Friday, December 14, 2012

touching and listening

A recent article in Science Daily on the sense of touch and its relationship to vibration sheds astonishing new light on our sensory capacity.

It turns out that the sense of touch is actually a form of listening. Touch is intimately connected to vibration; when we touch something and sense it, we are actually sensing vibrations. We are not just sensing the vibrations themselves; we are sensing their timing and their rhythm. So when we touch something, we are actually listening to music. Listening, to be sure, with nerves that are not found in our ears, but our skin; yet listening, nonetheless.

 This raises deep questions about exactly what sense perception is in the first place. It turns out that much of it is, in fact, a taking in of rates of vibration: the vibration of molecules against skin nerves, the vibration of air molecules, the rate of vibration of photons as they strike our retina. Perhaps only the senses of smell and taste currently seem to be left out of this picture. Yet some research already indicates smell may be included, and I suspect we will discover that taste, also, is ultimately and intimately related to rates of vibration.

 This is significant on several levels, not least of which because it can probably help to explain the phenomenon of synesthesia, in which one sensory input translates within the body into a deep experience of another; for example, touch may produce a sensation of color. There is, in other words, a logic behind the experience. The question runs deeper than this, because it demonstrates that music, which is, after all, all about rates of vibration, timing and rhythm, is perhaps the deepest and most comprehensive sensory language we have developed, even though we don't see it as communicating information of the kind that words do. It's possible for completely deaf people to become adept musicians because of this; the sensation of music is a bodily function, not just one of the ears, and now we see that the sense of touch also explains this unique phenomenon.

A deeper sensory experience of life, which is both the aim and the result of the organic sense of being which we are capable of, takes in these impressions of vibration and sends them much deeper in the body, directly into many cells that we don't often associate as being part of our brain. We think of the brain as localized, and existing in the head (and perhaps, in yogic practice, the spine or solar plexus) but the entire body is our brain, all of it thinks, and it thinks with all of its parts. Every cell thinks. There is no part of the body that is not actively engaged in thinking at all times, and the thinking is gathered into a community. When we speak of the idea of taking refuge in the community, the Sangha,  we can think of it as taking place within our inner community, as much as in any outer community. We take refuge in the Buddha; this is the Self, Purusha, the Christ consciousness. We take refuge in the Dharma, the truth, the natural law of manifestation, which may be roughly equated with prakriti; and we take refuge in the inner community of sensation — all of the vibrations in our life — that puts us in relationship with these two realities.

All of it is composed of vibration. This reminds me of a post I wrote a number of years ago, where I pointed out that the story of the blind men and the elephant is, to me, most interesting because the blind man attempt to know the elephant through touch — that is, through the most intimate sensation  available to us, the one that lovers use to know one another as directly as possible.

This, to me, is the whole point of the parable — not the blindness of the men, or their incomprehension, but their willingness to engage in life with intimacy in order to discover what it means. The fact that each of them only comprehends part of the picture is very nearly meaningless, banal; faced with any effort to understand, that condition is inevitable, and does not need to be illustrated using obvious metaphors. The men who made this story up were getting at a deeper question.

 It may seem like a far cry from spiritual practice to touch the bark of a tree; yet this is is, in its essence, exactly what spiritual practice is. It is our contact with the world through sensation and vibration that both the temporal and spiritual Self is born and fed; our presence and awareness to that immediate experience is what brings us both life, and the capacity to understand it.

It arrives in a language that does not have words, but speaks eloquently to the fact of our Being.

 May your soul be filled with light.

1 comment:

  1. Another wonderful look at vibration, touch and hearing. At one point you state that this leaves out smell and taste, but they are also intimately connected with touch.

    One only smells something because actual molecules from the source of the smell enter the nose and interact with the receptors therein. And it is said that smell is 90% of taste, which is direct contact with the taste "buds" on the tongue.

    There is a wonderful little book called The Emperor of Scent, where the author maintains that smell is musical, a theory I find handsome. Other "scientists" scoffed at him.

    Mr. Gurdjieff's original presentation described everything as bearing qualities of the law of seven, easily seen in the musical scale. Chemistry also follows the same design, so that the entire universe can be considered musical, but ALL senses are extensions of touch. I'll stick my head out on the chopping block for that.


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