building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Senses and Sensitivity

IMG_4027I’ve harvested several heads of purple cauliflower in the past few weeks. They are beautiful creatures, glowing in a glorious halo of green leaves as they sit regally atop foot high stalks. I always put off  picking them until the last possible moment. Their beauty is a sensory delight that is worth savoring, but that moment arrives when they start to shoot up and another inch of growth will make them begin to resemble a broccoli more than a cauliflower. That’s when I decide to enjoy the taste and smell of the flowerets as they lie enfolded in butter and spices on my dinner plate. A purple cauliflower is complete nutrition for the senses.

I have also been savoring the concept of perception these past few weeks.  Perception, I am coming to understand, is everything. What can be perceived can be interpreted, understood, utilized, acted on.  Perception brings with it the ability to respond.

Perception is a matter of sense and sensitivity.  What are we able to sense?  How much subtlety are we sensitive to?

I talked about Michael Pollan’s article on plant intelligence a few blogs back. In it he mentions that scientists have isolated at least 15 distinct plant senses. The roots alone are able to sense light, moisture, gravity, temperature, and pressure. Plants seem to sense sound waves, as when the roots move to an outwardly dry pipe that contains running water. They may even echolocate – like bats – using clicking noises generated by the growth of their cells to find the location of trellises and other inanimate objects in their vicinity.

How is it that plants can have 15 senses, but we have only 5? Or 6 if you count that controversial 6th sense. Are we really stuck in that narrow of a lens? Is that truly all we get to use to perceive the richness of the world?

I sense – with an undefined and unnamed sense – that we have been short-changing ourselves and that our own list of senses is much longer than 5 or 6.  The Jacobson’s organ senses pheromones, the unscented chemistry of the air. Our hearts are electromagnetic sensors of the highest order. If some grad student wants to take the time to break it out, we could probably generate a list of at least 5 or 6 more senses from the heart alone. The same is undoubtedly true for the gut. While we’re at it, why not count in the sensory awareness of the bacteria that inhabit these bodies? Their presence is integral to our health and survival, and they are the primary educators of our immune systems.

I’m just scratching the surface here – an off the top of my head laying out of how we come to know what we know, think what we think, and believe what we believe.

Why is this important?

Because perception of Self is the most crucial of all perceptions. That is the perception that defines the boundaries, allows growth to happen, and determines the trajectory of our actions.

Limit yourself to 5 senses and you have limited everything you do. Limit yourself to 15 senses and you have moved that boundary line considerably.  Do you want to communicate with plants?  It’s a lot easier when you move the boundaries you’ve placed on your perceptions.

Me? I’m holding out for at least 20 distinct senses incorporated into the design of this brilliantly human bodymind.

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