Sensory Minimalism

Everything is noise until we understand it. To put meaning to the meaningless, our senses process noise and help us find direction. But when our senses are constantly being overwhelmed by noise -- the noise in our head; the noise in our lives; the noise of the status quo -- their sensitivity decreases and they become unreliable instruments.

Practicing sensory minimalism, that is stepping back and observing the noise instead of trying to process it, increases our ability to focus on what matters and awards us with a better sense of direction.

The skill of observing noise is best learned through frequent changes in our perspective: When experiencing something new and unusual, we have no choice but to release ourselves from the noise and take a step back.

Change your perspective and you will expand your consciousness. Escape the patterns and you will minimize the background noise. Place yourself in new and unfamiliar situations and you will have no choice but to reflect, observe, and regain awareness of where you stand in relation to what matters most in your life.

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  1. The mind is a boggle. I think I live by the noise. Being a musician will do that to you. Silence is still golden, but noise really soothes me. I would definitely get into meditation more, if I could. I also think an important part of that is teaching our children to be silent, or live in silence. Getting more difficult than years ago, the age of computers and ultra portable music (noise) is upon us.

    • Is it really ‘noise’ that soothes you, Daniel, or is it music? If someone didn’t know how to play an instrument and they started banging on it and making noise, would that actually be enjoyable? 😉

  2. Sensory minimalism … beautiful … it reminds me of this question I ask myself daily: Why do I do what I do?

    Concerned with the quantity, not always the quality … it’s the efficiency epidemic we live in. Why produce when the end product is mediocre, at best?

    • That’s such an important question. If we don’t ask ourselves why we do what we do, then we won’t be able to cut through the noise of life.

      I think it’s when we get wrapped up in the noise that we yearn for a sense of purpose and direction. It was definitely the noise of routine, the noise of sameness, the noise of being able to foresee years ahead where my life was headed, that caused me to step out and change, to give everything away and strip myself to the bare minimum so that I could discover what was really important, to be free.

  3. Excellent advice Raam.
    Stepping back and removing myself from the din of noise in our society is crucial to the intuitive work I do with my clients.
    I hadn’t thought of it before but, your idea of putting yourself in a new environment to change your perspective and remove yourself from the noise you’ve become familiar with is brilliant. I’ve been dreaming of moving somewhere different for a while now – perhaps this is why? Maybe on a subconscious level I know this is what I need.

    • It almost seems counterintuitive, Angela, but I think familiarity — even if it’s familiarity with a good thing — becomes noise unless we’re in the state of observation. If we’re in the thick of it, familiarity becomes very limiting. But if we’re observing it, stepping back and learning from the edges, then even the most familiar situation can help us grow.

  4. Hi Raam,

    Filters are necessary to help us cope with all the sensory bombardment we have in our lives. But it can indeed be a problem if we view the world through filters all the time. Nothing shocks us out of our comfort zones and routines better than change. The moment we are in a new scenario or place, we have no choice but to be fully present and aware to gain our bearings. The key is balance since routines have their uses and too much change all the time can be stressful.

    Thank you for sharing these thought provoking insights! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • You’re right, Irving, too much change can be stressful (and even wasteful in terms of time). It’s in the balance of the two — change and routine — that we can utilize the best of both. I also feel that how much routine and how much change we need is determined by our goals in life.

  5. Raam,

    Beautiful thoughts shared here!! I especially loved your line, “Change your perspective and you will expand your consciousness.”

    I am always trying to learn new things and look at the world differently. Everyday, I am constantly asking myself, “how else can I view this?” When I see people saying things like, “you have to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything” – I find myself wondering, is that true?? I suppose I do hold some fundamental beliefs and values, but in general, I don’t like to tether myself to certain constructs and points-of-view, as there is always further perspective to be gained.

    I really love the approach you suggest for gaining that perspective – sensory minimalism. I was just musing about something similar in a comment to Josh and Ryan on their blog “The Minimalists.” I was saying that the more clutter we remove from our lives, the more we silence the “noise,” and the more we are able to think for ourselves. Your idea of stepping back to observe that noise is brilliant. Rather than silencing it – take some time to observe it and make some conscious choices about it.

    It’s been a good morning for expanding perspectives…thank you. 🙂

    • Adrienne, not allowing yourself to be tethered to various constructs and points-of-view is such a powerful way to live!

      I do the exact same thing: I have fundamental values and beliefs that I hold onto, but I question everything else. Even things that seem like they make sense — like reincarnation and karma — I choose retain a bit of skepticism towards them, just enough to remain open-minded to other possibilities.

