The experience of our body

Having looked at our direct experience of sounds, (see Direct Experience of Sounds) how do bodily sensations compare? It’s another great chance to test the truth of our idea of an experiencer and an experience, another borderline to explore between concepts and direct sensory awareness.

If we close our eyes and “look inside” at the sensations there, we find that in terms of the body’s geography, we “know” what and where a sensation is. A tingling in my foot, an itch on my eyebrow, an indefinable feeling around my abdomen… It’s worth regularly returning to this focus on sensations, because it’s usually the case that after a time of listening to what’s there, more becomes apparent, rather like the way our eyes get used to the dark.

Start to watch some of these feelings in detail, see how strange and indescribable they are, once we drop the reductive labelling of ‘what’ or ‘where’. Notice too, the more subtle ones which are just the feeling of being alive. All sensations are inestimably richer than the mere information we are used to reading from them.

a whole sensation-world

Then, just as with sounds, we find a whole sensation-world, spacious, and, it may come to seem, abstract and not really anywhere – a boundaryless universe of uncertain shape or size. Of course when the body-image concept creeps sneakily in, as it will, there seems to be a shape and a limit, but we can just keep dropping those thoughts (for that’s what they are).

We’re nudging into the non-conceptual when we can let go into that. Even before we get there though, we can challenge our concepts. When it appears that a sensation “is” some part of our body, e.g. I “know” that is my foot, we can question the idea that “I am experiencing my foot”. Identify the exact location of the sensation, and then try to find the exact place that “knows” about that sensation. See how quickly school biology jumps in with “must be my brain”! Can you feel a place simultaneously knowing the sensation-place?

what, no experiencer?

As with all direct awareness of sight, sound, sensations – there is only the place of the sensory experience. We never experience an “experiencer”. We can play with this question over and over again, to get used to it. We assume everything is “two-handed”, i.e. subject experiencing object, but in the instant it is all singular – as if I am just the ever-changing sensations. If they are known anywhere, it must be where they appear.

The amazing way that we can be the sensation and then seem to be its knower is a facility of Awareness, a “shifting” trick it plays, by which we fool ourselves endlessly (well, almost). But that is a further investigation for another day. It pays huge dividends simply to explore the nature of our direct awareness of sensations, the “one-handed” world.

painting by Five

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