Felt senses: What are they?

As I move through midlife, and hit age 50, I’m noticing the frequency with which I see and hear references to the concept of just “being”, of learning to live in the present moment, of “presence.” A lot of people, including me and my friends, are thinking about time, its scarcity and oppressiveness. This bombardment of activity that is urban life is a perpetual maze or chessboard. I’m always thinking, always lining up the long sequence of moves to get through the day…the week. I’m of my mind and in it, always.

The concept of presence and “being in the moment” is comforting, but what’s the actual experience of it? What kind of mentality would I have while I am in actually in the present? (and not obsessed with the future or reminiscing of the past).

Last night I was reading a most beautiful book, Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, and on page 7:

Well, see and see but do not perceive, hear and hear but do not understand, as the Lord says. I can’t claim to understand that saying, as many times as I’ve heard it, and even preached on it. It simply states a deeply mysterious fact. You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it.

I realize that I’ve carried a deep belief about the importance of being in the present since college classes on Taoism and Zen. What’s newer is my sense of a huge distinction between all those intellectual ideas, concepts, commentary, philosophies and deeper “felt senses.” What is the practice of being in the present? What does it feel like? How do I do it vs. talk and read about it?

Now, “being in the present” is a more abstract experience than, say, being generous. But the same dynamic plays itself out. I might believe in the value of generosity but what does it feel like? What’s the practice of it?

This morning I was reading Annie Dillard’s book Teaching a Stone to Talk.

I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular – shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands? – but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive.

Hmmm: Living without motive? What does the experience of living without motive feel like? What’s the experience and practice of it?

The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons.

What would it mean to live in necessity? How does one know one’s necessity? Funny use of the word. On the one hand, “necessity” is the burying of choice. My friend Paul talks of “existential exposure.” Peasants in 1300 AD were surrounded by a cosmology and by their given life parameters. But today, we need to create ourselves.

It’s this problem of consciousness. I am aware of myself and my mind. I see myself moving through time.

I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.

What is my “given” – that which constitutes my necessity? How do I come to know this?

We could, you know. We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience – even of silence – by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.

I’m working these days on being closer to direct sensory experience. By “closer” I mean a couple things. I’m working to simply observe and take in. I’ll participate but work not to label and categorize and intellectually respond.

I know the sense of it when it is happening. There’s a nice looseness and easygoingness… Showing is the biggest part of it. (All these quotes are from chapter one “Living Like Weasels” in Dillard’s book.)

« Back to blog

Powered by WordPress • Panorama theme by Themocracy