Exploring the outdoors through our senses provides an opportunity to rediscover a setting anew. By taking the time to slow down or pause, we create an opening in which to fully immerse ourselves in all the natural wonders that a space has to offer. What can we learn and discover about a place when we engage our sense of smell, open our auditory awareness and really take the time to see the minute visual details?
We use our senses every day. They are complex and we rely heavily on them to provide us and our brains with important information which help us to not only perceive, but also understand the world around us. Although they are active and working, we are often not actively aware of them, unless an event or situation arises which brings them to the fore of our attention. For instance, a burning smell, a sharp prick on the skin, a loud noise, an unpleasant taste, or a sudden change of light.
But what if we were to actively engage our senses when out exploring the outdoors? What more would we be able to discover about the world around us and ourselves?
It’s thought that touch is the first sense which humans develop. Texture appears to be particularly important in helping to evoke associations, as well as abstract concepts. As such, it has been suggested that touch can influence the way in which we make decisions.
As such, exploring the outdoors through touch can be a particularly powerful experience. What happens when you touch the bark of a dry tree? How does that sensation change when the tree is wet from the rain? How does it feel to lie down on the grass or on sand? How does the wind feel as it brushes against your skin? What emotions are stirred when the rain falls upon your face?
When we are outdoors, particularly in settings which may be very familiar to us, we have a tendency to miss small visual details. So accustomed are we to the outdoor setting, that we may fail to notice small, new details. A change in light can be a particularly stimulating experience as it enables us to perceive a recognised space in a new way.
Engage your sense of sight by taking a walk at a different time of day. Early morning or sunset can be particularly effective as the changes in light are most noticeable. Instead of exploring a large area, try instead to devote a portion of time to simply exploring one small spot.
What can you notice? How does the light change the space? What can you notice about the way the plants move and bend? Try to focus on small details too. Can you see anything growing or decaying? Can you see any insects crawling? Focus your lens to allow you to see the minute details which so often go unnoticed.
One way to explore an outdoor space anew is to take a walk where you focus upon your sense of sound. Take a moment to pause at the start of your journey, closing your eyes and taking the time to open your auditory awareness. What can you hear? Try to let your awareness explore the deeper layers of sound available to you.
Can you hear any wildlife? What sound does the wind make as it rustles through the plants? Can you hear the rain falling on the ground? Is the sound soft or harsh? Is there any sound of human activity?
Repeat the exercise at different points on your walk. What do the different sounds at each point of your walk tell you about the different areas within your familiar location? Which areas are busy with the rhythms and sounds of life? Which areas are quiet and sleeping, hibernating? Explore too the different sounds at different levels. How does the environment sound when you are standing compared to sitting or lying down?
You could also try to record the natural sounds in the environment on your phone. Listen back to them later. Was there anything unexpected in your recording? Were there sounds close to the ground that you couldn’t hear whilst standing, or vice versa?
The sense of smell is another great way to explore the outdoors, particularly in different weather conditions or at different times of day. How does the outdoors smell to you in the sunshine compared to the rain? What smells come to the fore when the ground becomes wet or moist? What smells are the most powerful, which are the richest as you take a walk?
How do different parts of the outdoors smell? If there is a field filled with flowering plants, can you smell them? If you are walking through a dense woodland, can you smell the richness of the earth? A stroll on the beach may carry the smell of the sea on the breeze, or the promise of a coming storm. As you open your olfactory sense, consider what images, memories and sensations are triggered. Do certain smells evoke particular moments in your life? How do these smells make you feel?
This week, we invite you to continue to explore the outdoors in all weathers, with a focus on your senses. Rediscover a familiar place by exploring it through touch, smell, sound or sight.
Allow yourself to pause or be entirely still. Observe how in your moment of stillness, the natural environment around you seemingly speeds up. Note the sounds, smells, textures and tiny details all around you, vibrant and vivid.
Repeat the exercise at different points on your walk. Allow yourself to explore different areas of your familiar, outdoor setting. What new discoveries can you make? Try taking a walk on different days, in different types of weather and at different times of day. What changes, what stays the same?
In so doing, you are actively awakening your senses and allowing yourself the opportunity to explore and (re)discover the familiar. Through this exercise, you have the possibility to create an array of new sensory-scapes for yourself.