Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of June 7, 2010

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World 5: Sensory Contact

(Part of the series Worlds of the Spirit)

In the World of Sensory Contact, we live the type of normal life that is possible but unfortunately not typical for us. In this vivid world we actually receive our sensory impressions rather than letting them pass us by with only the minimal, cursory contact that characterizes our life in the World of the Autopilot. One cause of our living in Autopilot is that we cease to notice the familiar. This creates a problem for us because so much in our life is familiar and what we do not notice we do not experience. Consequently, mere familiarity means that much of our life never enters our experience, impoverishing us thereby and relegating us to live in the World of the Autopilot. With Sensory Contact, however, we actually see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the aromas, taste the tastes, and sense the touches of our life, whether familiar or not. Furthermore, we cognize our thoughts and their meanings and we feel our emotions and their qualities. We know, as they occur, each of our thoughts to be a thought and each of our emotions to be an emotion.

Perhaps even more importantly, because we are in contact with the content of our life, we have some choice in what we do. In the World of the Autopilot we abdicate our choices to our self-generated, associative thoughts, our reactive emotions, and our stimulus-driven impulses, whereas in the World of Sensory Contact we are able to choose. When we know our thoughts are just thoughts and recognize our emotions as just emotions, we are no longer completely at their mercy and they no longer effectively choose for us. In Contact, we realize that the thought and emotion of this moment may be contradicted by our other thoughts and emotions of other moments. The impulses of this moment are not our only considerations. We see options. Thus we have more freedom. We can choose what to do, even to go against some strong desire. We can think intentionally on a subject or a problem. We can allow our feelings to open appropriately to our situation. On Autopilot we have tunnel vision, do not see any options, and do not even suspect our subjugation to the whims of our automatic patterns and reactions. In Sensory Contact we emerge enough from the rushing stream to have a broader view, to see the stream for what it is, to see alternatives, and not to follow our nose blindly.

As compared with the flat world of autopilot living, the vivid World of Sensory Contact yields a much greater density of experience. We live more in a single moment of Sensory Contact than in very many moments of automatic life. We need this contact and we want it. Though such states do come to us all, they tend to arise haphazardly and quickly dissipate, as we fall back into Autopilot, our ordinary level of being, our station. Travel, new experiences, adventures, engaging in sports, making music or art or love, being in nature, and similar activities do tend to awaken us temporarily and intermittently into the World of Sensory Contact. Any intense or unaccustomed event can bypass the conditioning of the Autopilot and call us into Contact. The problem is that all such newness and intensity fades and can only occupy a relatively small part of our life.

But there is another, more reliable way to gain entry to the World of Sensory Contact. We need not continually chase after novelty to live a vivid life. Rather we can engage in the inner work practices that focus on the sensitive energy: sensing our body, feeling our emotions, cognizing our mind, and receiving our sensory impressions. Now even in the World of the Autopilot we may have contact with one of these sources of experience. We may notice what we see or hear. We may notice our thoughts. But typically our capacity for noticing is limited and narrow. In the World of Sensory Contact, we notice more broadly and more intensely, we sense our body and feel our feelings and cognize our thoughts.

Our body is so familiar that we tend not to notice it. But because it is always here, our inner work toward Sensory Contact begins with sensing our body. And then we sense our body while we hear the birds sing and feel our appreciation. By such practice we can awaken within our ordinary, familiar life to our aliveness, to the uniqueness of each moment, despite any similarity to prior moments.

We even have the possibility of transforming our soul to the point of being able to stay awake and alert and alive in this everyday life for more than a few brief and intermittent moments. For that relative stability in the World of Sensory Contact, our work with the sensitive energy needs to grow robust, both by increasing the flow of that energy into us and by building our capacity to retain more of it within our being. The former comes, for example, through the practice of energy breathing, while the latter capacity comes through sustained work at whole body sensation, at building our energy body. By doing such inner work, we not only serve ourselves, but also the world around us. As we transform energies, raising them up the scale, we are making these higher qualities available to our neighbor, to our society, and to the spirit.

Each step up the ladder of worlds enriches our life dramatically, creating new possibilities, new modes of experiencing, acting, and serving. Our initial focus needs to include seeing that we spend so much of our time in the World of the Autopilot and engaging in those inner work practices that enable us to step into the World of Sensory Contact more often and for longer periods. The seeing part of this means acquiring the taste of these worlds. And that comes by noticing the quality of experience in each world and also the contrasts between the various Worlds. We recognize our presence in Sensory Contact by realizing that we are not in Autopilot mode, that we are no longer just an empty shell of a person, a personality without substance. We have real contact, in this moment, with our life. And then we fall out of Sensory Contact and slip back into Autopilot. That gives us the incentive, the drive to work inwardly, to be in contact, to live our ordinary life more vividly.

For this week, notice when you are in the World of Sensory Contact. Engage in inner work to enter that world and stay for a few moments. Enjoy!


        

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