the 5 senses

Our modern world is one of sensory overload. Therefore, a discussion on the soul is incomplete without talking about how the soul experiences or interacts with the physical world—namely the five physical senses. The relationship to the senses and the soul is direct, for the senses leave lasting impressions on the soul. Every waking moment we are experiencing the world around us and these sensory impressions, and that which we see, hear, smell, taste and touch directly effects the soul and its disposition. Things that are beautiful and noble tend to inspire while things that are course and profane tend to deject. There’s an age old phrase that says “the senses (or eyes) are the windows to the soul.” So what of these windows? How do the senses take part in our inner disposition? However it is not enough to look at the senses as windows to the soul, for this would imply that the senses have the greater part. Cicero, the Roman philosopher and statesman said it best:

“it is the soul itself which sees and hears, and not those parts which are, as it were, but windows to the soul.” -- Cicero

Here Cicero argues that the soul is that which truly “sees” and that the senses are, as he calls them, only “five messengers” or “channels which lead from the body to the soul.”

The senses play an important role in our lives, but they should not play a dominant role. The senses are of the body and therefore, higher ideas and states cannot be achieved through these “five messengers” alone. Plato explained that “phenomena are available to us through the senses” and that “ideas are available to us through thought.” He continues,

“So, naturally, thought is a vastly superior means to obtain the truth. Senses can only give you information about the ever-changing and imperfect world of phenomena, and so can only provide you with implications about ultimate reality, not reality itself.” --Plato

With this Plato clearly puts the senses in their rightful place.

The true purpose of the senses was best put forth by St. Nicodemus of Mount Athos (†1809). He said that it is through the senses that “the mind can receive unto itself primarily spiritual nurture and pleasure.” He goes on to explain that this happens through perceiving the beauty of the created world, which in turn can instill “wisdom, goodness, power, grace, truth, sweetness, and all the other activities and perfections of the Creator…” Here he is saying that our senses were designed to experience the created world in order to inspire us to attain a higher spiritual state and connection to God. But this only works properly when the right balance is struck between the senses and the soul. Now here’s where our subject gets interesting. The question that we must always be asking ourselves is: what is in control, our senses or our soul? We ask this question because that which is in control determines our interior mental and spiritual state. The Church Fathers often refer to these two states as a rational soul or an irrational soul. Let us take a brief look at these two distinct inner states.

The irrational soul

The irrational soul is when the soul is ruled by the body and the senses. When the body and the senses take charge things get out of whack. The mind and will become subservient to the senses, and “the intellect’s attachment to the senses enslaves it to bodily pleasure” as St. Thalassios puts it. The irrational soul is achieved by habits of self gratification, self indulgence and lack of spiritual practice. In everyday life this manifests itself as a predominantly emotional state that leaves one feeling restless and unstable.

The rational soul

The rational soul is when the soul is sovereign over the body and the senses. St. Nicodemus explains, “Even though the body is naturally inclined to the pleasure derived from physical things, it is nevertheless led, governed, and controlled by the mind (soul) when reason is whole and complete. The operative words here are “when reason is whole and complete”. The rational soul is achieved by temperance, self restraint, self awareness, and spiritual practice. This plays out in higher states of contemplation, stability and grace.

So how does this apply to the modern person? In all honesty most of us tend to have an irrational soul that is preeminently occupied with fulfilling the desires of the senses. Our soul takes the back seat as our physical desires take the wheel and govern our actions and thoughts. This is default for most people, as this is what most of us are taught from childhood. For unseen warfare, the objective is to train ourselves to have a rational soul. In order to do this we must know the anatomy of the soul.  Let us unlock all the brilliant and simple mysteries of the soul.