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The twelve senses

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You hear something, you feel something, something touches you. Yes, these are our senses at work! All day long, we perceive with our senses and they tell us a lot about ourselves and about the world around us. Whoever wants to be conscious in life, is also conscious with the senses. It is time to take a closer look at the senses!

The senses are the organs that are able to receive stimuli. The classical senses enable us to hear, taste, see, smell and feel. Feeling is an interesting one because it is divided into touch, thermoception (heat and cold) and nociception (pain).

Anthroposophy takes an intensive look at the senses. Rudolf Steiner distinguished 12 senses, which can be divided into 3 groups. If you want to know what a sense means, click on the plus sign and read a short description of that sense and learn a few related exercises.

The bodily senses for perceiving one's own body (the will senses):

1. Sense of touch
Touch is a form of emotional communication.

Your sense of touch is the sense with which you perceive where your physical boundary is and something else begins. The senses of touch are located all over the skin. In some places you have more senses and are more sensitive (fingers, tongue, forehead), in other places the distance between the senses is greater and you feel less (back, sole of foot). When something touches your skin, you feel your own outer border, it says nothing about that which touches you. Because of the sense of touch, you do not flow over into the other without limits, but you have a limit; a bodily self-consciousness.

Touch and children:

From birth, the sense of touch is at work. The hands that touch the child, the cold, dry air around the child and the first body contact with the parents give the child the first experiences of its own body. Lots of cuddling, loving touches, swaddling and well-fitting clothes teach children to experience their physical limits and make them feel safe in their own physical home. Children who have a well-developed sense of touch have better body awareness and are better able to show others their limits.

Exercises:

1. Have someone put all kinds of objects under a cloth. Now try to feel the objects in turn and describe what you feel.

2. A good, gentle massage helps you to feel completely yourself again.

2. Sense of life
Your sense of life helps you learn to listen to your body.

You can think of your sense of life as your inner sense of feeling. Whereas with the sense of touch you feel your external borders, with the sense of life you feel everything that lives in that border. With this sense, you feel whether you have eaten enough, whether you have to go to the toilet, or whether you have pain somewhere. The sense of life only becomes conscious when something is wrong. So you could call your sense of life the sense of your physical well-being.

The sense of life and children:

A baby speaks with the sense of life. If it has a tummy ache, if it is hungry, if it is tired, if something is wrong, the baby will let itself be heard loud and clear. It is important that we, as parents, listen carefully to what the children want to say to us, so that they feel heard and understood.
Sometimes we have to help our children learn to listen. If a child is tired, we have to help them go to bed. If the child wants to eat too many cakes, we have to protect it from getting a tummy ache. A well-developed sense of life teaches a child to listen to itself and that creates confidence.

Exercises:

1. With your eyes closed, try to feel the filling of your body. Is everything in order or is there an imbalance? Do you have to go to the toilet, do you have a headache, do you feel your stomach growling, can you breathe properly? This feeling of your body is what you do with your sense of life.

2. Look at the vitality of the other person. By observing another person, can you say something about his/her inner vitality?

3. Sense of movement, or muscle sense
You are the captain of your own ship!

Your sense of movement is the sense that perceives the movements and the position of your body and limbs. Even the smallest movement is detected by the sense of motion. For example, the sense of motion enables you to know where your hands are without having to think about it, so that you do not have to look for them before you want to do something with them. You also need the sense of movement if you want to use your sense of touch to feel something.

Sense of movement and children:

Children and movement go together. Children even need to move a lot, because only then do they develop good control over their bodies. The urge to move and the urge to learn can be seen beautifully in, for example, a baby who tries to turtle. Every day, the child exercises. First it flies with its arms to the side, then it moves backwards and one day it can do it! With a radiant smile, the child masters its own movements and moves forward!

Exercises:

1. Close your eyes and let someone else place your arms, hands and fingers in a certain position. Now describe where your arms, hands and fingers are and where muscles are contracting or relaxing.

2. Learn to play an instrument 🙂

4. Sense of balance
The anchor in yourself.

You need your balance to be able to stand up straight and to orientate yourself in space. For your balance you not only need your weight organ which is in the ears, your eyes are just as important. If everything in a room is askew, your balance will also be disturbed and you will no longer be able to orientate yourself (anyone who has seen Villa Volta in the Efteling will know what I mean).

Sense of balance and children:

The sense of balance develops from birth. A baby cannot yet become seasick. Only when a good sense of left-right, up-down and front-back is developed can it stand and walk. A well-developed sense of balance contributes to good self-awareness and freedom.

Exercises

1. Try standing on one leg once with and once without a blindfold and feel how much your eyes help with the sense of balance.

The sense organs for perceiving the environment:

5. Sense of smell

Smells are perceived through the nose. Humans can distinguish a lot of different smells, which we immediately classify into nice or not nice, for example. Apart from the standard odours, we can also unconsciously smell someone’s state of mind (fear). Smells are strongly linked to memories.
Compared to animals, our human sense of smell is very underdeveloped. Because humans cannot smell so well, we make fewer instinctive judgements than, for example, a dog can.

Exercise: Go to a place in nature or to the kitchen and smell different things. Explore whether you can smell without judgment.

6. Sense of taste

Your sense of taste is on your tongue and at the back of your mouth. With the sense of taste you taste the things that come into your mouth. Your sense of taste and smell work together a lot. Without the smell, you would only taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (the taste of fat is nowadays called the 6th taste). Each taste has its own place on the tongue. Children still have a very sensitive sense of taste and often do not tolerate other tastes besides sweet.

The sense of smell gives us secondary tastes, which give us a much richer palette.

