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A truly sensory experience

Have you ever eaten in the dark?  If not, I recommend it (at least once!).

My husband and I recently ate at unsicht-Bar (aka The Dark Restaurant) in Berlin and when I say it was dark, I mean it was pitch black.  There was absolutely no ambient light.  We needed to switch off our phones and Dan had to take off his FitBit because it has a screen that lights up.

It is difficult to imagine just how disorientating being in complete darkness is because for most of us, even when it’s dark there is still some ambient light and our eyes gradually adjust to the darkness.  When our waiter told us to put our hand on his right shoulder and then led us from the light into a holding room between two doors before leading us into the pitch black restaurant, I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable I felt without my sight.

sensory experienceThat’s the thing about something  you rely on everyday, over time you can take it for granted and only realise its true value when it’s gone.

Once we sat down, the waiter took time to explain where everything was on the table using a clock metaphor (it was interesting how that imediately created a visual image in my head as I tried to orient myself) and told us he’d be back with our drinks and starters (which we had ordered previously in the lit bar).  Then he left us alone!

Whilst my rational brain was telling me I was perfectly safe, my emotional brain was creating all sorts of reactions in my body.  I noticed that I was straining my eyes, desparately trying to connect with my surroundings.  My heart was beating just a little bit faster as I heard voices of other diners around me but had no clue exactly where they were.  My legs felt fidgity, almost as if I was primed and ready to move quickly if something bad happened.  What I noticed was that I was on alert.  My fight or flight response was activated, and all I was doing was having dinner with my husband!

When I allowed my rational brain back in, I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I was here with Dan (I reached out to double check he was still there!) and that nothing bad was going to happen here.  In fact it could be quite enjoyable if I relaxed and let the experience unfold.  I dropped the desire to know who was sitting next to us, how far away they were, how I’d know when the waiter was approaching, what I should do if I needed to go to the toilet, what would happen if I knocked my wine glass over…….I breathed and allowed my other senses to take over.

Eating dinner was an interesting experience.  You see, although we had ordered our food in a lit bar, the menu didn’t really tell you what you were getting.  The first challenge was to locate the food on my fork and then get it successfully into my mouth.  (Let’s just say bibs should have been provided!).  The second challenge was to work out what it was that you’d just put into your mouth!

All around us we could here noisy chatter from the other diners.  The sound of knives and forks on plates.  The smell our food and ocassionally feel the slight brush of air as the waiters (who were all visually impaired) walked past.

When I became frustrated with either getting nothing into my mouth or trying to ram a whole potato in, I put my knife and fork down and got stuck in with my hands.  Socially, in the West at least, it is not the done thing to eat with your hands and so this felt quite weird but also liberating!  Feeling the textures and shape of the food before putting them in my mouth really enhanced the feeling and taste as I ate.  It did feel a bit gross at times (chicken skin feels really slimy and not that appetising!) but it totally changed my experience of eating.

Losing just one of my senses for a couple of hours had a huge effect on me.  In those couple of hours I became so much more aware of my other senses and my experience was much richer as a result.

We can get so caught up in our heads in everyday life.  Thinking about what we are doing and often not thinking about what we are doing but thinking about the next thing we are going to be doing.  We don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the richness of our experience with our whole body.

How would your experience of everyday activities like eating, preparing food, having a conversation with someone, walking along the street even just looking out of your window be different if you were more in tune with all of your senses.  With your whole body and not just your eyes?  How would your relationships at work, at home be different?  Imagine making decisions based on more than just logic?

If this has got you thinking then why not get in touch with me and find out more about the mindfulness classes I run or how we can explore mindfulness together in 1:1 coaching sessions?

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