Doorways to Our Experiential WorldJul 20, 2016
Art by Cathy Smale
Our senses are the doorway to our experiential world.
If I isolate my attention to focus on one sense, I begin to notice that much of my experience is the result of a combination of senses. Even my imagination will fill in the blanks as if watching a magician doing sleight of hand.
The difficulty of isolating a sense comes from being human with sensual experience that uses the combination of those senses all the time. With a combination of senses, we see more or imagine that we do. My perception of hearing the leaves rustle is enhanced by seeing them flicker in the wind. If I close my eyes just to listen, I get a different experience but my imagination may fill in the blank of seeing that flickering because it has been seen so many times before in association with the sound.
When I hear a babbling brook, my mind may picture the pattern of water of the rocks or the width and depth of that body of water before I even see it. Observing exactly how my senses collaborate and conversely how my mind fills in what I don’t actually perceive gives me a clue to how I don’t see objectively.
The exercise of trying to isolate my attention to one sense without filling in the blanks tells me a lot about my world and how present I am.
If I sit out in the woods with the intent of listening, I hear a multitude of bird calls, a dog barking, an airplane, and a truck far off in the distance. I recognize these sounds and try to track the different bird sounds and how they repeat their pattern. Suddenly my mind starts to think about the impact of humans on the environment because of the airplane which has now blocked the sounds of the birds. I begin to reflect on the infringement of technology on nature and wonder whether we have really made any progress at all. Suddenly, I bring myself back to listening and realize that while I was deep in thought, I heard nothing of my environment.
My perception completely changed. I lost the focus of listening even though my ears were most likely still hearing the birds, but my attention became captured by thought. I was no longer aware of my surroundings or the sounds I was hearing.
I decided to make this a practice on a daily basis: simply to listen to my environment for a fixed period of time. I think this most certainly could be done with any of the senses. In the past, I have set out to truly experience taste during a meal with increased awareness, knowing that I take in thousands of impressions simultaneously like texture, chewing, sensation in my mouth, etc. I strove to notice this aspect of taste without losing myself in thought.
In conclusion, I could not do it while immersed in thought.
Of course, while focusing just on sound, my mind was putting things together. This involves thought of some sort, but my attention remained on listening. The mind would interpret, so to speak, what I was hearing. There would be thought trying to analyze which sound was which bird, whether one bird was calling in response to another, which bird seemed to have a dominant piercing sound compared to the light warble of another bird in the background.
As my exercise continued over the week, I noticed the stark contrast of being lost in thought more and more. The exercise of maintaining my focus on listening made me much more aware of when I wasn’t.
I am asleep to my environment when I am lost in thought though I can continue walking down the street or drive the car to work. I am asleep and captured by association, inner considering, and analysis instead of objectively taking in impressions.
My awareness of environment keeps me alive and safe, but I have learned to manage in sleep. As my attention strengthens, so does the subtle nuance of seeing beyond the visible or hearing the barely audible.
As my consciousness expands through attention, I am opened to a world that remains closed if I am lost in thought. If I am habituated in being lost in thought I am unaware that I am lost in thought until I do something to make me aware of that.
In freedom, I experience increased perception beyond the five senses and through the senses.
Meditation can bring about similar realizations, but working with the senses through isolated attention will reveal things in a different way.
Once I got good at this listening exercise, I brought in intentional awareness of sensation in my body at the same time to produce yet deeper impressions. Simply to watch how my perception changed gave me a clue as to what I do as I go about daily life, where it is much more difficult with the myriad distractions of industry and technology.
All of this translates to learning to wake up and observe what we do in our minds. We begin to hear things we never heard before that have been going on automatically an entire lifetime. When we notice something with our consciousness, it is no longer automatic. It is perceived outside of trance and a tool develops that will set us free.
When we can actually see objectively or hear objectively, we have choice.
Just in doing the listening exercise, I became aware of how impossible it was to hear while in thought. Through work with attention, we realize just how asleep we have been and how it is impossible to make choice. How can we choose when we are unaware of what actually hinders the choice?
How can we choose not to react when we cannot see the automatic behavior that has already hijacked the emotions to produce anger or resentment?
As my consciousness expands, I become free of automatic behavior. I can listen to my heart which was previously drowned out by constant thought and inner reaction. I can compare my experience to listening to nature only now it is my authentic voice. My essence becomes stronger than all of the personality traits designed for my ego’s survival as the dominatrix of my existence.
As I develop my ability to maintain awareness, a kind of strength grows in me. The more strength I gain, the more I am able to struggle to maintain the attention. I suddenly find myself hearing what I have never heard before. I wake up to my own self. I realize how much noise I make on the inside that has drowned out the sounds of tranquility, reassurance and love.
I look forward to hearing what happens as you try these experiments.
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