your awareness. As I write this, for instance, I can hear two birds, one warbling loudly, another twittering softly. A car whooshes by on the road. My fingernails click on my computer keyboard. A plane growls across the sky. I hear myself sigh deeply.

From time to time throughout sound sensation day, make notes about the sounds you hear. How would you describe them? What do they remind you of? What feelings or memories do they evoke? On each subsequent day, focus your attention on scents, tastes, textures, and the things you see.

As you do this exercise, you may also want to jot down the ways in which sensory focus affects your perceptions and your writing.