Coming to Your Senses
© Tarchin Hearn published by Wangapeka Books; Karunakarma Series Volume II, 2002
Bright and responsive
Cultivating the ability to be totally present for another,
Living each moment spacious and open with immense clarity
and compassion, Resting in a place of being, where love,
patience and wondrous creativity
can arise with the problems and challenges in life.
Of course, there’s always….
Going to sleep.
Walking through life with eyes dimmed,
senses of touch registering mostly pain and discomfort
or even nothing at all,
taste dulled and
Withdrawing from the world in order to be more ‘spiritual,’
Losing oneself in concepts and fantasy,
Sinking into the pool of Narcissus
Our private self-built fiction of hopes and fears and desperate expectation, Meeting each difficulty with knee jerk reactions and inflexible agendas.
Which will it be?
Writing these words, I recall a few experiences that shaped me. One was a short conversation I had with my father many years ago. I was just beginning to study with Namgyal Rinpoché and was filled with all the common spiritual fantasies that were so exciting for us 1960s seekers. I remember my dad saying something along the lines that I probably thought that ‘Eastern Culture’ had profound understanding about things to do with the ‘inner’; meditation, yoga and so forth, but had lots to learn from the ‘West’ about the outer. The West on the other hand had great mastery of the outer world through science and technology but needed to learn more about the inner from the East. I completely agreed with him but it seemed so obvious, I wondered what he was getting at. “Well,” he said, “I think you’ve got the whole thing absolutely backwards. The great Zen masters were able to see a tree as a tree and a mountain as a mountain. They would eat when they were hungry and drink when they were thirsty. People in the West, on the other hand, have become so lost in a labyrinth of internal fantasy, unconsciously projecting their hopes and fears onto the environment, that it is almost impossible for them to see what is actually there. Westerners don’t need meditation, more hours of staring into navels and contacting feelings,” he said trying to stir me up. “They don’t need to look within. They need to look deeply into what is actually going on ‘out there’, all around, in this magnificent living world!” It was a bright moment. I saw that he was right.
Another experience. Wandering around the city of Toronto trying to understand ’emptiness’ (sunyata), I found that by squinting my eyes everything became a bit fuzzy and not so solid. I walked around in this floaty, fuzzy space until one day I walked right into a telephone post and practically knocked myself out! Surviving with minor bruising, I decided that if this was emptiness then I wasn’t interested in it. Either I find emptiness with my eyes open or I’d look for something else.
I first did this work of cleansing the senses on a course given by Namgyal Rinpoché in the mid 1970s. The exercises were adapted from the Western Mystery Traditions where it was considered that before one could explore the mysteries of mind and nature, it was necessary to have a healthy and well functioning body and this included well functioning senses. Since that first course, I have taught this work a number of times and in the process, found the emphasis and even the methods evolving in slightly different directions. Some things have been left out and other things have been added. Although it was originally called cleansing the senses, the main focus has gradually shifted towards exploring the nature of what is, through the senses.
It is best to do this work in a place of natural beauty and in full retreat. Seven days is about the minimum time to go through the five senses, though to take it at a more leisurely pace would allow for more contemplation. Some people have done this work in cities but I don’t generally recommend it since to open our senses and then to immediately expose them to traffic smells and noise can be challenging to say the least!
In an actual retreat we usually begin with pre breakfast meditation or puja. After breakfast we would meet for a class in which I would introduce the work for the day. After a short break we would reassemble as a group to do the sense cleansing work. After lunch there is some time for individual exploration. In the late afternoon we would do walking meditation together in the forest. The evenings were open for individual work. Most of the retreats I have given with this theme have been in silence except for the talking necessary in the morning group work.
May your explorations blossom
Guiding you and all that you meet
On the path of spacious wonderment, heart filled compassion,
And feet-on-the-ground sensible intelligence.