Sensory School (Get Out of Your Head and Get Into Your Senses)

Revised version has been published on Elephant Journal.

How long does the average American go to school for?  I was enrolled in preschool up to obtaining a four year college degree. So that means I was in school for approximately 18 years. Pretty much all those years were consumed by academics and book work. Yes, of course there was some physical education (PE) and art, as well as social time with peers. However, progress was measured by grades, standardized exams, and mainly whether you could memorize and repeat back what was taught to you. I’m not downplaying my education, I’m just not sure if it was quite balanced.  I really do love school and I love to learn.  I love it so much that I’ve decided to be a lifelong student.  Yet, I’ve realized that I am way too absorbed in my head (and it probably doesn’t help that I’m a psychology major).  Hence, I’ve decided at age 29 to enroll myself in Sensory School.  Below chronicles my journey and further explanation.

Academic & Career Life
I took the traditional academic and public school route, and received straight A’s throughout my educational career.  In elementary, I skipped ahead a grade, in high school I was in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, I enrolled in a 4 year university, received a Bachelor’s degree, and afterwards, submerged myself in the career world.  I worked in Accounting and Finance, my office was in a downtown Seattle high rise on the 20th floor with a secure salary, benefits, and view. Every college graduate’s dream job right?  Wrong.

After 3 years I was miserable and couldn’t reconcile one more spreadsheet.  I didn’t really care to “work my way up the corporate ladder.” What was I working up to?  More responsibility?  More money?  More spreadsheets?!  No way Jose. So to my parents dismay, I quit and decided to acquire a job related to my major. I started at a group home working with adult mental health patients and addicts. I loved it! I was in charge of driving clients to weekend activities, to their AA meetings, church, and doctor’s appointments. I helped them with grocery shopping, cooking and with their homework assignments. Although these people were classified as “mentally ill,” they were so fascinating and I loved every moment and conversation we all had together. I felt like I was making a positive impact and difference, and they in turn were opening, challenging and expanding my mind. So what happened? Turns out the director of the place was mentally ill herself, lied about her credentials, and the place got shut down. Back to the drawing board.

I next landed myself at a very bizarre place (probably even more bizarre than working with “mental” patients). I started working for a non-profit acupuncture school. This was a very interesting experience. I was an admissions counselor for potential students, was in charge of promotional and marketing campaigns, and did pretty much all the office/administrative work. It was fun and challenging, hard and rewarding, with many long hours, and a whole lot of sweat and tears. I was submerged in the world of natural health, acupuncture, yoga, alternative therapies, and various spiritual teachings. I did this for 5 years, and it was neat to explore a counter-culture realm beyond the mainstream. However, if you’ve ever heard the saying “if things are too good to be true, it probably is.”  Well this place is the epitome of that quote.

Soon everything came to a screeching dysfunctional halt, as stress and fear began to run the organization, and brink of bankruptcy was looming in the air.  Constant yelling, fighting, negativity, and power struggles suddenly became the norm.  Cult-like inclinations and unethical decisions started to taint this once beautiful, tranquil, positive setting.  My personal ethics and values were no longer in alignment, so I had to walk away.  Off I went to discover another venture.

This time I arrived at a place I never thought I’d be (in fact, I never think I’ll land in almost most of the places I do).  I arrived in the comfort of a restaurant.  Why are restaurants so comforting?  Because they are surrounded with food. I love food.  I love to eat, smell, taste, and learn about different cuisines.  Its so awesome how every different culture has their set traditions surrounding their meals.  And its also amazing how a few different ingredients can come together to create a masterpiece.  So here I am with a college degree and with experience in several different career paths, working in the food industry.

Sensory School Life
I’ve been pondering going back to get a Master’s Degree (in a health-related, education or social services field), however, our current infected economic condition and the school system’s mainstream tendency to focus on “heady” education has steered me to create my own school program.  I’ve thus enrolled myself in Sensory School.  This means I am devoting the next 12 years of my life to developing my senses.  I am currently in first grade.  Once I reach 12th grade, then I’ll decide if I want to continue to Sensory College or whether I want to dive back into the traditional academic arena.

