We didn’t see any signs. We didn’t know anything was wrong.We can’t wait for people who are in pain to ask us for help. People who are in that type of pain rarely speak up about it. There is tremendous shame and stigma in reaching out for help, even in admitting that you are thinking about suicide. Most people react by making the person in pain wrong or bad; it’s the reason that suicidal people don’t speak up.
People in the depths of this pain communicate in other ways that you miss. The problem is that you don’t know how to read the signs; you don’t know how to hear what isn’t being said.
This inattention and unawareness is plays out in many areas. Have you ever had a misunderstanding with someone — a friend, a spouse, a colleague — over something that one of you failed to do that the other was expecting?
Relationships erode when communication erodes. And communication erodes because we have lost the skill of paying attention.
The Crucial Skill to Maintain Strong Relationships
Sensory acuity is a term used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It refers to the ability to use our senses to make accurate observations about ourselves or other people.
You can’t have sensory acuity without sensory awareness. Psychologist Russel T. Hurlburt, Ph.D. defines sensory awareness as “the direct focus on some specific sensory aspect of the body or outer or inner environment.”
He explains that this is not merely a response to the characteristics of the environment.
Sensory awareness is a phenomenon of experience, not a characteristic of perception.
To engage in sensory awareness you must pay particular attention to some sensory aspect.
For example, as you scroll through your news feed, if you are paying particular attention to how your finger rests on the screen of your phone, feeling the smoothness of the glass and the feeling in your fingertips, that is sensory awareness.
We Don’t Notice What’s Around Us
We often walk through life mindlessly.
How many times have you passed the same sign or stores on your daily commute and not even noticed what they are?
How aware are you of what is going on around you in any moment?
What about your body? Right now, as you read this, what level of awareness do you have of your body?
How often do you pay attention to things like whether you are walking on the outside edge of our foot or which toe hits the ground first?
Usually we are so busy rushing from one place to the next that we don’t pause to notice what our body is doing or what is happening around us.We can look directly at something and not truly see it. This goes for people too.
We generally pay little attention to what’s going on in our bodies unless we feel pain. In fact, that’s the purpose of pain: to alert us that something needs attention. By the time we notice our pain, it’s often late in the game to make repairs.
The same goes for noticing the pain of others.
How much stronger would your relationships be if you noticed the subtle shifts in your friends and family earlier?
What might you be able to heal if you were more attuned to others’ pain?
Perhaps you’d be there to give someone a needed smile or hug that would give hope in a moment of despair. You never know when you might save a life.
How to Increase Your Sensory Awareness
Increasing your sensory acuity starts within. As you notice more about your own experience you will develop the skills to notice what is going on in the people around you.
One of the best ways to expand your sensory awareness is through mindfulness practice. This can include formal meditation, but it doesn’t have to. Simply pay attention to what you notice while you are doing any activity.
For examnple, as you sit and read this article, notice what’s happening in your body.
- What are your hands doing?
- Are they holding your phone or tablet, or resting on a mouse?
- What is the texture of what you are holding?
- How does it feel against your fingers?
- Are you sitting or standing?
- What do you feel underneath you?
- Are you on a hard chair? A soft couch?
- How does the air feel against your skin?
- What sensations do you feel in your hands? Are they straining? Tingling?
The more you can pause to notice these smallest details of your experience, the more you train your brain to become aware of them.
And as you notice more of your own experience you will become more attuned to the subtle signals that others communicate.
This awareness and acuity will help you communicate more effectively and deepen your relationships. It just might even help you save someone’s life.