It has been a warm winter here in Tennessee. Tonight, the news is about a storm coming in from the Midwest with cold air from Canada. We were forecasted to get freezing rain, perhaps snow. I do not think this is likely, it feels too warm. The air is colder than it has been though. Tonight walking through the garage on my way to the ER, the cold air from Canada brought me a memory about a practice. In Tracker school, I learned an awareness expansion. I did not maintain everything I learned there, but I learned this exercise as a young man, barely twenty years old and it stuck.
I find that I do the Awareness Expansion with our thinking about it. This expansion has become a large part of my thought process. Which, as I look back, as the Canada air chills my cheeks, I realize was the whole point to the original lesson. I’d like to share the exercise here if you have a minute. It has been a long time since I thought about it step by step. I want to write it out.
–Choose a sense. I like to start with a dominate one at first. Lets choose Hearing. Imagine your hearing to be a bubble. You can hear everything in that bubble. You can take in every sound/ Now push the bubble out further and further. Pay close and mindful attention to every sound coming into your ears. Pull the sounds out of the air with you attention. Hear everything.
–Next, Vision. Take in everything your eyes can see. Grab everything with your attention. Look like as an a artist. Notice shape, texture, shade, temperature, line, color, shadow…..everything. I find the edges of my vision expand to become a wide-angel vision side, to side, up and down. Focus on nothing specific but notice everything.
—Smell. This one always challenged me. Again, notice everything part of the air. Feel molecules bursting on your olfactory nerve and release the trace of their source. Pull the air with your attention to smell.
—Taste. So closely related to smell. Touch the air with your tongue. While sitting meditation I used to touch my tongue to a piece of leaf or bark. I like to do this part while enjoying tea or bourbon.
—Touch the air, feel the cloth of your clothes against your skin, the feel or you socks around your feet, the tightness, looseness, heaviness of your clothes. I like to extend my fingers imagining I can feel a few centimeters before my fingers touch a surface. I feel a piece of bark or the soft ground or a piece of moss when sitting outside. Anything can give your sense of touch a surface. Feel the air around your face, the wind in your hair. The air touching bare skin can inform all kinds or sensory information. I love the warm sun.
—Fusion when you bring all these at once. Fusion, when we find they all combine to another sense when you can feel all at once.
When I crossed the wet street to enter the ambulance doors, I remembered the times I’ve spent in the woods and more recently in my backyard or the park and felt this fusion. A sudden flood of awareness like lifting the veil or taking off your sunglasses. The world is different a truer, unfiltered one.
In studying Zen perspectives, I have tried to keep this awareness without judgement or preference or opinion. To just notice, “only don’t know’. However, in the past year, I feel really pulled toward Hanh’s lessons of instilling his awareness with compassion. I like feeling that we “just notice” in order to remove our prejudice. But once that is accomplished we must learn to live and love with pure compassion. Unmitigated love and mercy fully released from any fearful grip.