A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.
If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the way.
– Dogen-zengi, from Fukanzazengi
Image: Milarepa listening
Continuing the theme of practice engagements that cultivate connection between our present awareness and our embodied experience, these next two weeks we want to offer practice possibilities for bringing awareness deeply into the senses. In Buddhism, SIX senses are traditionally named: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind (mind is recognized as a sense organ and thoughts as sense-objects, akin to the ear as a sense organ and sounds as sense-objects). To support us as Bodhisattva practitioners to connect and continually return to our embodied experience, for this week first assess: which of the six senses tend to get more of your awareness as you move throughout your day? This will vary for each of us. And then, choose one of the sense gates that usually doesn’t get the full share of your attention to amplify over the next few days in different situations.
Please also orient compassionately towards yourself around the adaptive need to tune out some sensory inputs, or dull our attention to some things, because many environments we have to navigate can be intensely over-stimulating. And then, with this orientation, are there moments when we can pointedly tune in (in small doses!) to things we might normally tune out?
The WHY of tuning in to the senses… again, these practices are cultivations that increase our capacity to line up awareness with our present embodied experience, which in turn increases valuing and attending to the information we find Here, information about our world and our experience that maybe we might have otherwise not fully noticed. Attuning to this information gives us a fuller picture of what’s happening both in and around us, increasing our empathy both for ourselves and others, and giving us a wider palette of possibilities in figuring out how to respond to whatever is arising.
Practice for this week:
– choose a sense each day to work with and set up some way of reminding yourself 3-5 times throughout the day (an alert on your phone…or even an old school post-it) to tune in to it for a couple of minutes. Maybe you want to stay with one sense all week, or switch it up each day, it’s up to you.
When reactions to sensory inputs arise, just notice. Maybe attune just to the basic vedana (positive, negative or neutral qualities always present in every experience)- is there aversion/ leaning away? pleasure/ leaning in? or neutrality? Try not to curate the sensations too much, or even comment on them in your mind…just notice what’s there to be noticed.
If you’re in a place that’s safe to do it, it can often help to close the eyes when attuning to senses other than sight since, for most of us with sight, attention to the visual field literally takes up a lot of space in the brain. When we close our eyes there is more brain capacity available for other sense perceptions.
Some possibilities for attuning to senses:
Attuning to hearing-generally: can you find a place that’s safe to close your eyes for a few moments, and allow your hearing to fill your conscious awareness. Don’t try to hear anything in particular, just attune to the capacity to hear and all that you perceive within your field of awareness.
Or another possibility is attuning to hearing more specifically–for example by putting on headphones or ear plugs and attuning to the sound of your breath and/or heartbeat that are always present, but our brain learns to tune out.
When you have a few minutes to sit still, see if you can pour your awareness into your hands. What is this sensation like? Can you feel temperature changes or texture on the skin? Maybe you can feel your pulse in your fingers? Or tingling? Or dullness? What’s there?
For those who get around on your feet–try feeling into the sensation in your feet in different postures– standing, sitting, lying down, walking, running.
Pick a distance you will travel and attune to smell as you traverse it. Maybe just one short block? How many smells are you aware of? Are there ones that are familiar? Are there ones you may not have otherwise noticed?
Have one meal or snack where you eat in quiet by yourself and don’t multitask as you eat–so all you are doing for the time you’re eating is eating. What flavors and textures are present? How is it to encounter them? Just notice what comes up as you resist multitasking and elevate the experience of tasting while you eat.
These are just suggestions. See if other practices arise for you. And let us know how it goes.
Previous messages from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny: