You have heard me say that sensing has immense importance in this work. Obviously sensing is the means by which we know and interact with our world. Our physical bodies are exquisitely sensitive displays of information about our environment. Sensing also tells us about our own physical state. Sensations are data. Can you accept this data or do you reject it?
Sensing puts us in touch with the present and anchors the attention, which counterbalances the tendency of the thinking apparatus to steal attention and suppress perception and inhabit the past or the future.
You have (hopefully) also heard me say that sensing enables us to monitor and transform the energies of the body, a process that enables us to waken higher faculties. Sensations are food. Are you able to digest this food?
Sensing is a real experience…at its most basic, the movement of electrical and chemical processes through the nervous system. Sensing is the physiological capacity of organisms to provide data for perception. Being 21st century humans, we allow the thinking machine to structure this experience and even replace it. We like to think that we are sensing when really we are thinking about sensing. When I ask you to place attention on sensation, how many of you think about a part of the body you have decided to sense and then try to sense it through the medium of your thinking?
Can you make use of thought to place attention and then withdraw thinking, allowing attention to penetrate sensation directly? Attention can then read many sensations at once and its unmediated interaction with sensation leads to most interesting energetic effects.
Sensations are not emotions but thinking often associates sensations with past events which have emotional content. A sensory reaction then becomes an emotion. Can you take every sensation simply as data, impartially?
The questions I am posing point to the use of sensations as the basis for our work on self. Without them at the center, we are just another philosophical school indulging in useless mental gymnastics.
The bonus for impartial sensing is that you may discover that you have many more sensations than you thought. Have you considered this? You should be able to find more than a dozen different senses, not just the standard five. There is a sense organ, or sensor, dedicated to each sense. There is vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch, the five traditionally recognized ones. Our external sensory capacities also include temperature, movement or kinesthetic sense, pain, balance and vibration.
Perhaps there are still more…the sensation of floating or weightlessness, claustrophobia or suffocation. Pulse and breathing. There are also internal sensations such as hunger, thirst and organic fear. Some people say we can sense abnormal salt and carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood. Some of us are able to sense electrical and magnetic fields. And what about the sensations that do not seem to depend upon a specific organ such as time, familiarity, perhaps even the sense of initiating an action?
Can you get out of your head and into your sensations? My guess is that you will find that some of these sensations are operating in you just beyond your noticing but nonetheless having a significant impact on your experience of the world and self. It’s not that you need to name them. But if you allow them into your consciousness, integrate them into your experience, you may be able to be more voluntary, even harmonious.
Perhaps certain places or circumstances give rise to the sensations of suffocating. Can you bring this impartially to awareness so you can deal with it?
The early stages of zikr are about integrating sensations and bringing them into alignment with each other, especially pulse and breath together with hearing, the vibrations of sound in the body and making subtle rhythmic movements. Attention fully engages with sensing and the effect is cleansing…inharmonious sensations are pacified and made compatible with prayer and invocation. This is one of the meanings of remembering self.