As a primitive hunter and tracker, my grandfather dabbled in some pretty strange practices to keep his skills sharp. He learned a lot of it in the military I think. The rest of it he probably picked up from the ghosts of dead Indian chiefs who visited him from somewhere beyond the grave (that was a joke if you didn’t catch it). One of the strangest of all of his practices was something that he called deprivation meditation. In his journal he wrote that “…it sharpens the practitioner’s mental awareness of the world around them and makes them more aware of things that they wouldn’t normally be aware of”.
At age seven I began to train in martial arts and I decided to practice these exercises as an extension of my training. I have to admit, they actually worked. The exercises that he outlined in his journal do in fact strengthen awareness, but mainly the awareness of movement and nothing else. As I grew into the martial arts I learned that everything is based on movement and that my grandfather had developed a way to be more aware of that.
Tools of the Trade
There are a few things that you are going to need before you start practicing deprivation meditation. They are: a box of foam ear plugs and a pair of shooting muffs and a sleeping mask and a blindfold. You will also need a relatively quiet place to practice in or at least one where you will not be disturbed for at least an hour. Camp grounds are especially good places to practice, but you can always just sit out on your back porch.
Exercise Number One – Hearing Deprivation
Suppressing the hearing heightens your sense of sight. Place the ear plugs into your ears and then cover them with the shooting muffs. The highest rated earplugs on the market today will only suppress about 33 decibels. With the shooting muffs on we can bring that suppression up to around 36 decibels. Just to give you an idea of how much sound you will actually be suppressing, normal conversation in a crowded restaurant ranges between 60 and 65 decibels.
Now sit comfortably and look around you. Pay careful attention to how the world looks when you can’t hear it. Notice how birds look when you cannot hear them singing. Pay attention to their colors and ask yourself why they are colored that way. Notice how they move and wonder why. How do the trees look when you can’t hear them blowing in the wind? One of the main objectives of this exercise is to sharpen your awareness of what my grandfather spoke of in his journal as “The Void”. He described the void as the space that exists between every object in the landscape. This space shapes itself to fill in the areas that are not occupied by anything else in the region. You will eventually become aware of it, but it takes time to see.
Detecting movement is another objective of hearing deprivation. Normally we see movement with our ears first, like when a squirrel skitters across a patch of dry leaves or when we notice the sound of a door opening just before someone enters a room. We use our ears for primary detection and then our eyes for secondary recognition. This exercise teaches you how to detect movement with your eyes only. Long term practitioners are said to develop a type of relaxed vision that allows them to shift between a panoramic view of their environment and fixed gaze on a particular object of interest. This skill is of greatest use to hunters and trackers.
Exercise Number Two – Sight Deprivation
Sight is our primary sense. We use it not only to navigate our world, but also to experience it in ways that help us to form emotional bonds to it. Take away sight and every other sense comes alive to make up for the slack. The blind have an amazing ability to experience the world around them in ways that we can only imagine. They see in ways that we can’t see. This exercise will help you to develop that ability; the ability to perceive the world around you according to sound only.
To practice this exercise, place the sleeping mask over your eyes and then tie on the blindfold to shut out as much light as possible. Now close your eyes and do everything that you did during the hearing deprivation exercise but this time using your ears instead of your eyes.
These are great exercises for hunters, trackers and martial artists to sharpen their senses. A word of caution though — don’t take the practice too far. Research has found that prolonged exposure to sensory deprivation can produce negative results. An hour twice a week is probably more than enough practice. If you start to experience delusions, hallucinations or paranoia stop the exercises immediately.