Musings On The Twelve Senses

I just attended a weekend of lecture regarding the twelve senses.  As a therapist, this was highly interesting and entertaining to me!  Many people assume there are only five major senses; in physical therapy we tend to work with eight senses; in Waldorf Education we work with twelve senses although there is now a catalog of hundreds of senses.  Our lecturer described the senses much like a tree, with senses coming off of trunks into branches, twigs, twiglets, etc.

The twelve senses can be broken down into three groups of four:  the lower sense of touch, life, movement and balance are often what we should as parents and educators be working on in the Early Years, because they have such strong correlation to the sense we are working so hard to develop in the high school years (the sense of hearing, the sense of word, the sense of thought, the sense of Thou).  In the middle are the middle senses that help us take in our world and mediate between the lower senses that concern our own body and those higher senses that include how we relate to others.  Those higher senses include how we hear and listen to others, how we perceive speech, how we understand the thoughts of others, how we know “Thou” – the others in our life and where we end and they begin.   If all this is new to you, have a peek at this past post:

All the senses work together; most functional tasks in life use more than one.  To me, though, touch is a bedrock of so many of these senses and one that so many children have challenges with.  If touch is defined primarily not by the surrounding circumstances that involve other systems (is it hot?  is it cold? etc), but by the experience of “this is where I end, and this is where something else begins”, we can see this connection to the very highest sense of the twelve:  the sense of Thou.  Where do you end?  Where do I begin?  What are the boundaries between us?

This is one of the first senses just assaulted in American society.  From taking the baby away from its mother and immediately bathing the baby, washing away the vernix, to the myriad of vaccinations that puncture the skin (and I do NOT want to start a debate on vaccines at all, but it is worth noting the extreme differences in the number of vaccines it now takes to be “fully vaccinated” compared to in the past), to the  ubiquitous car seat as a method to carrying infants, to putting infants away from their families in day cares where babies are not held or carried in a sling but put “in” things to plastic toys that are really made of oil and just a front for being a true substance to be touched…It is both saddening and maddening.

If you are the parent of a child, especially a child ages birth to three, I urge you to hold your child, give your child new experiences of touch through natural toys, natural fibers, natural colors in your home.  Let your child squish leaves, play in the mud, and swim in a lake.  Let them brush the dog and eat berries with the juice running down their arms.  The tiniest of our society has the most incredible of work:  to get messy and get dirty daily!

If you have an older child that you feel missed these experiences and is showing challenges in the higher areas because of this, the good news is that it is not too late to go back to the lower four senses.  In fact, in the cases of learning challenges, social anxiety, difficulty with social relationships, the situation demands it.

Much love, many blessings, more musings to come,


9 thoughts on “Musings On The Twelve Senses

  1. Hi Carrie,
    Any thoughts on nurturing a sense of gratitude for the sacred in everyday life? My 4-year old daughter doesn’t want to have anything to do with the simple blessing we say at the dinner table or with the gentle verses I’ve tried saying at bedtime. These rituals are important to me, but they seem to have hit a nerve with her even though I don’t push her to appreciate them as I do. Thanks for any insight into this curious reluctance.

    • Hi Beth!
      Interesting situation…I have many posts on here about gratitude and reverence, if you put those terms into the little search engine box on this blog, a listing of them should come up. However, what I want to say to you quickly is this: this is your work for your daughter until she can take it over. Do not stop just because she doesn’t like it or whatever. She doesn’t have to recite it with you, but you recite it. Be sunny with her, don’t expect her to do anything, but you keep doing it and modeling it for her. It will sink in, and showing her how to demonstrate gratitude and reverence is an essential part of these early years. I am so proud of you! Don’t get de-railed from doing what is right!

      Many blessings, keep on keeping on!

  2. What a timely post! I’m deep into “40 days of Rhythm” here, and have been thinking a lot about the 12 senses. This gives me much to chew on. Do you have any other resources to recommend? I’ve heard Steiner doesn’t discuss them all in one handy place, but if you can suggest somewhere to start?

    I have to thank you immensely for the “40 days of . . . ” concept. I’ve started before, and then my efforts tapered off, but this time I’m keeping with it, and the learning is so rich and deep.

    And for Beth, above, I have had similar experiences with my daughter, who is now 4 1/2. As for our blessing, she was highly resistant at first, but now SHE has to be the one to light the candle, and SHE is the one to say the blessing. It took a bit, but now she loves it.

    Your comment though is making me think about our failed circle time . . . my daughter resisted it so much that we eventually dropped it, but those songs we sang for the first couple weeks of September still come up now and again, so they obviously went to a happy place in her brain. Maybe we need to bring it back . . . I’d love to know what happens!

    • Hi C –
      Try Chapter 8 of “Study of Man” ( now Foundations of Human Experience)..there is a lecture in “Riddle of Humanity” and also the Soesman book on “Our Twelve Senses”
      Hope that helps,

  3. This is lovely. I’ve been trying to explain to family and friends why nature and art are so important to me. It seems like the people around me think that’s something you just go hiking or to a museum to experience. Just this morning I invited my 8 month old to have a tactile experience with me. We put some dry wheat in a big bowl and sifted and dug with our hands. It was so fun to see her experience the sensation of the grains. Thanks for being another blogging voice and advocate on these important topics!

  4. Pingback: First Grade Planning By Subject: The Physical Body and Movement | The Parenting Passageway

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