Twelve Senses Introduction

The foundations of sensory development are laid down in the first seven years of life and have a direct influence on the growing child’s ability to develop attention, attachment, and self- regulation: capacities essential for formal education. The senses inform us about the physical world. And at the same time, the senses inform us about ourself; we can learn what makes our body healthy and unhealthy. Through our sensory system we take in the world and learn what we need to do to be able to be a part of the world, to develop an ability to share parts of ourself and to experience another. 

Through the insights laid down in anthroposophy, we can recognise twelve senses. They start forming when a baby is in utero, maturing at different times throughout life but always strongly influenced by the experiences in the first seven years. The senses that give us the ability to perceive where our body is and what it is doing reach maturity in early childhood. Whereas the senses connected to perceiving the natural environment reach maturity in primary school and those perceiving what lives within another person can take a lifetime to mature.

Throughout the articles on this website a heightened sense is termed ‘hyper sensitive’ and ‘hypo sensitive’ refers to when the sense is not sharp. Both may occur with or without the organ anatomy or physiology having noticeable variations from what is considered ‘normal’. A sense and its variance in sensitivity develop firstly upon a person’s disposition; the tendency to be hyper (over) sensitive or hypo (under) sensitive in the processing of a particular sense can sometimes be perceived from birth. When these variances are acknowledged, and the environment is altered, the person can continue to flourish and fully develop despite any noticeable imbalance.

This leads us to the secondary influence of development, and that is the conditioning from the environment; we learn to ignore, be hyper-vigilant or have a healthy awareness of the way the world affects us by being raised in particular conditions. Growing up does not necessarily change the sensitivity, but the expression and reaction can change as we mature and also because we learn how cultural conditions expect us to respond.

Whether or not we perceive things as they truly are, depends less on the imbalance in a sense and more so on whether we can discern between what belongs to our individual self and what is living outside of us. We could ask ourselves: can I see something for what it is despite the impact it is having on my sensory system?

This ability to separate individual experience from the outer subject matter develops throughout childhood and adolescence and requires an effort on the part of the individual. A child’s age and their sensitivity in a particular sense should be taken into account when deciding whether it is healthy to give extra protection or expose them to a situation. Using the development of the senses as a guide, we can learn to know when to expect the child can take responsibility and how to stand up for the individual needs of each child.

When a person senses something and holds their ground so they are not overpowered by it, they are in a position to choose what they take into their self. Only a matured sense can put this filter in place; the younger the person, the more vulnerable they are to the outer world effecting them.

The sensory development notes published on this website are prepared in collaboration with and on behalf of Developing the Self Developing the World and to accompany the book “Spirit-led Community – healing the impact of technology” by Lisa Romero.

When we view the senses in this way we come to realise that each person has a unique inner life that can be altered according to what is perceived and impressed by the ‘outer world’These resources provide examples to recognise the different levels of perception in each sense. We also suggest activities and treatments that can be used to awaken the senses in such a way that out of ourselves we can find direction towards what is healthy for us. We can ask the question: Where, as an individual, should I place my time, energy and attention?

The examples of support offered throughout these articles provide experiences because it is through experience that we develop a measure for ourselves. The home health care treatments are applied to the skin, which is the body’s largest organ. The fine nerve endings that lie just under the skin receive the treatment more directly than if a medicine is given orally. As simple as they may seem, they can have a profound effect on the sensory system. Because of the increasing bombardment of our senses, Rudolf Steiner indicated that remedies would need to be applied ‘externally’ as a base for preventative healthcare. Click here to link to the instructions page.