Exercises: Close your eyes and get someone to let you taste different flavours. Describe what you taste where. What is the difference if you taste the same things with your nose closed?

7. Sense of sight

The eyes are the only senses we can actually perceive. The eyes as a sense organ can only perceive colours and the amount of light. Through the involvement of the sense of movement and balance, we also see shapes, proportions and movements.
In addition to merely perceiving something, seeing colours also awakens a certain mood. Red, for example, is a lively, powerful colour, yellow makes one cheerful and green has a calming effect. Research has shown that the use of colours has an effect on health.

Exercises: Here are some fun eye tests.

8. Sense of temperature

The sense of temperature enables you to perceive the temperature of your surroundings or an object. The sense of temperature and the sense of touch are located all over the skin. But whereas the sense of touch only senses a local touch, the temperature sense depends on your own temperature and on how large the surface is that is in contact with the heat or cold. A toe in the water hardly gives your brain any information about minimal differences in temperature, while a whole body in the water feels if it is 0.5 degrees warmer or colder.
Perceived temperature not only touches you on the skin, but it also permeates the skin. It is directly related to your own temperature and well-being, so what you feel in terms of heat or cold is a relative temperature. Cold makes you stand still, heat makes you move. A physical, but also a psychological feeling of warmth is a basic necessity of life.

Exercises:

1. Fill a bath with water that is a little on the cold side. Sit in the bath and now add warm water from the tap. Feel what it does to you when the warm water surrounds you.

2. Fill two bowls with water, one of which is filled with slightly colder water. First put a fingertip in one container and then in the other container. Do you feel the difference? Now put your whole finger in the water. Do you feel the difference now? Put more and more of your body into the water and experience when the felt differences become bigger and bigger.

Mental senses for perceiving the non-physical world:

The senses in this category are special because they focus on human characteristics: the language, the thoughts and the individuality of the other person.

9. Sense hearing
With our ears we perceive different kinds of sounds. We hear sounds within ourselves, we hear everyday sounds such as the drizzle of the rain and the wind rustling through the trees. We also hear music which consists of different sounds and we hear people speaking. We hear the strength of the sound, the pitch, the ‘colour’ or mood of what we hear and the distance to the sound. Because our ears are on the side of our head, we can perceive sounds around us.

Real listening is a social activity, it requires you to be quiet and shift your focus to something else. Your eyes can help to focus your auditory attention. If you are listening to an orchestra and you want to hear the trombone, it helps to look at the trombone.

Exercises:

1. When you lie in bed in the evening, listen to the sounds that you can perceive. Listen to what you hear inside yourself, listen to what is close by and try to listen further and further away.

2. Sit or stand in a very busy environment and try to perceive unfiltered as a baby. Do not try to do anything with the sounds, just listen. 

10. Sense of speech
The speech sense perceives spoken language. Where the ear hears the acoustic sounds, the speech sense also perceives the thoughts, judgements, experiences of the other person behind the words. In the rhythm, in the intonation, in the timbre, you hear more than just the content of spoken words. With the speech sense you listen behind the words and thus perceive a part of the other person’s inner self.

Exercises:

After a conversation with someone, try to find out what else the person said to you, other than the words he or she uttered. Was there a mood, an opinion or a conviction behind the words?

11. Sense of thought
The sense of thought enables us to perceive the inner thoughts of the other person by understanding what is being said. Words alone do not mean anything; only when understanding or empathy is added can you understand the words in context. So, with the thinking sentence you follow someone’s train of thought.
The difference between the thinking sentence and the speech sentence is most obvious when listening to someone speaking in a foreign language. If you can’t understand the content, you can perceive the timbre through the speech sentence. The thinking sentence is only applicable when you have to follow the content. The concepts used are therefore the perceptive organ for this sense. By having the right terms, you understand the words and what the other person means by what they say.

By schooling the sense og thought, you school your own spiritual development and broaden your horizons.

Exercises:

1. Try to enter into a conversation with someone about a subject that is still way beyond your head. Let the person explain more and more concepts to you as you go along, so that you will finally be able to understand the subject completely. At this point you have trained your thinking.

2. Tell children picture-rich stories and read books with a rich visual language. Beautiful words, many different words, words that give a good description of a situation stimulate a rich development of the mind.

Children who grow up with a second language already have a head start in the development of this sense through their rich knowledge of words.

12. Sense of ego
The sense of ego is the sense that focuses on the individuality of another. It is a difficult sense, especially in this, very self-centred, era. Because to really be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you have to put yourself aside and completely let go. Detached from who you are with your own habits and emotions and detached from the other person’s habits and emotions. To get to know someone well, it is necessary that you allow a piece of the other person in you. And that is not at all easy.
When you are in love it is easier, you can even lose yourself so much in another person that you become a little bit the other person. There is always a moment of antipathy needed to come back into distance and into yourself.

The individuality of another is best observed in the eyes of the other. In everyday contact it is therefore neither possible nor desirable to look at someone for too long. Looking at someone means looking deeper into them, and looking away means looking back at yourself. Shaking hands is also a way of feeling the personality of another person for a moment. Between the eyes or the hands, an intensive meeting of two individuals takes place.

Apart from the look in the eyes and the handshake, you can get to know someone’s personality in their posture, their body movements, their voice and their personal thoughts.

Exercises:

1. Look someone in the eye for a long time. Do you really see the other person and when does it become uncomfortable?

2. At a birthday party, a work meeting, a family day, pay extra attention to how people appear to you through their handshake, their posture and their voice.

Senses are very interesting in connection with our health. When we are able to perceive intensively, we feel more vigorous. If we are healthy and full of vitality, we are also better able to perceive with greater nuance. Knowing this, it is important to use and train our senses. Living with this awareness increases our quality of life.

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