The impetus for organizing contemplate this… around the senses arose out of our own studies in tantric schools of yoga that weave sensory information into contemplative practices. The short and sweet description of what makes a yogi of the tantric school is this:
- in non-tantric (dual) traditions, the senses of the body and the entire material world are taught to be illusion and so seen beyond or transcended.
- in the tantric (non-dual) schools of Kasmir Saivism as well as other non-dual traditions of Zen & Taoism, the senses and the physical world are not only real, they are primary tools for dissolving our perceptions of separateness. In other words, only the perception of separateness is an illusion.
Even with perfect eyes, we are not born with the ability to see. Through our own experimental learning in the world we develop our ability to see and understand in conjunction with our other senses. When we see something and then put it in our mouths as young children we have kicked off the creation of new neural connections. The recognition of stairs, faces, the gait of a lover, all incredible feats of learning, come to us almost automatically though some not without a scraped knee or two.
You can think of all of this learning as a process in which we create a conceptual understanding to make sense of our world. This is blue, that is green, the edge of the step is there. We start to amass short-cuts that free us up for higher learning. Afterall, if we had to be vigilantly and consciously looking for the edge of each step we’d be fairly hampered in our ability to move onto the development of more ambitious motor skills such as dancing. While these short-cuts serve us well there is another edge to them – by definition, a short-cut was made with old data. If we taste and file away tomatoes as gross at the age of 10, we may never again taste a tomato. We are not static beings and a good deal of our pain and suffering is caused by operating with old data that is no longer serving us. While not eating tomatoes is not likely to create suffering for you (especially if you are blissfully unaware of the fact that you like them), other old patterns of reaction can and do, most often in how we relate to others.
Keeping our instruments tuned though the honing of our sensory perceptions allows us to improve our assessment of where we are and how we’re doing at any given time. This sounds a little esoteric but it’s what will help us to gather fresh data allowing us to move through the world in ways that serve us well. Without a practice of atunement we often don’t perceive the dissonances until they club us over the head with mis-fortune or disease. Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” This perception of things being done TO US can easily lock us in a state of victim-hood. So how do we make an inner situation conscious? Contemplate, of course… cultivate a stillness in the moment that allows our inner situation to reveal itself.
A simple contemplative practice using sight as an anchor is to meditate while focusing on a point or an object. This practice is amazingly powerful (though uncomfortable at first) when practiced with a partner. We were exposed to partner gazing by our teacher, Richard Miller, first in 2001. Yes, you will feel quite self-conscious at first. Fits of laughter are common until you begin to settle in. All manner of odd phenomenon may come up. One thing to remind yourselves as you practice this technique is that whatever you experience in your vision is originating from within your self. If your partner’s face morphs into something monstrous or angelic, rest assured, you are not seeing their inner daemons or angels; they are most certainly your own. It’s not necessary to analyze what comes up for you. Simply watch, with curiosity, whatever arises.
Another vision-based contemplative practice also requires a friend to help out. Choose one person to act as “the camera” and the other as “the photographer”. The camera closes his or her eyes and is guided and positioned by the photographer in silence. When the photographer gives the camera a gentle hand squeeze the camera can open his or her eyes. There is a fresh seeing that is possible when we are invited into an unknown visual arena by another. After the photographer signals again, the camera closes the eyes and is led to a new sight.
These, like all contemplative practices, are exercises for inviting us into first-person experiences of the present moment, plain and simple. There is nothing earth-shaking or dramatic about contemplation but, over time, the practices will make it easier to bring presence into each moment of your life, helping fresh sensory input to guide you well.