Sensory School is currently teaching me how to process and develop my hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and feeling (aka intuition or the “6th” sense).  The potential to increase the capacity of your senses are limitless, however, below are some examples of what I’m doing.  I invite you to join me and try it out.  A simple, basic rule is to pick something fun you used to do as a child and do it now.  Or pick something you’ve always wanted to do, and do it now.

  • Color/Draw/Paint:   When was the last time you picked up a crayon or colored pencil?  Sometimes Trader Joe’s (my local grocery store) has coloring contests, and guess what?  I always participate and submit my coloring.  Who says its only for kids to color?  What happened to your water color set?  Your acrylic paints?  Bust it back out.  Take a break from the computer.  Draw something.  Doodle and scribble until you can’t doodle anymore.  Let your hand lead the way.  Your doodles will turn into images.  Amazing images.  Try and draw something you’ve seen or thought about, or draw something that’s right in front of you right now.  Even if you can’t make a “clear” image, it’s okay, it can be abstract.
  • Write:  What happened to your paper notepad and pencil?  What happened to writing a letter or having a pen pal?  The art of handwriting is almost lost because we are so consumed with typing on a keyboard on our computer or phone.  Pick up a pencil and piece of paper. Write down a  thought you had or a word that pops into your mind.  Even if its mumbo-jumbo.  Write a poem or rhyme or song.  Write about your day, all the things that went well, and maybe the things that weren’t so great.  Write about your dreams and hopes and wishes.  Write a letter to yourself or to someone (you don’t have to give it to them).
  • Music:  Pick up an instrument.  It doesn’t matter how old you are.  Just do it.   Who cares if you sound clunky?  Soon the clunk will turn into natural flow.  Take lessons.  Find a teacher that can mentor, inspire and encourage you.  Jam out with friends.  Sing.  Who cares if you think you can’t sing or can’t hit the high or low note?  Hum or whistle a tune.  Sing in the shower, car, or while walking down the street.  Join a choir or go to karaoke.  It doesn’t matter what other people think of you.  Pick your favorite songs, find the lyrics and have your own karaoke session at home.  Or in fact, write your own song.  Find a melody, and/or a few words.  Even if its a short snippet, soon it will evolve.
  • Language:  Learn another language.  Whether it’s learning to read sheet music or another foreign spoken or written language, just try it.  Even if its just a few words.  Learn to say hi and thank you to your neighbor, co-worker, or friend who is of a different culture.  Its fun.  And if you mess up and say something wrong, its okay.  The person your speaking to will show you the right words, and you can keep learning.
  • Cook:  Get in the kitchen and cook something.  Stop going to the drive through, using the microwave and/or expect someone else to cook for you all the time.  Find a recipe online or in a cookbook and try something.  Or better yet, just improvise.  Throw a bunch of ingredients together in a pan, and see, smell, and taste what happens.  Experiment.  Have a cooking party with friends, or take a cooking class.  Go to your local farmers market and find out what fresh ingredients are growing in your area.  Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  You’ll be amazed at what shows up every week in your box of food.  You can even take it to the next level and grow your own garden and eat off your yard.  To observe and tend a seed all the way to fruition is a wonderful exercise in sensory development.
  • Etc.

There are so many things you can do to develop your senses.  Its never too late to start and learn something new.  Get out of your comfort zone and do something you’re not comfortable doing.  It will reap fantastic rewards.  If you come from an academic, brain background like me, I invite you to try to do the complete opposite to balance yourself out.  Some may think that this all seems child-ish, but I say its child-like (and absolutely necessary).  Developing your senses is a vital part of growth and expansion, and I feel is essential for our species to evolve.

So get out of your head and get into your senses.  Enroll in the Sensory School of life and let yourself fly high.  You might be surprised where you land.  😀

**Recommended Reading (for those not quite ready to take the full sensory jump, feel you can’t do it, or want to learn more):  The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

———————
by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2012

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