Many religious and spiritual traditions teach us to limit, avoid, or transcend our physical bodies and sensual pleasure in order to meditate, pray, or connect to spirit. The path to spirit can begin in the body and can embrace our sensory experience.

We can learn to celebrate the precious gift of life, and being in the body, through the windows of our senses, to awaken our hearts, minds, and bodies to the magic and ecstasy of each moment. We can choose with intention and awareness what brings pleasure and joy to ourselves and others – which can open the door to a deeper connection with our selves, our world, and a greater sense of aliveness and well-being.

We are “sentient” beings (from the Latin sentire, “to feel”). Life showers over us and through us, and our senses “make sense” of our experience by filtering and organizing it into meaningful patterns. Our senses define the very edge of our conscious experience. As newborns, we float in a realm of intermingling sight, sound, taste, touch, and especially smell. Life is a textured mystery awaiting our exploration and discovery. In time we categorize, name, and often ignore the richness of our sensory input. Our senses connect us intimately with – or distance us from – ourselves, the world around us, and each other.

We can embrace sensory experience as a sacred meditation. In fact, through our physical senses we can practice reverence for the sacredness of life itself. We can fully experience, expand, and transform physical pleasure into a deeper connection to spirit. We can learn to celebrate our bodies as the temple of the spirit, where even intimate connection is experienced as a conscious, joyful meditation.

Daniel Odier, teacher of the path of Kashmir Shaivite Tantra and author of Tantric Quest, talks about touching the thirty-six Tattvas, or universal categories. The first five tattvas are earth, water, air, ether, and fire. “With all my body I touch the earth. My hands touch the earth… My heart touches the earth… I breathe deeply and my breath is united with the earth… I delight in the earth, its presence, its energy.” We can enter into our sensory world with this kind of fullness. The so-called “subtle tattvas” are smell, taste, form, touch, and sound. The tattvas of perception are the skin, eyes, tongue, nose, and ears. “The body begins to enjoy the smallest thing. Attention is heightened. We take in the world’s freshness… We open our senses to the plenitude… an apprenticeship in completely restoring our ties to the universe, beginning with the basic elements and arriving at the divine.”

Explore and embrace this sensory playground, alone or with a friend. As you explore, gather together objects that help you to experience and enhance each of your senses – sensual foods, luxurious textures, delectable aromas, beautiful and delicate sounds, and visual delights for your eyes. (With a friend, use a blindfold for this practice, and be surprised). Are you willing to fully open yourself to pleasure? Allow yourself to cultivate the subtlety and sensitivity of your sensory palate, and discover your world with a fresh, exciting, and sacred perspective.

By Marilynne Chophel