Have you ever thought about your senses? How many do you have? Here, the answer is usually 5. But apparently that’s cultural. There are many places in the world that don’t have the concept of the canonical 5 senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. We in north america have given a cultural predominance to those senses, but is that the end? I’ve said before that working on a car requires all the sense: you need to hear, you need to smell, you need feel and see (hopefully you’re not tasting too much, but sometimes even that has its place). But what about your sense of balance, your sense of acceleration? What about your ability to move in three dimensions to reach an awkward spot without ever being able to see it? I think those are senses too, and so do many others around the world.
It’s interesting to think about what in our experience could be called senses. In some cultures, the ability to speak is a sense, since it involves the use of the body constructing our experience of the world. In a culture where the inner senses are paramount and contribute to ones moral character, perhaps our awareness of the way we move our bodies through space could be considered a sense, and so walking irreverently could begin to mould our souls. But here’s where it gets interesting for me. We in North American think of the senses as innate abilities. Something we’re born with. Speaking, to contrast, is something we learn. In popular parlance, the senses are something we have, not learn. But if in other cultures, it is normal for things like speaking and walking to be described as senses, perhaps senses are things that can be learned.
Think about gymnasts and divers who learn to know exactly where they are, falling, in three dimensions. Think about massage therapists who learn to see through their hands. Think about the blind who learn to use other senses to see. What if the gut or intuition is really just a nascent sense? If you really could learn a new sense, what sense would you learn? I think if I had the choice, I’d develop my inner senses more acutely. I’d learn how to sense and move every muscle precisely and consciously. I’d learn how to ‘see’ even the smallest movements to better interact with world around me. Or maybe I’d learn to sense the emotion of a room of people and then learn to shape that. I think that’s what good speakers do when they climb on stage. At a smaller scale, that’s what sales people do too. They say that the great leaders have emotional intelligence. That sounds like a sense to me.
Maybe the best part of thinking about our senses is that by opening up the definition we give ourselves permission to encounter more of the world. By finding those innate abilities to see more deeply into ourselves and the world around us we grow as people. Those that have gone on that journey and seem to see more, know more are those we call wise. Perhaps, in our culture where we only recognize 5 sense, the title wise is used to acknowledge those that have moved beyond that. Perhaps we should strive not to learn the knowledge of those that are wise, but rather to develop the senses they have nurtured in order to obtain that knowledge. With a greater array of senses to bring to bear, it is only a matter of time before we might seem wise too.