Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 15, 2011

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Living In Six Senses

(Living in Presence: Aspect 1 of 7)

To live in presence is to live in the present moment. And the primary content of the present moment consists of our immediate sensory experience, brought to us by our external senses of sight, hearing, body sense, smell, and taste, plus our inner senses of awareness of thoughts, mental images, and emotions. From the vast amount of sensory information coming to us, we are consciously aware of only a tiny fraction. And sometimes not even that, as when we lose contact with the present moment in thoughts about the past or future.

But if we are in thoughts about past or future, are we not in one sense still in the present, in the sense of being aware of thoughts? After all, thoughts of past or future are all happening in this present moment. Well no. To be in the present with regard to thoughts means to be aware of our thoughts as thoughts, as currently happening thoughts. In our typical reverie of past or future, or of any other self-generating, automatic thoughtstream, we are not aware of our thoughts per se. We are just swept along by them and not at all here in the present. This lost-in-automatic-thinking is so often our state that we need some ways out of it and back into the present.

A whole genre of such ways revolves around the practice of sensory awareness. Most such practices select one particular sense as a focus, and we also will address one such practice in the next aspect of this inner work series on Living in Presence. But for now, we look to develop a global sense awareness, to living in six senses. Each of our senses presents a remarkably rich and vibrant field. Many people specialize in one or another. Painters, photographers, and other visual artists see the nuances of light and shadow, color and texture, shape, depth and detail that the rest of us miss entirely. So also with the chef and the sommelier for taste, the perfumer for scent and fragrance, the athlete and dancer for body sense, the musician and the blind for hearing.

To practice a more global sense awareness, we can take two or more senses and open to them beyond our usual mode. With the soundscape, we can open to the whole array, the whole symphony of sounds coming to our ears, noticing the sounds we normally tune out, noticing all the various channels and sources of sound coming to us. With the lightscape, we can open our vision to notice more of the color and texture and the rest from across our whole visual field, to see more, to take it all in. With our body, we can open to noticing the many sense impressions coming from all parts of our body, the hot and cold, the wet and dry, the proprioceptive sense of visceral embodiment, the kinesthetic sense of movement, the motion of our breathing, the blinking of our eyes, the mild discomforts. As for taste, we always have some in our mouth, whether we are eating or not. And there is always some scent, even if a neutral one. Finally, we notice our thoughtscape, whether snippets or wholly formed thoughts and images coursing through our mind, and our emotional state, even if neutral at the moment.

All of that, or as much of it as we can manage, we open to, we notice. We drop the filters on our perceptions and let it all in. The world continuously refreshes and we are here, present in this cascade of sense impressions. To be in contact with our six senses, or even just two or three simultaneously, is a mode of presence. Certainly it enriches our life, because in such moments we live more. This is the way of living in all our senses, the way of awakening our ordinary perceptions.

So for this week, please see more and hear more, open to all of your senses. In doing so, you come into the present moment, because whatever you see or hear, touch or feel, smell or taste, is always now and enables you to be here.


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