Meditation on the Five +1

Bayhead, by Kathleen Creighton

Meditation can open up new realms of appreciation for the simple experience of consciousness.

– by B. T. Newberg

How do we experience our world?

…through touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, and introspection.

The following meditation grounds a person deeply in these six foundations of experience.  One by one, awareness is brought to each of them in turn, then all are integrated into one seamless experience.

This can produce calm and alertness, dislodge self-centered tendencies, and encourage appreciation and wonder for the world around and within us.

Click below for a 15-minute audio guided meditation.  Details and text of the meditation follow.

What is the Five +1?

The Five +1 refers to the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight), plus the faculty of introspection.

Though the concept of the Five +1 is not unique to Humanistic Paganism (the Buddhist ayatana anticipate it by about 2500 years), the term was coined in our very first post.  I wanted to liken mindful introspection to a faculty of sense, but without invoking the paranormal connotations of a “sixth sense.”  Hence, Five +1.  Call it what you like; it’s the concept that matters.

The meanings of the conventional five senses will be familiar enough, but introspection should be clarified: I mean nothing more than mindful observation of mental contents, such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, attention patterns, and so forth.*

The following meditation is something I’ve been experimenting with for some time now.  It draws inspiration from several sources: mindfulness meditation, an exercise from Starhawk’s Earth Path book, and the concept behind the Five +1.  I invite you to experiment with it as well, and share your results.

The Meditation

Get comfortable in whatever position you’ve found works best for you.  Sitting is recommended at first; later, you can experiment with walking or other light activities.  Close your eyes (or angle your eyes downward before you, if walking), and take three deep breaths to signal the beginning of the meditation.

1.  Touch.  Begin with touch.  What do you feel?  Can you sense the ground beneath you, the tension in your body, the drape of clothes against your skin, the brush of your breath against your upper lip?  Acknowledge any physical tension, and slowly relax it.  Avoid getting caught up in any one sensation, and avoid mentally “commenting” on sensations.  Just aim for bare perception – it takes no work or effort to perceive; it happens automatically and without effort.  If you find your mind wandering, simply note it and gently bring awareness back to the sensations at hand.

When you are ready to move on, let go of touch and shift your attention to the sensations of taste.

2.  Taste.  What can you taste right now?  Are there any current or lingering flavors to be found?  Or is there an absence of taste sensation at present?

3.  Smell.  What odors and fragrances can you smell at the moment?  Do you notice any judgments – pleasant or offensive – accompanying the smells?  If so, set these aside for the moment.  If you notice memories evoked, note them and set them aside as well.  Just concentrate on the bare sensations.

4.  Sound.  Opening your awareness to sound, what can you hear right now?  Certain foreground noises may be most prevalent; can you also hear any background noises?  How about the sounds of your own breath, even the beating of your heart?

5.  Sight.  Now, slowly, open your eyes.  Bring attention first to the corners of your vision, then gradually work toward the center.  What colors do you see, what shapes and lines?  Avoid “tracking” any given object by altering the direction of your gaze; instead, let it pass in and out of your visual field as it will.

6.  Introspection.  Finally, bring awareness to what is going on in your mental field.  What thoughts are passing by right now?  What feelings?  You may have already noted some mental sensations if you caught your mind wandering earlier.  Now is the time to give them their due.  Note any verbal or visual train of thought, without trying to stop or direct it – just passively observe it going on.  Note attention itself, how it follows certain sensations that “leap out” from your perceptual field.  Note any other outstanding mental phenomena: any perceptible feelings, desires, moods, attitudes, expectations, and so forth.  You might note whether mental phenomena appear connected or disconnected from the other sensations, such as fascination or annoyance at a certain sound you are hearing.  Whatever mental contents you discover, simply acknowledge and observe them.

When you are ready to finish, bring your awareness to the total field of perception, noting how all six blend together into a seamless experience, without any effort on your part.

Last, take three calming breaths to signal the end of the meditation.

Additional comments

All experience arises from the blends and variations of just these six faculties of sense.  Nothing can appear to our conscious selves except through them.  This is our world.

The amount of time spent on each sense may vary according to your needs.  A thorough meditation spending up to five minutes on each may produce the most detailed experience.  Meanwhile, a quick thirty to sixty seconds on each may be sufficient to “get your head in the game” before an important task.  Whatever you do, long or short, don’t rush through it.

Daily practice is best to develop a new meditation habit.  Choosing a single consistent time of day is recommended by many meditation instructors.  I also find a daily trigger event, such as going to work or stepping outside, can also be helpful in establishing a routine.

This meditation can be done in a variety of settings: indoors, outdoors, walking along a path, and so on.

You can also vary the format.  After you become familiar with the basic form, you might experiment with choosing one sense as the focus of the day, moving swiftly through the others and spending more time on the chosen sense.

For a more deeply concentrated experience, focus in on just one single sensation, preferably a rhythmic one such as the breath or ocean waves, and concentrate on it fully.


I’ve found that this meditation can encourage relaxation with full alertness, and concentrate attention on surroundings without neglecting inner workings.  It can dislodge self-centered tendencies, because observation of thoughts and feelings frees one from being uncritically compelled by them, and simultaneously helps achieve an appreciation for and healthy distance from them.  Best of all, it brings to awareness current prejudices and biases, so that measures may be taken to cultivate the most appropriate mindset for the task at hand.

In my experience, it has proven particularly useful in preparing for public activities, such as work.  Private activities, too, benefit.  It can open up new realms of appreciation for the simple experience of consciousness.

What’s your response to this meditation?  If you tried it, how was your experience?  Please share your results, if you feel comfortable doing so, in the comments section.

I would also be interested to hear how people respond to the term Five +1.  Does it resonate with you, or is it a turn-off?  Can you think of a better term?

*I want to sharply distinguish introspection as mindful observation of mental contents from one’s supposed access to personal intentions.  In my experience, mindful observation never reveals any mental content that can be properly labeled an intention.  Moreover, research in attribution theory demonstrates that people regularly infer their intentions after the fact, based on observations of their own behavior (food for thought!).
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