Sensory Enhancement Exercises
by Phil Hine
One of the foundations of being a magician is the ability to be aware of things which most other people are not. Now there is a great deal of mystification woven around this sort of 'awareness' and you may meet people who claim to be able to see auras, chakras, spirit guides hovering at your shoulder and all manner of esoteric phenomena. Many people in the esoteric field claim to have 'psychic abilities' and consequently there are books and teachers who purport to be able to teach you how to develop these powers. Yet this is but one aspect of Sensory Development for magic.
The most important aspect of Sensory Development is being aware of what is going on around you at any one moment. You don't, for example, need to be able to 'see' the colours of someone else's aura to be aware that they are depressed, angry, or otherwise affected emotionally. You can assess someones mood from a multitude of different cues - such as facial tension, gestures, posture, tone of voice, etc. Of course we tend to 'read' each other in this way automatically, and think nothing of it, but it is surprising how many people seem to lose the ability to do this, and often the reason is that they are too wrapped up in themselves to take notice of what is actually going on at any one moment.
In my view, awareness of one's immediate surroundings, and how one interprets what is going on, is the first step in developing one's magical senses. It is important to realise that we don't merely passively take in information through our senses about the world around us, but that we interpret this information in particular ways, according to belief, habit, and how we feel at any particular moment.
BASIC SENSE EXERCISES
The following is a series of simple exercises which are designed to enable you to focus upon different aspects of your sensory and perceptual experience. All of these exercises can be done as you go about your day-to-day business.
1) Choose a route that you are so used to walking along that you no longer notice the details around you and tend to be occupied with your own thoughts. This time, try to become intensely aware of everything which is around you as you walk - sounds, colours, smells, etc. Is there anything which you haven't noticed before? Does anything along this route prompt any memories, thoughts or particular emotions?
2) Focus on your sense of smell. Try and be as aware as possible on smells around you, and how they affect you. Smells are all around us, yet most of the time they tend to stay below the threshold of our conscious awareness. The merest whiff of a particular scent can evoke feelings of hunger, desire, or particular memories.
3) Focus on the textures of objects that you touch or brush against, and the feel of furniture that you use habitually. Is that chair really comfortable? Also, try to be aware of the weight of things which you pick up, and notice if you are using too much physical force in moving them around.
:4) Focus on the sounds that buzz around you. If you are in a sound-intensive environment for example, see if you can isolate one sound and focus your awareness on it for a while. Then do the opposite and see how many different sounds you can identify, and how many you can keep in awareness at once. We tend to phase repetitive noises, such as the ticking of clocks, out of our awareness. Try striving to maintain awareness of the ticking of a clock whilst going about your daily routines.
5) Choose a particular colour, and try and be aware of that colour in your daily environment. Notice it around you, and try and ascertain whether it invokes in you, and others around you, any particular feelings or thoughts.
Try each of these exercises for a week, noting down and observations and comments that arise from them, and at the end of each week, write a brief summary of your findings.
If nothing else, the above exercises help demonstrate that we often, if we are not careful, become dulled to what is going around us and tend to wander around, lost in our own thoughts.
MAGICAL TECHNIQUES & THE SENSES
A key to magical practice is learning to make different uses of one's senses. One example of this is the use of the senses in a magical ritual, where as many different sensory media as possible - symbols, colours, smells, taste, textures, sounds etc. might be employed in order that the magician surrounds himself with as many items as possible which reinforce the subject of his ritual. For example, a magician who is, for various reasons, performing a ritual related to the planet Mars might bedeck his room with scarlet cloth, clothe himself as a warrior, listen to stirring martial music such as the 1812 Overture or the Ride of the Valkyries in an effort to stir himself into a martial trance.
There are two basic approaches to using the senses in conjunction with magical techniques, and for the purposes of this discussion I will call them Sensory Narrowing and Sensory Widening.
Sensory Narrowing is the practice of being able to focus upon one particular sensory modality to the exclusion of all else. It is by extremes of this kind of practice that Indian Yogis are able to spend hours staring fixedly at an object without becoming distracted by inner dialogues or external distractions. To be able to fix one's gaze on an object and hold it in an unwavering gaze for more than a few moments is very difficult for Westerners, yet it is worth persisting with.
To perform this exercise, choose an object - a mark on a wall, a building which you can see from a window, an everyday household object, or even a star in the night sky, and strive to fix your gaze upon it without being distracted by thoughts or external phenomena. You should attempt this on a daily basis, and make a note after each session of practice of what you experienced whilst you attempted to concentrate on the object you have selected. Remember, not only are you attempting to perform a difficult exercise, but you are also monitoring your own responses to it, and you may be surprised to learn how easily you can distract yourself from a task which sees, at times, unnecessarily arduous and pointless. When you can perform Object Concentration for at least 30 minutes without 'breaks' in your attention, move on to the next exercise.
Image Concentration is a precursor to the technique of Visualization (see below). To perform Object Concentration, begin by choosing a simple shape such as a triangle, circle or cross, etc., and strive to hold this image in your mind's eye for as long as possible. Some people prefer to close their eyes when doing this exercise, others keep their eyes open. Find out by trial which method works best for you. Once you can hold simple shapes in your mind's eye for at least 20 minutes without 'losing' them, move on to imagining everyday three-dimensional objects - such as a pen, calculator or cigarette pack and, holding them in your mind's eye, examining them from different perspectives and angles.
Visualization is usually defined as 'the formation of mental visual images' or 'the act or process of interpreting in visual terms'. We all make use of Visualization at some time or another, especially if we are mentally anticipating or rehearsing a situation which we have to deal with at some point in the future. Another good example of visualization is if someone asks you for directions to a particular place and you to describe how to get there, trying to recall how the streets and roads which make up the route fit together, and how the person trying to follow your directions would have to go.
