This is the fifth installment of, “Using the Senses for Contemplative Practice”. If you’ve already read the previous weeks’ lessons, jump ahead four paragraphs to “Consider touch.” If not, please allow me to briefly introduce this series of teachings.
Our bodies are made for contemplation. Every time we feel a breeze blow across our skin, see a cloud in the sky, taste the sweet honey in our tea, smell the clean laundry coming out of the dryer, hear the sound of a train whistle in the distance, or even recognize the sound of our own voice, we’re given an opportunity to engage in contemplative practice.
Many of us think we need to step away from life in order to polish our contemplative practices. Indeed, an occasional retreat can be highly beneficial, but everything we need to engage in contemplative practice— and hence heighten our awareness, we’re already doing all day, every day.If you’d like to learn how to tap into this sublime gift, please read on.
I present six practices for you to experiment with. Each will require about five days of your attention, so you can probably cover each lesson in about a week. If you’d like to develop a new, powerful awareness through these practices, I encourage you to engage with them just a little every day for the next six weeks. You may never be the same!
You may choose to begin with this week’s lesson on the sense of touch, or you may choose to read the full introduction and go back and begin with the first lesson on speech. It’s up to you.
As we continue this series, we explore the ways in which refining and disciplining our senses can lead us to higher consciousness, and ultimately to greater knowledge of Infinite Being, the sacredness of all creation and of the acts of perception through we which know the world.
The gift of touch is the one of which we’re, perhaps, least aware. With touch we give and receive almost in equal measure. We tend to think of touch as something we do with our hands or that we sense with our skin. But touch is not limited to these. We also give and receive touch with our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Touch has many moods and may convey vastly different intentions. When we touch with our eyes, we grasp an image or an object. We may do this with a loving, appreciative gaze, or a hostile glare. We come into contact with the objects of our perception, and take them in, they touch us. The same is true for hearing. Our ears reach out and grasp a sound, and that sound enters our bodies. Sound penetrates our skin. Taste is touching with our tongues. We may taste hastily, gulping our food down, or we may savor whatever our tongue comes into contact with. Smells enter us. They touch and then pervade our nostrils and we take the scent inside. We may reach out with our noses to sniff or catch a scent: to do so is to touch and be touched by the aroma.
Because touch simultaneously gives and receives as we touch we are touched in return, it’s integrative. It’s pervasive because all of our senses participate in the active receptivity of touch. By cultivating the gift of touch we may re-direct its outward reach more steadily toward the awareness of its inner presence: to the touch of Divine presence within us and within all things.
When we reach out to bring ourselves into physical contact with something else, we’re reaching for the material form of an object—whether that object is an image, a sound, a taste, a scent, or something more solid such as a flower or another human being. But what we seek to touch is that Divine Essence which is present in, and the source of, the object of our perception. Whether that form is subtle, like a scent, or more dense and material, like chocolate cake, we desire the object because we desire its Essence. It draws us to itself, even when we are unaware of what we actually drawn to.
When we’re able to be aware of the touch, the uninterrupted touch of Divine Being with us, then we may experience that same presence in touching and being touched, beyond the limits of our physical body. We may engage the objects of our attention with a gaze, voice, or hand enlivened by our awareness. In this way, our touch, from whichever organ we offer it, becomes a blessing to those who receive it.
Cultivating the gift of touch expands our experience of the eternal touch, present in all things, through which subject, object, and means of perception become a single act of touch—a conjoined experience in which there is no distinction between touch, touching, and touched. There is only divine Being in continuous reaching out and taking into itself—as both subject and object—through active receptivity of movement and the receptive activity of counter movement, in the intricate and ecstatic dance of ever unfolding existence.
Practice #5: Touch
This simple practice will expand our awareness of the constant activity of touch. Once each hour, as you reach out to touch or hold something, after touching or grasping that object, pause. Pause for five seconds. That’s it. Just pause.
Practice this for two days. At the end of each day makes notes in your journal what you notice as you pause. Five seconds is not a long time, but what do you notice in your body and your mind as you pause? You may notice a change in your breathing, or a change in your awareness. You may notice a shift in your body or mind. What do you notice of the object of your touch? In what way is what you notice about the object different from what it normally is? Note for yourself how what you may notice changes or evolves as you practice for two days.
After you have practiced pausing for 2 days, now add your breath. The practice is the same, pause for five seconds after touching or holding something. Now take an easy in breath with an easy out breath as you pause. Practice this for three days. At the end of each day note in your journal what you notice as you pause. What do you notice in your body and your mind as you pause? In what ways does adding an easy breath or two change the practice or shift your awareness? What do you notice about the object of your touch? In what way is what you notice about the object different from what it normally is? Note for yourself how what you may notice changes or evolves as you practice for three days.
The next step is to practice removing your touch or your grasp with awareness. Once each hour, when you are about to remove your hand from an object or let go of something you’ve been holding, pause. Pause for three seconds taking an easy in breath as you do, and then let go or remove your hand. Practice this for three days. What do you notice in your body and your mind as you pause before removing your touch? What do you notice about the object of your touch? In what way is what you notice about the object different from what it normally is? Note for yourself how what you are aware of changes or evolves as you practice for three days.
If you have a pet who will sit quietly with you, then you may practice “petitation.” Seated comfortably with your pet within easy reach, gently begin to pet your pet. When you first reach out to touch your pet, pause and breathe. Then begin gentle, easy strokes. Do this for five minutes if your pet can sit quietly for that length of time. As you “petitate,” be aware of the textures, temperature, and feel of your pet’s fur. What do you notice about the object of your touch? Does your attention to the act of petting make any changes to your experience of petting your pet? If so, what are these changes? What do you notice in your body and mind as you engage in this mindful practice?
1. Five second pause for two days
2. Five second pause with breath for three days
3. Removing touch with awareness
4. Practice “petitation”
Be sure to journal or make brief notes as you go through the steps of the practice. In this way you can recall and then reflect upon your experience.
May you enjoy the gentle touch of Consciousness as you reach for all things.