Differentiating noticing our nature, and noticing our ideas about our nature

When it comes to physical things, we all know the difference between a description of something and the thing itself. We know that a map is different from the terrain. Actually eating an apple is different from having it described. And so on.

And when what a map refers to is not physical, we may get a bit confused. We have a story about how a person is, and we confuse our story with reality and take our story as true. We have a story about the future and feel and perceive it as if it’s true.

We mistake our mental representations of something with what these refer to. We are not always so good at differentiating the two.

This is where structured inquiry can be very helpful. It can help us recognize our mental representations and how they look and what they tell us. And that helps us differentiate these and what they refer to.


This also applies when we explore our more fundamental nature.

Since our nature is not a thing and not even an object within experience, it’s easy to mix up our mental representations and what we directly notice.

From my experience, it seems to often be a mix. I have some mental representations, notice these, and can use them to find what they refer to. And sometimes, if I don’t pay so much attention, I may – without noticing – mistake these mental representations for my nature.

For instance, I can find my nature as capacity for my experiences here and now, and I also notice an image (short movie clip) of the same. I similarly have images of oneness, stillness & silence, and so on.


This is where it’s helpful to take a closer look, sometimes guided by more structured forms of inquiry.

The simplest is to notice what mental representations I have, and how they look. What images do I have about my nature? About capacity? Oneness? Love? Stillness & silence? Consciousness? And so on. How do they look? Form? Color? Texture? Size? This, in itself, can make a big difference since it helps me recognize these images more easily.

I can also take a closer look. I can explore how these representations show up in my sense fields. Do my mental representations combine with certain sensations? (So the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the representations, and the representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations). Is there fear connected to it? Identities? Hope? (The other side of the coin of fear.) Other associations? Memories? A sense of lack? (Living Inquiries.)

I can identify my stories connected with this, and examine these. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

And so on. These more in-depth explorations also help me more easily recognize these images and stories and differentiate them from more immediate and direct noticing of what they refer to.


A mix of direct noticing and noticing our ideas about it

As many point out, there is an obvious distinction between directly experiencing something, and our ideas about that experience. For instance, eating an apple is very different from our idea about eating an apple, and walking in a terrain is very different from looking at the map of that terrain. It’s easy to notice the difference since one is a physical experience and the other an idea.

The same goes for noticing what we are, and our ideas about what we are, although since neither is grounded in the physical, it takes a bit more looking to differentiate the two.

Do I find myself as capacity for the world, or what my experiences happen within and as, or oneness, or stillness and silence, and so on? Or do I notice my mental representations of these, and mistake this for the direct noticing? Or is there a mix of the two?

In many cases, there may be a mix. We may partly notice directly and partly mistake some mental representations for that noticing.

So how can we learn to differentiate the two?

One answer is through a more detailed noticing.

Mixing direct noticing
And noticing an idea about it
More detailed noticing
Inquiry into the idea
Get to know it
Get to know the difference

What we are, especially


We may use our mental representations as a pointer, and jumping-off point, to a direct noticing.


And as soon as what a map refers to is not physical, we tend to get a bit confused. We have a story about how a person is, and we confuse our story with reality, and take our story as true. We have a story about the future, and feel and perceive as if it’s true. We have a story about who we are, and even that can be quite limiting, off, and out of alignment with reality.



We can make use of these mental representations.

We can use them as a reminder to notice directly what we are.

We can examine them. What are these images? How do they look? What are my associations with them? Where do I feel them in my body? What’s the story connected to them?

Living Inquiries is a good way to expire these images and stories, and any fears, identities, and compulsions connected with them. This helps us more easily recognize them, and it can also release some of the charge out of them.

In the moment, we can also use some stepping stones to help us bypass or ideas and instead notice in a more direct and fresh way.

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