By Sonia Osorio
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2004.
It is through our bodies that we experience life.
It is through our physical self that we can awaken to whom we truly are.
How do we do this? Through our senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch — each sense is a doorway inviting us to rediscover the pleasure and rewards of being in our bodies, being in the present, and appreciating our surroundings.
Our senses are continuously providing information about the world around us, but we don’t always open ourselves to receive all that data. We often focus on only one or two of our senses and so miss the full picture of what is happening inside and outside our bodies. When we focus on life with all our senses engaged, we start perceiving things differently, because we feel them more fully. This sensory awakening can be used to discover an inner richness and self-awareness, while bringing us more fully into the present moment.
Awakening to the Present
We spend much of our lives in a half-awake, half-committed state of being. We are half-present to our own lives, much less to the lives of those around us. We may be too much inside ourselves, worrying about the future, reliving the past, or getting lost in fantasy. Or we may be living too much outside ourselves, ignoring our inner processes and feelings or throwing ourselves into work and other diversions in order not to feel.
With the demands on our time, we often forget our commitment to deeper values and possibilities. We tune out our bodies and others in our rush to get “more important” things done. We forget to feel and breathe deeply, and so we live a bit less fully, a bit less sensually. We become less passionately involved in our world — and in our lives. We compromise our potential. As a result, our actions feel repetitive or unfulfilling. We constantly seek ways to feel satisfied, to feel desired, noticed, or loved. If we could just feel completely, we might not feel so empty.
It is through our bodies, in the present moment, where we can completely connect with life. It is here where our hearts open and our feelings flow. Yet, the territory of the present and the realm of the heart is a place that we don’t often venture into because we are too busy, too tired, too afraid, or the journey seems too arduous. The journey is indeed demanding, but it’s also one of the most fulfilling.
Reconnecting with Life
One of the most direct ways to awaken to our potential is through our senses. This awareness, in fact, is the foundation for meditation and many bodywork techniques — using sensations, breath, thoughts, and emotions as objects of attention and noticing what arises in the moment. By doing this, we begin to realize that not only do sensations come and go, but so do the thoughts and emotions attached to those feelings. This awareness of sensations rising and fading away helps us become less attached to, or identified by, them. Our dramas, fears, and stories are simply an overlay, covering our true experiences.
The next time you feel an emotionally-charged situation take a few minutes to move away from your normal patterns of reaction and engage each of your senses. What’s happening in this moment, and what does it feel like in your body? How hot or cold are your palms? How are you breathing? What type of body language do you see? What does the voice speaking those words sound like? Of what does that scent or taste remind you?
In quieting the mind, following the breath, and engaging the senses, we feel deeply into our bodies and into an experience. It’s not simply about awakening the senses, but about engaging them fully in what’s happening, while not being attached to how that experience “should” be. It’s about making quality time for what we feel, instead of rushing through it or trying to arrive at some goal. If we find there’s no time to feel, then we’re saying there’s no time to truly live. We’re moving away from life instead of engaging in it; we’re moving further from what we’re seeking. We search much less when we discover an inner abundance.
By listening with our whole body and with all our senses, we gain perspective. We can begin to release our desire to cling to pleasant experiences and avoid unpleasant ones (or inversely, cling to pain and not acknowledge joy), and maybe even understand that they are all part of one experience that is our life. There is both a simplicity and a grace in such listening. With such awareness, we become more capable of meeting each situation and person openly, genuinely, fearlessly, and lovingly. They call it “beginner’s mind” in Zen Buddhism — that state of experiencing everything and everyone as if for the first time. There’s freedom and joy in that, in freeing others and ourselves from expectations, in opening to the pleasure of a new experience.
Uniting Body and Mind
When we commit to feeling life with all our senses engaged, we commit to living through the heart. We commit to self-love, as well as love of another — and to sharing that with others. Our life then becomes an expression of who we genuinely are and our actions come from a place of integrity, not lack of, or compensation for, something. When we’re truly engaged in life, we feel a bit less confused and stuck and a lot more joyful and free. We become a bit more curious, adventurous, playful, and eager to feel and try new things. We become more honest and compassionate, respecting our own and others’ boundaries and limits. We experience things fully, yet take our reactions to them less seriously, knowing that these are just sensations moving through. They will arise, they will pass, others will come and go as well, but to not feel any of them would be a shame because they all serve to remind us of our essential nature.
Our senses and bodies are not apart from us, just as what we feel and perceive is not apart from us but rather a part of us. To be touched and to touch another is to touch life. This experience is both profound and very ordinary — and it is both the beauty and power of awakening our senses and awakening to whom we truly are.