As newborns, we establish a bond to our mothers and caregivers through our senses. We respond to warm, gentle touch. We develop a sense of security and trust as we are held, cuddled, have our diapers changed, and are swaddled in soft, warm, clothing, and bedding. Sounds become familiar and reassuring. We pay attention to soft, encouraging words, soothing music, and natural background sounds. The sound of a bird at our window captures our attention as much as the reassuring words of a caring parent. We lock on to our mother's eyes as she breastfeeds us and our father's eyes as he gives us a bottle or carefully spoons baby food into our mouth and gently wipes the excess off of our chins. We not only taste our food — but we also experience it with our other senses. We follow the flight of mobiles, dust motes, shadows, and other visual delights as they enter our field of vision.
Our mindfulness continues into our early childhood. For a good example of this, watch toddlers play in the grass for a while. They roll around in it, close their eyes, lie back in it, and listen to the sounds the wind makes as it blows through the high blades. They pull out handfuls of grass, throw them up in the air, and watch the blades fall to earth. They take a single blade of grass and examine it carefully, rolling it around in their fingers, maybe even against their cheeks with their eyes closed. As they squeeze the grass between their fingers, they notice that oils are secreted. They smell this oil and taste it. Satiated with the grass, they move on to the next activity with the same sense of newness and wonder.
What happens to our child-like ability to experience life mindfully as we grow into adults? How many of us take the time to experience grass like this anymore? The truth is that most of us don't. Is this because we feel that we have "been there, done that?" Are we too jaded to enjoy the simple, free, sensual delights that surround us? Are we too distracted or just too busy? Or, are we embarrassed to be seen by others playing in the grass "like a child" or crazy person? For most of us, the answer to all of these questions is "yes."
To a certain extent, our busy lives get in the way. We spend our days getting ourselves ready for work, our kids ready for school, or our parents getting ready for adult daycare. We suffer through long commutes to work, put in 8-10 or more hours on the job, and then struggle through our return commutes. No sooner than we get home do we start rushing to get the kids to their sports games, classes, or groups. We get mom or dad from daycare and figure out what we are doing for dinner. Once everyone is back home, dinner is finished and the mess is cleaned up, and then we collapse on the couch for a couple of hours of television. If we have any energy left, we have sex before going to bed and do it all again the next day. Managing this kind of hectic schedule makes it easy to rush through life and stop giving anything our full attention.
Despite the frantic pace and complexity of modern-day life, you can relearn how to slow down and regain that sensual connection to the world around you by practicing mindfulness. Through mindfulness training, you can relearn what it means to be fully integrated in the present moment. It takes time and practice and a shift in mindset, but anyone can do it.
The Four Dimensions of Mindfulness
In article #2, I talked about the four dimensions of mindfulness (Present-Centered, Non-Conceptual, Non-Judgmental, and Non-Verbal) and how they would play in a sexual encounter with a partner. If you were having sex mindfully, here is what would be going on:
Present-Centered – You would be fully involved with your partner in the present moment with all five of your senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). Your thoughts would only focus on what is going on with your bodies and your environment as you have sex. They would not drift to something that happened yesterday or will happen tomorrow.
Non-Conceptual – Instead of trying to figure anything out, you would simply note what is happening and enjoy it. You wouldn’t be anticipating what was to come. You would accept your sexual experience for what it is and allow it to play out however it does.
Non-Judgmental – You wouldn’t judge or compare your partner and your sexual experience to any other partners or experiences. You would enjoy and accept your current partner and sexual encounter for what it was, not for what it could be or should be according to someone else' standards.
Non-Verbal – You wouldn’t be talking a lot. You would communicate with your body and your energy.
Obviously, there are times when looking to the past or future, thinking, judging, and speaking all make sense and are the right things to do. However, when trying to declutter your mind and practice mindfulness, they interfere with the process.
Consensual Non-Monogamy and Mindfulness
The scenario I described above describes a one-on-one sexual encounter. Does that mean mindfulness cannot be applied to encounter with two, three, or more partners? The short answer is no. It is just a little harder — especially for beginners. It is difficult to stay focused on what is happening in the present moment when there are multiple partners to be mindful of. There is just so much going on, it can be hard to give it all of your full attention. It takes time and practice to learn how to do this. This is what mindfulness training is all about.
The reward, however, is well worth the effort. If you practice consensual non-monogamy, mindfulness training can greatly enhance the intensity of your sexual experience because the level of stimulation is magnified by all of the different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches that come along with multiple partners. In future articles I'll show you how mindfulness training this can happen for you.