Awareness, mindfulness – many people encourage being more aware of what we experience on a daily basis. We sense the world through our bodies, yet in a hectic everyday life, a lot of us rarely find time to do so.
With our bodies, we confront our surroundings. In “The Eyes of the Skin. Architecture and the senses”, Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa discusses architecture and it’s role as something that helps us settle ourselves in the world, to “recognise and remember who we are”. My favourite chapter is that of touch, which gave me the idea for this post.
“The door handle is the handshake of the building. The tactile sense connects us with time and tradition: through impressions of touch we shake the hands of countless generations. A pebble polished by waves is pleasurable to the hand, not only because of its soothing shape, but because it expresses the slow process of it’s formation; a perfect pebble on the palm materialises duration, it is time turned into shape.”
Pallasmaa, J. (2005). The Eyes of the Skin.
Through touch, we experience being near, we caress and can show affection. Feeling connected to time and place, through touch, smell, vision, hearing and taste. However, it is no longer a given in our lives. When was the last time you ever stopped to just listen? Or when did you sit down, smell the air and let your hand glide across the bench or rock you were sitting on?
Many will perhaps find that this is best done on holidays. When we are not distracted by e-mails and work calls. When the beautiful, yet peculiarly unimpressive imagery from google’s picture search comes alive through scenery of calm oceans or wild forests. Or when walking down the narrow streets twisting through a medival town. The smells and sounds, whether of freshness, calmness or passionate conversation with a hint of cinnamon in the air – we become aware of time and place, and our own position in this world.
Yet it is easy to limit the everyday touch to, well sadly, the screen of our phones. In beautiful scenery or not. The typing on keyboards. When am I most aware? When the “t” on my phone isn’t work properly. Or when my wrists ache from hour after hour of typing. At least the keyboard offers a tactile experience beyond the tips of my fingers. Being touched as well – try touching your hand and see: How is the sensation of your left hand different from the right hand? The hand that touches from the one being touched? Or when you walk with bare feet across the room? Pallasmaa continues:
“Gravity is measured by the bottom of the foot; we trace the density and texture of the ground through our soles. Standing barefoot on a smooth glacial rock by the sea at sunset, and sensing the warmth og the sun-heated stone through one’s soles, is an extraordinary healing ecperience, making one part of the eternal cycle of nature. One senses the slow breathing of earth.”
My experience so far? It’s like finding a lost art. I have found that it is not always easy to be more aware, it requires practice and focus. Nor is the purpose to do so all the time. How do different textures and temperatures feel, or the weight and densities of things? Start small (I am trying right now as I’m typing). To pay better attention to the sensation of touch, as well as the feelings and memories that arise from doing so, can actually be giving and somehow also very soothing. Perhaps because it makes you aware of what is now. So slow down and feel.