The Art of Perception

Walking in nature, watching the stars at night, strolling around in an unknown city, visiting a place considered as spiritual and holy. Much can happen. Nothing can happen.

How can we open the being up, enchant perception with mystery, connect the inner with the outer and nourish our need for awe and astonishment?

„I’d been to the river before, a few times. Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly. You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day. You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears. And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, and ambition.“ (Mary Oliver)

Are there ways and practices, that can help us to develop our senses and ways of perception?

Becoming aware of our preferences and ideas of identity

We all have habitual views on the world. When asked for our favored food, place, music or city, we will have an answer at hand. The same is valid for our dislikes. We tend to seek what we find pleasant and avoid the unpleasant. One way of opening up to the world is to become aware of these tendencies. To inspect them carefully and see where they might narrow down our capacity for appreciation and contentment. Be extra careful with any notions of „I like / can’t stand …“, „I want…“, „I need to have…“.

Calm the inner turmoil

Being aware of the impression on our sense doors can only be fruitful, when we boil down the inner chatter to a certain degree. Returning to the breath, setting the mind at ease and establish concentration and are of immense help, when we wish to open up to the wonders of the world. Experiment with the degree to which you can let go of commenting, labeling or judging. What happens if we step back and open up to a more receptive attitude? This process usually takes a while. Like mud and water will separate when not stirred, our mind will calm down, when we give priority to set it at ease.

Play with details

To become more sensitive to perception is an exercise that is done best with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. Sit done somewhere, take some deep breaths and look around. What details can be found, that you weren’t aware of so far. How is the light? What movements do occur? Can you tune into the interplay of sound and silence? Play with the sense impressions of color, sound, odor, taste and touch. Find new ways to experience every day experience, ask yourself questions, write down your insights and experiences. Over time more and more impressions will reveal themselves.

Let go of expectations

Wonders and insights do not come per order. To expect them to happen will put pressure on the moment and the mind most likely will contract. Insights come wherever and whenever the conditions are right. We can not produce or lure them in. Our task is to prepare heart and mind – and train ourselves to be patient. Sometimes it takes weeks or months to understand the fruits and the outcome of a journey, inner and outer.

„The pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything. Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods. Like art, pilgrimage cannot wait for the right mood to appear.“ (Phil Cousineau, The Art Of Pilgrimage“)

To heighten our capacity to be nourished by sense impressions is helpful in more than just one way. It will enable us to engage fully with our surroundings and set us at ease with whatever happens. It is not about feeling good all the time or cancel out difficulties. It is about being able to make deliberate decisions on the way we engage with the world. It is about finding nourishment in our surroundings in a way that is unproblematic for ourselves as well as for the environment. If I can be nourished through things that are already given, I will become more easily contented, happy with what is at hand and less driven to consume more.

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