The sensory development notes published on this website are prepared in collaboration with an on behalf of Developing the Self Developing the World and to accompany the book “Spirit-led Community – healing the impact of technology” by Lisa Romero. The complete document complementary to the book can be opened here.
The life sense helps to keep us safe, well and in harmony. Through the sense of life, we perceive inwardly our vitality and life forces. For example it tells us when we need to go to the toilet, when something’s hot and when we need to drink. It also tells us about our health and wellbeing.
Until the life sense is matured the adult looks after and protects the developing life sense of the child. The adult is aware of and tends to the needs of the child whether they are hungry, unwell, or tired. Before four years old a child with an earache may say “I have an earache” and point to their stomach. After four years old the child is able to point to their ear when they have an earache. Their own life sense is beginning to register this for themselves. The life sense is a sensory warning system. The activity of the sympathetic nervous system sends a message to the brain, which can isolate the origin of a disturbance in the system.
We begin to experience polarities through the life sense; pleasure/pain, comfort/discomfort, wellness/illness, discontent/contentment. Through the polarities we get a smorgasbord of experiences for the life sense to draw on. The life sense becomes the keeper of our health and wellbeing for the rest of our lives.
Hyper sense of life
Having a hyper sense of life will mean that a slight disturbance of the rhythm can cause unsettling. The baby’s sensitivity can be so great that a small disturbance such as a finger poking out of a blanket can be expressed through crying or physical agitation. The slightest wind in the bowels can keep them awake. They have a low pain threshold and are very fussy tending to complain or withdraw for long periods over a dirty nappy, a small cut, a change in routine or a new food. A small wound can feel as though life is pouring out of them. The pain of the experience can cause screaming, silent withdrawal or anxious breathing along with the need for all other sensory input to come to a halt until they have resumed order in their inner life. It can be difficult for the caregiver to find the thing that will help them settle. If the wound is ignored or given too much attention in such a child they can fret more and be overcome with pain but they can also withdraw to avoid extra sensory experiences and not be noticed by the caregiver as they silently suffer. They prefer to sleep so as to not feel the pain though they can in general struggle with the change between waking and sleeping.
An older child or adult may avoid foods or experiences because they can deeply feel the variations in the way things make them feel. It could make them feel sick, or they simply don’t like to have to change something in themselves to meet the unfamiliar. A person with this hypersensitivity need not be overcome by the experience if they have developed an inner life that can observe and be with the experience but remain on track with their task. For example when an adult with a hyper sense of life cuts their finger, they can experience it deeply as the body reacts and repairs. But if they have had plenty of experiences of overcoming illness and injury they will have had the chance to develop a measure that tells them when their body is repairing and know what to do to aid the healing process.
Hypo sense of life
Having a hypo sense of life is to have a poor awareness of when there is disorder in the body. This can mean that the person may not notice that the body is out of balance and requires attention. The baby will not complain of a dirty nappy and will seem to be easy going. They can go without rhythm and routine and not complain, but if this is missing when they are older, they may fall apart because of disturbances and be unable to articulate what is wrong. If a child skips a meal and they start to become angry they may not connect the anger to the sensation that is telling them their body needs food. It can take a lot to hurt or bother the child, perhaps being called tough. At bedtime, they might say they are not tired but will fall asleep easily because they have not recognised the change their body is going through as it becomes weary. It is possible that the person can be injured or sick and not realise it or complain about it.
Adults with a hypo sense of life can lack rhythm and routine and push themselves to the limit relying upon illness or someone else to make them stop.
How to harmonise and support the development of the life sense
It is important to let everyone (regardless of age, position in family, sex or culture) express their feelings and sense of what is healthy for their body. We learn what is healthy by experiencing the ‘sensations’ that occur when we meet the world. The body needs health giving activities, fresh, natural food at routine intervals, physical exercise and recovery time. These are the basic needs to establish healthy pathways for recovery as well as the sense of knowing when things are becoming better or worse. Overcoming something that puts a dent in our wellbeing makes us stronger. From this perspective, we can recognise the health-giving affect of life’s challenges including dis-ease.
The hypersensitive child requires more experiences of being able to bring forward their healing capacities to make things right again; to experience disorder then reorder. When they hurt themselves, it can help to reduce other sensory stimulation and give plenty of time to recover, acknowledging the pain and helping them to regain themselves. They tend towards focusing on the pain or they may cry their way to sleep. For a hypo sense of life child, the injury needs to be treated even though they may not think so. They need to have their attention drawn to it with bandages and the like, especially since it is easily forgotten and may become infected without them realising They have to learn to pay attention to changes in their body. Emphasising the transition time between activities helps them learn to recognise the inner shift that happens when one thing ends and another starts. Little things that help include stopping and taking off shoes at the door and lining them up neatly before going inside. Being taught that all things have their place in the world supports the life sense.
Completing tasks is important, to have worked through the more difficult aspects to come to the fruits of the work. Weaving, knitting, bread baking, gardening and experiencing the changes and transitions in nature help establish a connection to the ebb and flow, death and life processes in nature and in ourself. Rhythm in movement, song and routine help experience these changes in the day.
Taking time to touch the child with caring touch leads the child to feel their body rhythms. Rhythmic massage practitioners apply strokes and formations that help to harmonise the breath and connect back to a healthy rhythm. Eurythmy as a form of movement that an individual does for themselves, accompanied by a Eurythmy teacher, is another way for this rhythm to be re-enlivened. Encouraging a healthy but not extreme load of physical activity supports the life sense. Walking, swimming laps, swinging and gentle rocking bring the experience of moving between opposing directions, having to cross through the middle and extend to an opposite experience. By finding the way back to the other side, a repeated experience of a sense of completeness is achieved.
A home nursing application of quark cheese over the chest creates a harmonious and soothing experience of space in the chest and while breathing. The application of protective lotions which was mentioned in the touch sense, is also nourishing for the life sense.