“When we are really awake to the life of our senses — when we are really watching with our animal eyes and listening with our animal ears — we discover that nothing in the world around us is directly experienced as a passive or inanimate object. Each thing, each entity meets our gaze with its own secrets and, if we lend it our attention, we are drawn into a dynamic interaction wherein we are taught and sometimes transformed by this other being.” 1
Where does our attention habitually go? These days to flat screens and malls. But it’s not too late to come to our senses, to deliberately reassign our attention and intention: to regain the ability to know ourselves in “dynamic interaction” with the oneness of life we inhabit.
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Since most of us live in cities, here’s where the return to our senses must begin. Yes, we can escape to a nearby trail and soak in nature but perhaps a better place to start is with the familiar, since this is where we are most of the time.
As a perception exercise, invest an hour in this easy urban adventure. Go to a part of town you enjoy and begin walking; head to a favorite store. Stand in front of it and notice what you see and feel. Study details: what’s the door like, what’s in the windows. As you focus your attention, notice what you feel.
At first, this can be confusing and vague. We are not accustomed to focusing our perception this way. No worries, it’s an experiment. Now, look up and down the street and pick another store, one you’ve had no interest in before or one that you don’t especially enjoy. Walk over to it and, again, observe. Notice that you feel different about this one. Different how?
Walk into the store and scan what’s being offered. Suspend judgment and just observe. What do you see and how do you feel about it? This is a perception exercise and, just like that first workout in the gym after a restful winter, the muscles are rusty. It’s been a long winter of myopia; it’s going to take awhile to regain the ability to focus attention and use all of your senses.
You’ve probably guessed the obvious, that this “exercise” is an invitation to being present all the time. Yes, it begins as a novel way to spend an hour but, sometime within that hour, it may dawn on you that this is really a reminder of how to always be, living in your senses, noticing where you are because you are truly there, here, present, undistracted and aware.
Now, on another day when the weather is fine, head for the woods. Find out if your muscles have toned, so that a familiar trail is transformed. “… the senses are our most immediate access to the more-than-human natural world. The eyes, the ears, the nostrils catching faint whiffs of sea-salt on the breeze, the fingertips grazing the smooth bark of a madrone, this porous skin rippling with chills at the felt presence of another animal — our bodily senses bring us into relations with the breathing Earth at every moment.” 2
Granted, that larger flat screen TV will give us a better picture, just as more RAM in our computer might load programs quicker. But what hidden worlds return to view (and experience) when we come back to our senses?
How many senses are there? Beyond the known five, many of us experience sixth sense, or intuition, knowing beyond logic. What of a seventh sense? What of our sense of connection within the wholeness of life? Exercising any of the five, or six, senses will enhance their ability; so too with this seventh sense. Paying attention to connection, noticing the feeling of being separate or merging, will surely return to us the long forgotten and long yearned for experience of oneness that cannot be truly known in theoretical conviction alone.
Here’s an opportunity to marry our “spiritual” life with where we live. In truth, they were never separate. The God of religion may be alienated from the natural world, living in a mysterious domain of unknown location (except we know that it’s elsewhere), but we needed share His exile. Heaven is meant to be on earth. Could that magnificent possibility be as close as our senses?
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1. David Abram, from Trust Your Senses