to top

The Immediate Reality of Our Senses

Our senses always bring us into the present moment. It doesn’t matter what sense it is we are tuning into, the result is always the same – we come back into the present moment. If I smell a rose, the unmistakeable scent of that flower exists right now – it is not to be found either a second in the past or a second in the future, but only in the now. Just attending to the smell of the rose will therefore always bring me precisely and unfailingly into the present moment…


This may not necessarily seem like such a big deal, but it is a very big deal because we are so very rarely in the present moment. Usually we are in our thinking minds – thinking about this or thinking about that – and the thinking mind never exists in the present moment. The thinking mind can’t exist in the present moment. Whenever we think its always either in the future or the past – even if we are thinking about something that is going on right now, thinking always removes us from the immediacy of the moment into some kind of ‘disconnected’ or ‘abstracted’ space. Thinking takes us away from reality, in other words…


Even if we think about coming back to the present moment, or think about what we could do to come back to the immediate reality of our senses, our thinking still ‘takes us away somewhere’. It always takes us away somewhere. There is no way that thinking can’t take us away; there is no way that it can’t remove us from the immediacy of the present moment, because that’s what it does. That’s how thinking works – thinking conjures up a ‘thought-created version of the world’ and then it whisks us away to it, as if on some kind of mental ‘magic carpet’…


Thought takes us away from reality (which it didn’t create) and into all sorts of thought-created pseudo-realities that we can’t tell from reality. We can’t tell our thoughts from reality. We can’t tell if it’s real, or if we only think that it’s real…


Thought has therefore a tendency to get very complicated – we can think ourselves into all sorts of knots, and when we try to think ourselves out of our own thinking and back into reality this is the most complicated and convoluted knot of all! The more we think the more removed from reality we become and thinking about getting free from our thinking (or thinking about disentangling ourselves from our thinking) gets us more ‘unfree’, more removed, more ‘tangled’ than ever.


If I tell myself to come back into the present moment (and then listen to myself ‘telling myself to come back into the present moment’) then all that’s happening is that I am getting ‘caught up in my thinking’  and getting caught up in my thinking is not coming back into the present moment. I’ve just created an extra loop of the mind-created simulation of reality, that’s all. I’ve just put another twist into it.


And if I try to actually obey this instruction, by making some sort of heroic effort of will, I discover that I can’t. The way I make myself do something is after all by formulating a goal (by constructing an idea or mental image about where I want to be or what I want to happen) and then working towards it in various convenient stages or steps. But the present moment isn’t an idea or mental image. The present moment isn’t a goal.


We can’t will ourselves to be in the present moment because we’re already there – any ‘willing’, any ‘trying’, any ‘effort’ is simply going to take us out of the moment. The more we try to accord with it, the more we will deviate, as the Tao Te Ching says. The more we try to make it right the more we mess it up.


Once we clearly see just how difficult (if not impossible) it is for us to exit our thinking mind and come back cleanly and simply into the uncomplicated reality of the present moment then we can appreciate this quality of our senses – the quality of being able to bring us back into the present moment. We over-value rationality – we think that thinking can get us out of any hole, out of any predicament. We certainly don’t usually tend to see that it is the hole, that it is the predicament! We see thinking as being the answer, not the problem.


It’s actually rather funny to say that we ‘think’ that thinking can extricate us from any predicament. We would think that, wouldn’t we! Of course we think that thinking is the answer! Of course we over-value rationality – we are predominately rational in our orientation and so naturally we over-value the power of rationality. That is the nature of the trap we are caught up in: we only know stuff, trust in stuff, believe in stuff, etc because we ‘think’ that it is true, because we ‘think’ that it is correct. Our ‘over-valuing of thinking’ is invisible to us because we don’t know any other way than to think, any other way than to rationalize.


Any time we think anything, we over-value rationality; every time we think something we over-value the significance of what we are thinking. The most important thing of all, however, thinking cannot help us with. When it comes to coming out of our conceptual or intellectual processing of the world, and returning to the non-conceptual, non-intellectual reality of the world as it actually is in itself, then thinking obviously cannot help us. If we are looking for any ally to help us with this, then thinking is most certainly not the man for the job…


This is a very hard thing to grasp because thinking is so slippery that it tries to find a role for itself in everything, even in the task of stopping thinking. It even wants a role here! We don’t even see this as strange – we don’t even see it as being strange that we should believe thought has a valid role in helping us become free from thinking…


Even if we think we understand that thinking is the problem and not the answer this is still only our thinking! Everything we think we understand is only a map in our mind, a picture in our mind, a construct in our mind. It might be helpful in some specific way or other, but the one thing it isn’t going to be helpful for is helping us to come back into the non-conceptual reality of ourselves and the world around us. As we have been saying, this is not something for which we need to have a theory for or a method for. No model or procedure that we learn from a book or from studying a course in university can be of any use for this. There is no ‘psychological approach’ for coming back into non-conceptual reality – as we have said, the cleverer we are about it the more thoroughly banjaxed we get!


It is often said that to be simple is the hardest thing of all, the most elusive thing of all. The more education we have, the more it eludes us. The smarter we are the more it eludes us. Anyone can ‘complicate the issue’, but to return to simplicity is another matter altogether. We can’t think our way back to simplicity, we can’t plan or intend our way back to simplicity, we can’t theorize or philosophize our way back to simplicity. Simplicity is the situation that exists before we start thinking, before we start planning or intending, before we start theorizing or philosophizing.


We can come back to the beautiful simplicity that existed before thought took such a hold on us by tuning into our senses however. To hear is not to think, to smell is not to think, to see is not to think, to taste is not think, to feel is not to think…


Our senses – any of our senses – will always bring us out of our over-active thinking mind and back into the uncomplicated immediacy of the present moment. All we have to do is pay attention, and allow ourselves to notice what the world is like before the rational-conceptual mind starts ‘getting to work on it’. All we have to do is notice what the world is like in itself before the habitually intrusive thinking mind starts up with its interminably tedious business of commentating on it, analyzing it, categorizing it, conceptualizing it, evaluating it, saying what it likes and what it doesn’t like about it…


Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

(Visited 676 times, 1 visits today)
  • Matt B.

    Great post. Far easier said than done of course…especially when your job requires you to think all day. So it’s necessary to think in order to perform the job, but self-related thoughts tend to intrude.

    March 10, 2016 at 8:20 pm
  • Matt B.

    Those are very good analogies. I thought such fairy tales were a way of teaching morals, but it’s certainly possible the original authors may have had deeper esoteric meanings in mind as well.

    Specifically with regard to “coming to our senses” (literally), I suppose it’s best to start by practicing this when we can really focus on it. I raised my point above because many of us (myself included) spend a lot of time performing mental tasks, much of it in either a state of resistance / foot-dragging or positive anticipation, both of which take us out of the moment and into thoughts about ourselves and our goals or frustrations. The practice of disregarding / not believing our thoughts and directly experiencing our felt reality is a very powerful one, but there are many times when we do indeed need to think for practical purposes, and we’re mostly paying attention to what we’re doing but those ego-related thoughts are still popping up in the background. Of course when we are fully absorbed in an activity that we enjoy, then we get a break from those distracting thoughts at least for a while.

    March 13, 2016 at 1:53 am