Yoga in One Syllable

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How sensitive are your senses?

February 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Every Tuesday I teach yoga classes to executives in Sydney. Last week en route to my midday class there were the usual gaggle of corporate cigarette snackers huddled outside the office. As I passed them, their conversation about one of their colleagues filtered through the air “she’s got such a narrow view of the world”.

Have you ever stopped to think about how you perceive the world?

We all get our world news from the same sources. And no, it’s not ABC, BBC and NBC. It’s our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. In Yoga these senses are called our jnanendriyas, our organs of knowledge. Without them our minds have no contact with the world. Everything we know has come via one or another of our senses. Our senses help to shape who we are and who we become.

Usually working in combination, but sometimes operating as rogue lone agents they constantly feed information to the control centre – our mind. But do these informants give us the whole picture? Do they relay the truth?

This question of truth has worried philosophers for centuries. Socrates argued that none of our senses could be trusted. But what does this mean for us in our daily lives?

Our senses are pretty good at what they do, but they have a limited job description. Our eyes are sensitive to light but they cannot detect sound, or taste, or smell. Nor are they capable of thought.

Have you ever stuck your hand in water so hot that it felt, in the initial instant, cold?  Our senses deliver pragmatic information. And even then they can get it wrong because they’re simply not sensitive enough to pick up the nuances in the information.

Sound is vibrating molecules. When they speed up enough we can hear the noise of this vibration; if they vibrate too fast our ears hear only silence. A bat’s echo-location mechanism and the ultrasound we routinely use to check babies in the womb rely on the reflection signature of vibrating molecules. Sound, in other words. One that our ears can’t hear.

We don’t notice a sharp blast on a dog whistle, but you can bet that all the canines in the vicinity do. There’s a whole orchestra of sound out there that animals are capable of hearing to which we humans are oblivious.

The human eye doesn’t see the full electromagnetic spectrum. We sample a small slice of it, aptly called the visible spectrum. Our eyes are unable to see what causes a microwave to boil a cup of water or the x-rays that photograph a fractured arm. We rely on the evidence to know that these energies are in action.

It’s a similar story with our other senses: we can’t smell underwater like a fish, trace the scent of truffles like pigs, or taste with our feet like butterflies. As for the undeniably quirky star nosed mole, its star shaped nose – the size of a child’s thumbnail – has six times as many touch receptors as our entire hand. How much information are we missing?

In truth we all live with a narrow world view. It just happens that our view is pretty much the same as every other human on the planet.

Image by spielzimmer

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