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The 5 Senses

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Our lives are largely determined by the 5 senses:

  • Touching
  • Tasting
  • Hearing
  • Seeing
  • Smelling

Of course there is much more to life than our immediate senses, but the 5 senses are how we experience the world around us.  The renowned English poet William Blake once said:

“Man has no body distinct from his Soul; for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the 5 senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”

We make our way through our days often neglecting the details of what we’re touching, tasting, hearing, seeing, or smelling.  Because so much of our life is determined by our senses, why not pursue health and enjoyment directly through them. 

Touching

Touch is healthy for us.  We need to touch other people and be touched.  Whether it be erotic or plutonic, touching stimulates hormones which make us feel good.  Shaking hands is a common greeting in the US, but in other countries like Italy or Greece a hug may be common, or a kiss on the cheek.  Colder climates tend to touch less and warmer ones more.  Obviously some types of touch can be inappropriate and can cross cultural or religious lines.  We are never touched more than when we’re children, but we still need affection as adults.  Some suggestions:

  • Snuggle up and cuddle with a loved one.
  • Hug or embrace family members when you see them, particularly if you don’t see them often.
  • Make time for erotic touch and sexual bonding.
  • Shake hands and hold it for a second or two, letting the person know you are present and care.
  • Patting or slapping someone on the upper back, particularly among men, is common in the south where I live and is a way of cultural bonding; various cultures may have other types of male to male bonding.
  • Massages are a great way to relieve pain and can fill the need for touch.
  • Some religions conduct services where “hands are laid”.  I’m not familiar with this personally, but it sounds meaningful.
  • Kissing someone in a plutonic way on the cheek can be an appropriate way to show affection.
  • Hold hands with your spouse, date, or significant other.

Tasting

With all of the hoopla surrounding fad diets, we lose sight of the fact that taste in and of itself is an amazing thing.  Taste can bring back memories, it affects hormones, and it can also change our appetites.  Taste is a wonderful thing so slow down and enjoy.  Grab a cantaloupe and eat it by itself.  Enjoy a fresh piece of bread with olive oil.  Recipes are great but why not a fresh tomato from the garden, a handful of cashews, or a fresh cup of coffee?  When it comes to recipes, find a friend or family member and spend a whole day preparing a special meal together, or do this as an act of love or service for another.  This can be a joyous occasion.  I enjoy preparing a special meal for my parents around the holidays…we’ve had borscht, beef bourguignon and Justin Wilson’s Cajun gumbo…wow that was good!

Hearing

We live in noisy times- machinery everywhere, traffic, music piped in, crowds of people, technology, air conditioners, fans, dehumidifiers, and TVs.  We turn on music to drown out the engine noise, but the traffic is so loud we have to turn up the music more.  Eventually our hearing ability is affected so we need it up even louder.  What did you say? I couldn’t hear you!  We turn on the TV or radio and leave it on in the background and we’re subjected to nonstop displays of largely unintelligent and meaningless talking and diatribes.  Why not be conscious about who and what we listen to? Let’s listen to things that make our lives better:

  • Enjoyable or inspirational music at a moderate volume.
  • Talk with people we enjoy talking to.  Have deep and meaningful conversations.  Here’s a hint: if you feel drained after talking to someone they are sucking the life out of you.
  • Watch Quality TV and entertainment at set times.
  • Seek complete silence at times.
  • Podcasts are one of my favorite things to listen to- history, exercise, Christianity, politics, business, health, entertainment.
  • Nature sounds are soothing.

 
Seeing

Underlying the exploration of the senses is the idea that we can become more aware, more conscious, and more alive through them.  Take the time to enjoy your senses.  Too often we walk around like zombies and take our lives for granted.  We forget that every second and every moment is a miracle and that life is a very beautiful thing, not to be taken for granted.  I have an affinity for Japanese culture, with the emphasis on beauty, order, and harmony.  I also enjoy the beautiful stained glass in church windows. 

Look around you.  What do you see? Is your life cluttered up by junk?  Are you seeing things you want to see? Do you treat others well? Do you make eye contact and smile? Do you appreciate the beauty of nature?  Do you allow people into your life who are in conflict with your values?
What do you see that you don’t want to see anymore?

Sight is a wonderful thing, a gift from God.  I’m from Alabama and one of our most famous native daughters is Helen Keller who once said: “Never bend your head.  Hold it high.  Look the world straight in the eye.”

Smelling

The first recorded use of incense for religious purposes occurred in Egypt around 2500 BC.  We in the Christian tradition know well of the 3 wise men who came to the baby Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  (Frankincense and myrrh are types of tree resin which can be used to make incense or perfume)

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had was walking into a country Orthodox Church service in rural Russia and being overwhelmed at the aromatic incense used.  Coming from a Baptist background, this was a very unusual thing for me.  Eastern Christianity, and eastern culture as a whole, is more mystical and less rational than western.  Though incense is used in Catholic services to various degrees, it is an integral part of eastern worship.  What struck me the most about this experience was the way it made me think for the first time about divine beauty and its close relationship to smell. 

Smell is a complicated topic as it stimulates the unconscious mind, perhaps more deeply than any other sense.   One walk into my mother’s kitchen around Christmas time brings back a wave of unconscious joyous feelings.  Aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicine I believe does have some benefit, though more research is needed.  Explore the formidable depth of the sense of smell and engage with it for health, consciousness, enjoyment, and if so inclined, for worship. 

  • Burn soy-based candles or other non-toxic incenses.
  • Cook or bake, savoring the smell of fresh cooked foods.
  • Savor a tea or coffee.
  • Open the windows.
  • Sip on a glass of wine or a bourbon and enjoy the scent.

What we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell make up how we experience life.  Take a minute to slow down and be more aware of the 5 senses and open up to them deliberately.  Bring them all into harmony with your values, and your life will change for the better.

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn whatever state I am in, therin to be content.” – Helen Keller
 
 Read next: The 12 Commandments of Fitness
 

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