      As for the noise, I’m not sure it’s something we can actually “remove”. We can remove ourselves from it, but the noise itself will always be there. It’s up to us to step back and observe it and learn from it at a distance.

      By getting rid of ‘stuff’, we can observe the noise of our consumerist society and our desire for attachment. In meditation, we can do the same with our own mind, stepping back from our thoughts and observing the noise of the mind. In both cases, we free ourselves. 🙂

  6. Raam,

    I love the term you have coined: “sensory minimalism.” It reminds me of a phrase that Mingyur Rinpoche uses called “bare knowing.” It means being present with bare attention without getting embroiled in everything around you and all your own thoughts and emotions. This is key to creating the space for wisdom to enter into your heart and mind.

    I deeply appreciate your exploration of this topic. Placing ourselves in new and unfamiliar situations can give us a new perspective. I do appreciate the point your are making that the routine can push onto automatic. But craving change can become addictive and blinding too. Some great spiritual masters have devoted themselves to solitary retreat for 3 years, 6 years, 12 years or even more. They didn’t need environmental changes to expand their mind or their perspective. I’m not arguing against it! Just adding another angle.

    Thanks for your depthful thinking.

    • Sandra,

      Thank you for your wisdom; I’m so grateful that you share it here.

      I agree that changes in our physical environment are not necessary for expanding our mind or our perspective. Sensory minimalism applies to our thoughts and our mind — the inner environment — equally as much.

      By changing our inner environment and stepping back and becoming the observer, we can detach from the unreality around us and step closer towards that which is ‘real’ and unchanged: our ‘true self’.

      It comes down to attachment: To really observe anything objectively, we need to remain detached from it. That principal applies to worldly things as equally as it does spiritual things.

  7. When I read this..and the comments..I Feel the “noise” is my mind..while my senses are my Heart. My actions, thus my life, are heart based. I turn my mind off and allow my senses to lead..when I interact with World I am interacting through my Heart.
    If noise drowns out my intuition, there are two steps I take. One: I process why am I allowing excess noise..what Truth is making me so uncomfortable that I’d rather ignore it then act upon it..and two: I take my Being to delight and nurture each of my senses as only Nature can and to allow magnificent beauty to illuminate my inner light.
    I absolutely *love* this: “Change your perspective and you will expand your consciousness.” I practice this in life; however, my recent lesson is in learning to embrace routine and consistency. Perhaps in experiencing sameness I will experience a new depth that change does not allow for..a connectedness that continuous exploration does not necessarily allow me to Feel. Perhaps embracing change and exploration allows me to conceal fears and barriers and now that my heart is open past fears and barriers commitment may expand my consciousness….

    • Beautiful, Joy! I love how you’ve interpreted this through your being, taking it exactly how you feel it applies to you.

      If flow is your routine (as I know it is!), then in sameness you will experience new depth.

      I think you’ve touched on an important point about fears: They’re a great indicator for what we need. If we fear routine, commitment, sameness, then there is likely wisdom for us in overcoming those fears.

      Exploration doesn’t need to require change: if we are exploring the state of changelessness, of routine and sameness, then that is exploration too! 🙂

  8. Thank you for the inspiring words.Touched me alot.Reflection is the most powerful tool to discover ones’ position and the forward step.Am learning to listen to the noise in my head and make it worthwhile and changing the perpective in which i would have taken it if i did not listen to it.Thanx alot and i love the article

  9. Like your point about attachment/detachment, Raam. Another way of framing detachment versus attachment is grace versus addiction. We get addicted, in the broadest sense, to so much and so many things, even noise, that God’s grace or the blessings of the universe (being a minister I’m all about God’s grace myself) gets blocked out.
    Your blog is terrific and you’re really a skilled writer, BTW.
    Grace & peace,

    • Paul, thank you for your wisdom. Grace vs addiction is an interesting way of framing it and it makes a lot of sense to me. In grace we find never ending beauty, but in addiction we discover boredom and lack of interest, even a lacking interest in life itself (or at least a loss of awareness for what we should be grateful for).

  10. Great words RaamDev.They say the best tool to self internalisation is listening to oneself.That is just what you have made me believe.Thank you for the words.

    • Thank you, Regina! Listening to ourself — our true self — is the best way to understand who we really are. By delving deep into ourselves, we’re able to discover meaning and purpose.

  11. kudos wonderful article at least its now very clear that concentration is key in communication in-order to avoid noise thank you so much

    • Thanks, Maureen! Concentration is indeed very important. But we should be careful not to forget that relaxation is important too… we need to experience life, not just focus on it. 🙂

  12. Thank you for your articles.Am still getting other of your articles in my e-mail.I recommend my other friends to your blogs.Bravo


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