In magical terms, Visualization is the skill of creating and focusing awareness into these mental images. For example, a Guided Visualization exercise is one where another person tells you a story in which you are participating, telling you what to imagine in the way of imaginary scenery, people, and places.
Some facility at Visualization is generally considered a prime requisite for magical work. However, although we derive a great deal of information about the world through our visual sense, there is a good deal more to sensory experience than vision, and moreover, some people are not primarily visually-oriented, although the majority of magical/imaginative exercises are biased towards visual experience at the expense of other perceptions.
Although many of the above exercises deal with focusing on one sensory modality in particular, we rarely experience the world as such a single-channel perception. Rather, we experience the world in many different ways simultaneously. For example, whilst tapping out the words of this paper on my computer I am aware of how my posture feels, the texture of the carpet against my bare feet, the sensation of beer froth drying on my beard, the aftertaste of my lunch in my mouth, the music I am playing, the background tick of a click and the hum of my computer monitor, of cars passing outside my house.
Were I to try and recreate this moment merely by visualizing myself sitting at my computer writing, I would be missing so much in the way of the detail of the experience, and wasting the attention skills which we all possess which allow us to do several different things at once, hence the idea of Sensory Widening.
GESTALT PERCEPTION EXERCISE
Create for yourself, a place that you can visit in your imagination. It should be a place that for you, signifies relaxation and calmness. It may be a scene from your past, a place you have visited, or somewhere which you would like to visit. Give yourself a set period where you will attempt to visit this place and explore it.
The idea of this exercise is that you attempt to place yourself into this imagined setting. After each visit, note down if any particular sensory modes struck you. Is there a particular sound that you noticed? Is there a predominant smell? Can you feel a breeze, or then heat of the sun? Are there any particular emotions or memory-sensations that you experience whilst in this place? In this exercise, you are not merely attempting to visualize a scene, but to hear, feel, taste, and smell it.
Initial practice in placing yourself in a mentally-projected location is a useful precursor for astral magics..
THE "PSYCHIC" SENSES
In the introduction to this essay I mentioned some of the more esoteric and glamorous sensory abilities which are often associated with the practice of magic. Rather than striving to develop such senses in isolation to anything else, I have generally found that, like many other 'magical' abilities, these arise out of one's magical experiences and practices spontaneously. This may seem to some readers to be rather a glib answer, but I have found that if people consciously pursue the development of 'psychic abilities' they are often inhibited by their own expectations of what they think they should be hearing or seeing. There is an old story of a young man who read a book on the auras of trees, and the different colour combinations of different species. He subsequently spent a great deal of time trying to 'concentrate' on seeing the auras of trees, alas with no result. One day, he considered a Rowan tree, and wondered what the aura of this tree would look like, if he could only see it ... he thought that the Rowan would have a kind of golden, russet-brown aura, perhaps with yellowish edges.... It was during this consideration that our hero realised that seeing auras was not merely a case of seeing something physical and tangible, but of opening one's mind to impressions that one might usually ignore or dismiss as unimportant.
Developing 'psychic' senses then, is very much a matter of allowing impressions and perceptions to arise in you, and to take notice of these impressions without necessarily attributing any cosmic or grand significance to them. To be able to acknowledge the possibility of Prescience - of flashes of intuition or foreknowledge of events is useful, but can easily become a source of obsession or self-delusion.
PSYCHIC SENSITIVITY EXERCISES
Here are two basic exercises which you can use in order to allow yourself to be more receptive to fleeting impressions of one kind or another.
1) What's In the Box?
For this exercise you need a box of some kind, preferably with a hinged lid. All you have to do is, without making a big issue of it, occasionally go over to the box and open the lid, allowing the first thing that flashes into your mind to be in the box.
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate how we very often tend to censor the first thing that flashes into our minds, because we don't think its "right", significant, or we are perhaps worried about what other people might think. So don't worry about what you 'find' in the box. What is important is that you can open the box and 'find' anything without having to consciously put it there, and that you can do this in a very 'matter-of-fact, down-to-earth fashion.
2) Coincidence Control
All you have to try to do here is notice coincidences when they happen. Don't try and explain them or attach some cosmic meaning to them - just be aware of them happening. We tend to behave as though coincidences are somehow 'outside' normal life or evidence of some hidden steering power which arranges things. What is really unbelievable is how much we can dismiss what is happening around us. So notice your awareness that someone is going to say or do something, or that something is going to happen - no matter how trivial.
Practice looking in the box until it becomes easy for you, and strive to become aware of Coincidences and foreknowledge of an event at all possible times.
3) Unconscious Seeing
This is a simple technique for seeing images arising out of everyday phenomena. All you have to do is choose some everyday object - it is helpful if it is somehow textured - such as a whitewashed window, a brick wall, a patch of moss on a stone, a plant, etc and look at it, stilling your mind. Forget what the object 'is', and let forms arise out of it while you study it. This is a very ancient magical technique for allowing meaningful images to arise out of flames, the passage of birds, the swarming of bees, cloud formations, etc. Leonardo Da Vinci called it "Eidetic Vision", and it is said that a friend of his discovered the technique when staring at a wall upon which superstitious folk, particularly the sick, would stop and spit. The man is said to have gazed at the wall for hours, amazed at the shapes and forms which arose out of the blobs of phelgm. Any object which is sufficiently complex, from manufactured items to natural growths can be used in this way. I recall once becoming fascinating by the swirls and shapes seen in the remains of a plate of different-flavours of ice-cream.
The ability to allow fleeting impressions to arise, and to be mindful of them without becoming obsessed by them is useful for the development of divination skills, particularly those freestyle forms such as scrying or pyromancy..