Being present is being present with the senses. So, from moment to moment, come to your senses.
In the Sabba Sutta, Buddha said, “The eyes and sights; the ears and sounds; the nose and smells; the tongue and tastes; the body and touch; the intellect and ideas—this is the All; there is no other.”
Now, we know that there are other senses too—like proprioception, empathy and intuition—but most of them can still be ushered in under those six.
Even when we’re not sensing anything, we can be aware of the absence of sensation. So, not sensing is sensing too. As long as the sense organs are active, they’re sensing. As for the world beyond our senses, that’s all secondhand, all ideas.
The biggest problem that most of us face is getting stuck in our heads.
We disconnect with the first five senses and pay almost complete attention to ideas. This causes a lot of suffering, especially if we’re making choices when we’re in that disconnected state.
So, no matter what religion or philosophy you subscribe to, it’s helpful to learn to soak in the moment. Take a sensory bath whenever you can, taking whatever experiences the moment gives.
It’s easy to build it into a habit. Whenever you walk outside, take a big breath right away, and focus on the scents. We’re not trying to name or judge what we smell, we’re just trying to smell it as completely as we can. Hold your breath in for a moment, and then breathe it back out into the world.
Then turn to another sense, like hearing or seeing, and so the same thing, sticking attention to the phenomenon so that the whole moment can get through. After moving through the senses, let yourself reflect on how it feels to be a receptacle for all these changing sensations.
We’re like cups that are constantly emptied and filled with each new sensation.
This is our reality, our lives, and it’s beautiful. We miss it—all of it—when we get lost in our minds. Even worse, we start making up stories as these ideas bounce off each other, and these stories may or may not line up with the facts.
When we fixate too much on any one sense, the others start to switch off. They drift so far into the background that they literally disappear from consciousness. We can live years of our lives in that state when we fixate on ideas. Going from day to day, not really seeing, hearing or smelling for more than a few minutes each day.
The point is to ground intellect in the other senses, and then guide those senses with the intellect so that they support each other. This is truly living in the present.
Anshi is the pen-name for a Buddhist writer. If you know who Anshi is, please don’t tell anyone since these posts often have sensitive autobiographical info in them. Anshi is a Chan teacher and mentor at the Oxhead Zen Community.
Editor: Dana Gornall