The five senses can seem like a problem. We see something we like we move towards it. We see something we dislike, we move away.
The same is true of all the other senses. If something gives us pleasure, we generally want it, whatever the sense. If something gives us pain, we move away.
But what is really happening here? Is it really the sense that is the problem? Or is it something else?
Generally what happens is that something appears to the senses. Let’s call it a sense impression.
So maybe we’re walking down the street and we smell the smell of bread baking in a nearby oven. What happens?
Moving towards the object
In all likelihood, we get a pleasant sensation in the stomach region, then in comes a thought, “I fancy some of that!”. And off we go – in search of freshly baked bread.
So the smell wasn’t really a problem at all. It was all the stuff that kicked in afterwards so to speak.
In fact, the sense impression itself – the smell, the sight, the taste, the sound, the touch – all provide us with a valuable opportunity. If we stay with the sense impression, rather than moving off into what follows, we find that it becomes a doorway to mindfulness.
Really being with the senses
When I’m introducing mindfulness I often ask people to close their eyes. I then ding a bell and ask them listen for the last sound of the ringing, then to open their eyes. During that period of intense listening, people really experience mindfulness – mindfulness of sound. And as part of this, they also experience a few moments of awareness where thought recedes into the background.
That is sound (listening). But it can be done with any sense. It can be done looking at a candle (sight), tasting a chocolate (taste), feeling the contact of the foot with the floor (touch), or even being aware of the smell of an incense stick (smell).
Try it and see
Why not get out a pen and paper? Write one or two sense impressions for each sense. For example, with sight it could be looking at the trees, or the ocean, or a flower. Do it for all the senses, then pick one. Just really be with the sense impression.
Notice what happens. Does thought slow down? Do you become more involved with the object of the senses? How long is it before a thought kicks in – ‘this is boring’, or ‘this is stupid’, or maybe more constructive like, ‘I’d like to take a photo of this flower’….
Always here, Always available
It is remarkable but all we need to be truly mindful is with us all the time. Even in a buy, noisy environment, we have all that sound to take notice of! All those sights!
The five senses really are a gateway to true mindfulness. And they never leave us. All we really need to do is rest the attention upon them. Why not try it and see?