The sensual world
One of the most heart stirring experiences for me on my first Tantra retreat, was opening to the universe, connecting with it in a deeper way. The exercise involved one partner being blindfolded and led by the other outdoors, guiding them to use the other senses when coming in contact with different things. When my hand caressed a branch and its leaves, I felt the connection with a horse that in the past had brushed up against it. I saw the world as if I were the tree. With my hands on an old piece of railway iron, I sensed the story of its journey from being crafted to where it now lay. This was one of the experiences that set me on this path.
'How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god'. Alan Watts
In Kashmir Shaivism, the organs of the senses are part of the 36 elements or principles of reality. They fall under Ashuddha, or 'impure tattvas (principle) and in turn the Manas tattvas (mind) fall under here. Manas tattva is fed by the jñānendriyas (sense organs), five karmendriyas (organs of action), and five tanmātras (sensations), which rely on the fivemahābhūtas (physical elements). The jñānendriyas, are the five instruments of knowing;
ghrana (nose), rasana (tongue), caksu (eye), tvak (skin), and srotra (ear).
When we begin to open these senses, we connect ourselves to this sensual world and all that it is. Our senses allow us to see, hear, smell, taste and feel what it means to be alive in this world right now. There are as many different expressions of sensation as there are tones of sound or hues of colour. A magnificent symphony of sensation is playing in your body right now and when we bring awareness to our senses, when we allow ourselves to drop out of our minds and into our bodies, we can bathe in this symphony, our body opening up to even more awareness so that every cell becomes alive. Each sense has the capacity to offer us Satori - spiritual awakening
Tantra shows us that the senses are our doors of perception, the windows into reality. When our senses are open, we see god everywhere. As Osho said, 'The birds are chanting mantras. These trees are giving sermons in silence. God is everywhere. There is no need to go to a man made temple or church. He is alive & kicking everywhere. But for that you need clean, purified senses'.
What a beautiful world awaits when we open our bodies and discover all the magic and mystery offered by our senses.
Touch is fundamental to our experience of pleasure. The neuro-psychologist James W Prescott concluded from his research in the 1970's that sensory experiences and deprivations during early childhood development are the basic causes of a number of emotional disturbances which include depressive and autistic behaviours, hyperactivity, drug abuse, violence and aggression. Many years ago in South Africa, I volunteered at a centre that looked after babies orphaned due the HIV Aids crisis there. Our job was simply to hold them and give loving touch - as without it they were known not to thrive - to almost wither away.
Begin to touch with awareness. In India you find many paintings of people with eyes all over the body, acknowledging the truth that it is possible to perceive the world not only with the eyes, but with the whole body. Through touch. Dropping into awareness, we touch the world and it touches us.
Johanna Putnoi, in her book 'Senses Wide Open; The art & practise of living in your body', talks about sound as not merely noise you hear through your ears: It is a vibration that works on every part of your body. You can hear sound vibrations with your bones. You can feel the deep resonance of a drum in your chest, echoing your heartbeat. Your ears receive and process sound so that you can swallow it down into the deepest regions of your insides, so that your skin can feel and your eyes can know better what they see. You can hear with every fibre of your body.
Although we don't have the highly developed olfactory sense of a dog, what we do smell provides us with powerful information. If something is burning and there is danger, the perfume of pheromones drawing you to a lover or the fresh smell of rain invoking memories.
Smell evokes taste: the two are inexorable connected. If you lose your ability to smell, you also lose your ability to taste. With all the taste buds on our tongue, each tasting something slight different, we can experience a sensory explosion with bitter, sweet, sour, tart, tangy, bland etc etc. Put something you love in your mouth and really savour it - roll it around in your mouth, feel the texture, chewing it with awareness and notice how taste enhances sensation. Begin to see with your mouth.
Our eyes are wired and plugged into thought in a different way than the other senses because our optic nerve is a direct link to the brain. How we interpret the information we see depends on our cultural bias, our upbringing and our unconscious habits and expectations. A beautiful exercise is to walk around and experience what you see rather than simply attaching a name to it. When we allow the muscles around the eyes to soften to rather receive what is in front of you, opening the body with all the senses, we begin to connect with all things.
Touch, smell, taste, see, hear as totally as possible - with awareness, and in childlike wonder. When a child looks at something he is completely absorbed. When he looks, he becomes the eyes. When he eats something, his awareness is right there on his tongue and he becomes the taste. Take a walk, slow down and see with new eyes. This world is so precious, so sensual and so clear when are bodies are open and our senses are alive.
Painting by Tiffany Gyatso - http://www.tiffanigyatso.com/