I have previously written about meditation with eyes open, and using gentle sight as part of your practice. This made me curious to explore the other senses that can be used within my practice. In this post, I will discuss my experience of the senses during meditation. Please note, however, that there is no right or wrong way to meditate per se, and we are all likely to use different techniques, meditation aids, mantras, and guides to assist us in our practice. Also, while I am referring to the five “main” senses, human beings have many other senses (e.g., temperature, thirst, hunger, and even time) that can all be explored in meditation to varying extents.
Sight in its most obvious sense is strongly used in eyes open meditation, whether you assume a gentle unfocused gaze towards your surroundings or focus your view on an object, such as a candle flame or a Buddha statue or image. In a less obvious sense, however, “internal” sight is equally important when your eyes are closed. Particularly for novice practitioners, “seeing” the breath moving through the body as we inhale and exhale, visualising our body during a body scan, or using visualisation techniques to imagine our goals may be beneficial to our practice. I prefer meditating with my eyes closed, or slightly open if I focus on the image of a candle flame burning in front of me.
When I meditate, I sometimes sit in silence, while other times I listen to meditation and yoga music on Spotify, follow guided meditations on YouTube, or listen to the sounds of nature in the background (whether real or recorded). Even if I meditate in silence, I may become aware of external sounds, such as voices, cars, birds, or the rain. Other meditators may chant, recite a mantra, or use Tibetan singing bowls as they meditate, adding another element of sound to their practice. I have not yet tried to meditate using a singing bowl, but I think it can be beneficial not only in inducing a relaxed and meditative state, but also as an experience for my practice.
There are always smells in the air, on our skin, in the room, and pretty much in anything around us. We may focus on a particular smell when we meditate, such as the smell of flowers, grass, or the summer breeze when we are out in nature, or the smell of a candle, and incense burner, or essential oils when we are in our meditation space. Smells can thus serve as a point of focus in our practice (e.g., flowers), an aid to our practice by inducing a relaxed and meditative state (e.g., essential oils), or as both (e.g., scented candle). I enjoy meditating with incense sticks, but I tend to keep my mind relaxed and focused on my breathing throughout my practice.
While I rarely hold something in my hands during meditation, some meditators may use a beaded bracelet when reciting a mantra or a chant. Beyond that, the sense of touch is present everywhere on our bodies: the surface we are sitting on, the softness of the meditation cushion, the feel of our clothes, the weight of our hands on our thighs, and even the pressure of the air around us. I find that the sense of touch can have a very grounding effect in my practice, whether I feel the sand beneath my toes or my weight on the meditation cushion.
Taste is perhaps the least utilised sense in meditation practice, but is essential for other mindfulness practices, such as mindful eating. I have written about mindful eating in several previous blog posts, but it is worth mentioning here. Additionally, taste can be an important consideration even in sitting meditation practice. I prefer to meditate in the mornings on an empty stomach, as the taste of strong or odorous foods, and even gum or toothpaste can be a stimulator or a distraction to my practice.
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