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Sensory Awareness

We use our senses in most types of meditation. Those types of meditation include mindfulness, concentration, movement, etc. But we can also meditate on the senses themselves -- their input and their means of perceiving "reality." As with mindfulness meditation, we can practice sensory awareness during our everyday life, but we will experience a greater depth and intensity if we set aside some time specifically to dwell on the senses.

We gain benefits from sensory awareness. These are generally the same benefits which we acquire from mindfulness meditation: we acquire more information; we perceive more accurately; we increase our understanding of the physical body; we learn to "live in the moment." (Those benefits are explained in the chapter on mindfulness.) When we develop sensory awareness, our senses become more acute; we notice more details and nuances and the uniqueness of the individual objects around us. We experience more pleasure from the objects of perception and from the energized sense-organs themselves (perhaps as a tingling sensation in the eyes or ears, for example). We become able to derive that pleasure from subtler stimuli; hence, our preference might change from loud, thumping rock music to subtler classical music which requires greater attentiveness and perceptiveness but rewards us with a meditative serenity and a stimulation of our higher chakras. When our use our senses to connect more fully with our environment, we are establishing a warm, nourishing contact with our body, our human identity, and the physical world.

The techniques of sensory awareness.  

  1. Have a non-verbal experience. In many types of meditation, we enter a state in which we experience things directly and intimately rather than merely thinking about them. In sensory awareness, too, we perceive objects themselves rather than the labels which we would attach to them; to hear a sound is not the same as to think, "the chirping of a chickadee." Our senses operate in a non-verbal world; in sensory awareness exercises, we enter that world as fascinated observers who are quietly exploring the lushness of perception -- without identifying, comparing, or using the other functions of the word-oriented analytical function of mind.
  2. Proceed at a leisurely pace. Much of our sensory "mindlessness" occurs because our actions are quick. At that pace, we are processing only superficial sensory data; for example, we pick up a pen to write, and we experience it simply as a utensil for a task. We must be in this state in order to concentrate on the task; a profound sensory experience (of pen in hand) would be a time-consuming distraction. (However, during such activities, we can split our attention between the task itself and our sensory experience of it.) But to develop sensory awareness to any depth, we must assign a period of time solely for our senses. During this period, we move at the body's own pace and rhythm, and we allow the senses to regard their objects for as long as they are intrigued. When we permit the senses to explore in their own manner, they are likely to be enthralled with an object for a considerable period of time, continually discovering new minutia which they savor.
  3. Have a day of sensory awareness. For an entire day (or perhaps just a few hours), be aware of as much sensory stimuli as possible, without labeling any of it or responding to it with thoughts. A variation is to devote this time to a single sense, such as the sense of smell or hearing; this might require you to keep your eyes closed so that your visual input will not distract you from the other sense.
  4. Use the various senses.
    • Meditating with our sense of hearing.
      • Simply listen to whatever is occurring at this moment. The sounds might include traffic, people's voices, the hum of a refrigerator or a computer, and so on. Explore this audial world to perceive every different sound. Don't label any of it as "noise"; instead, give it all the same attention that you would give to fine music.
      • In a quiet room, turn a radio to a very low volume so that you must listen very carefully to hear it. Variation: Play the music at a regular volume, but then slowly move away from it, and try to continue to hear it from ever-increasing distances.
      • Listen to music which has more than one instrument. Follow a single instrument throughout the entire piece. Or focus on a different aspect of the music -- noticing only the rhythm or the changes in pitch or volume.
      • Do a household chore -- perhaps sweeping or cleaning -- and listen to the sounds which are created.
      • Listen to music and feel your body's response to it. Do certain muscles relax or tighten? Is there a reaction in particular parts of your body, such as your gut or your head? Listen to two different types of music consecutively, and notice the differences in your body's response.
      • Put your fingers gently into each ear, and listen to the sounds within your body. You might hear your breathing, your heartbeat, and much else.
      • With a spoon, tap on objects throughout your home. Notice the different sounds which are generated.
      • Find a metal object which makes an ongoing ringing sound when you strike it; this might be a bell or the lid of a pot. Hit it and listen to the fading of the sound.
    • Meditating with our sense of smell.
      • Smell different fragrances: flowers of various kinds, incense, soap, perfume or cologne, foods and spices from your kitchen.
      • As you smell a fragrance, notice whether it changes your mood or your state.
      • Smell something which would generally be considered unpleasant -- spoiled food, or garbage. Remove your judgment from the experience, and simply investigate the scent.
      • Walk throughout your home or backyard, with eyes closed. (Be careful not to stumble.) Notice the subtle odors in the different rooms.
    • Meditating with our sense of taste.
      • Eat a spoonful of food. Now pinch your nostrils closed with one hand, and eat another spoonful of the food. Is there a difference in the taste?
      • Put a piece of food into your mouth, and leave it there. Explore the flavor of it as you move it to various parts of your mouth. Then bite into it and notice any change in its flavor.
      • We have four types of receptors in the mouth; each discerns only one quality in the food -- sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and saltiness. Eat different types of foods which predominate with one of these qualities.
      • Put various objects into your mouth to discern their taste. (Wash them before doing this.) The objects might include a pen, a key, a crystal, and so on.
      • Taste a pinch of each of the spices in your kitchen.
      • Notice the taste in your mouth when there is no food in it. What is the natural flavor?
      • Be aware of the change in your state when you taste something. Do certain flavors change your mood?
      • Taste a food which you do not like. (For me, this would be liver or coffee.) Refrain from judging it as unpleasant, and simply notice the taste.
    • Meditating with our sense of touch.  
      • Collect a variety of fabrics and objects. This might include velvet, nylon, fur, wood, steel, plastic, foods, etc. Select items with various qualities: smooth, rough, wet, slimy, and so on. Now touch each one, allowing your fingers to explore the texture.
      • Do a household chore, being aware of your hands' contact with the objects which they encounter.
      • Walk throughout your home, mindfully touching the furniture and other articles.
      • Touch objects of different temperatures. This might include objects from your refrigerator and freezer, or tap-water which you vary from hot to cold.
      • Touch your skin on numerous parts of your body, and notice the sense of touch through the hand that is touching and through the body part which is being touched. Be aware of such qualities as texture, temperature, oiliness, hairiness, and vitality. Touch yourself in various ways -- tickling, scratching, rubbing, tapping, stroking. A variation is to explore the skin of a partner.
      • Instead of touching objects only with your hands, touch them with other parts of your body -- your forearms, bare feet, head, etc.

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