Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

When we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it can mean at least two things.

It can mean that it’s subjective, which is true enough.

It also means something more fundamental. It means that we are the one who brings beauty to something. The way we see and perceive brings beauty – or not – to something.


What makes something beautiful to me?

The more I am open to wonder and awe, the more it seems beautiful.

The more I know and understand about it, the more beautiful it is.

The more I realize we are intimately connected, the more beautiful.

The more I am free of stressful and unquestioned thoughts about it, the more beautiful.

The more awe there is that anything exists at all, the more beautiful anything is.


There are also layers in what makes something beautiful to me.

Something appears beautiful because of my biology, culture, and personality. I love certain landscapes, flowers, animals, birds, and people. Because of the conditioning of my human self, it’s easy to see the beauty in it.

Something or someone may also be beautiful in other ways. I love the vultures here because they are living beings like me, they are important in this ecosystem, they serve very important functions, they are often despised by others. To themselves, they are very likely consciousness like me. All of that helps me see their beauty. I love them for those reasons.


What about disease? Suffering? War? Death? The end of civilizations? The end of humanity? The end of all we know?

I can find the beauty there too, although it takes a little more transformation of my perception since it goes against what I learned from culture.

Death is necessary for life. Death is what allows anything to be. It opens space for something new. It creates the conditions for something new. The death of stars created the matter we and this living planet is made of. The death of species allows for new species. The death of individuals opens space for new individuals. The death of civilizations opens for new civilizations. The death of one phase of life opens space for another.

I have a chronic illness. Can I find the beauty there too? Yes. Now and then, I experience grief, sadness, frustration, fear, and so on in relation to it. And I also find the genuine beauty in it. It has helped me see that life moves in other directions than my personal wishes and desires, and that’s OK. It’s to be expected. It has opened up a lot for me. It has helped me release identification with the idea of me as productive, smart, someone who excels in academia, someone with a future in academia, and so on. It has opened up time for me. It has helped me find a genuine appreciation for rest. It has helped me be more sincere and transparent with others. And much more. There are many genuine gifts in it. (And I wouldn’t choose it, of course, if I had a choice.)

What about suffering? Suffering too has gifts in it. At one level, it shows me what to avoid in life. It shows me to avoid what brings physical pain and illness, noise, certain people and situations, and so on. It’s a guide built into me from evolution and my ancestors. At another level, it shows me when I hold onto painful and unexamined stories. It’s a pointer to painful stories and an invitation to examine them and find what’s more true for me. These may be stories holding me back from making necessary and kind changes, and it may be stories making me struggle with what is. I won’t choose suffering, and parts of me still don’t like suffering, but when it’s here, I can use it as a pointer and find genuine appreciation for it. I can see the beauty in it.

Is there beauty in war and violence? As terrible as it is, and as much as I want to prevent it, there is some kind of beauty here too. It’s a part of humanity working things out for themselves. It seems to be part of the process we are collectively living. It’s part of evolution. It’s part of how this living planet and how this universe evolves and explores itself through and as us.


So beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am the one perceiving beauty.

My mind creates the beauty I see.

And the more my heart and mind are open, the more I understand, and the more I examine my stories, the more easily I find beauty in anything, including what’s terrible according to my personality and what I previously learned from my culture.

Image created by me and Midjourney

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Perception of causality when I notice my nature

How do we perceive causality when we notice our nature?


In a conventional sense, we assume causality in daily life. I stub my toe, experience pain, and stubbing my toe caused or led to the pain. I step on the gas pedal, the car goes faster, so stepping on the gas pedal made the car go faster.

As with our thoughts and assumptions in general, these assumptions of causality help us orient and function in the world. They work often enough and well enough to help us function.

They are often relatively accurate in a conventional sense. They are often layperson level understanding of causality, which means they are simplistic and work reasonably often and well. And they sometimes miss the mark and are not accurate in a conventional sense, and if we receive feedback we have a chance to learn from it and modify our assumptions.


It’s not wrong that I am this human self in the world. It’s how others tend to see me, it’s what my passport says, and it’s how it appears to me when I take on that role. It’s an assumption that mostly works well in daily life.

But is it what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience?

When I look, I find I am more fundamentally something else.

I find my nature as capacity for the world as it appears to me. It’s what allows any and all content of experience.

And I find myself as what the world, to me, happens within and as.

Said another way: To myself, I am inevitably consciousness, and any content of experience – of this human self, others, the wider world, and so on – happen within and as what I am.


When I notice my nature, my perception of causality is much the same as described above, although the conscious context is different.

Here, the world happens. It’s what it is in immediacy. Any content of experience lives its own life.

And any sense of time and space and causality is created by a mental field overlay. It’s created by mental representations.

Mental representations says what happened, what’s happening (always a little behind), and what may happen in the near and possibly distant future.

This is where causality lives. There are mental representations of having walked, stubbed my toe against a rock, that this experience is called “pain”, and that walking and stubbing my toe is the cause of pain. Similarly, there are mental representations of driving, of having pushed the foot down on the gas pedal, and the car going faster as shown on the speedometer when images of how it was just seconds ago is compared with images of how it is now.

It doesn’t mean ideas of causality are inherently wrong. It just means that I recognize where causality, for me, comes from. It’s created within my mental representations.

I appreciate the gifts in it. It helps this human self function and live in the world.

And I can more easily recognize the limitations inherent in these assumptions. They are assumptions. They are often roughly accurate. I am aware that they are rough approximations and simplifications. And I also recognize that since they are assumptions, they are sometimes wrong – either in details or more completely.

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Several onenesses and one oneness

There seem to be several onenesses and one oneness, depending on how I look at it.


If we use the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, we focus on our first-person experience of what we more fundamentally are. We find our own nature as what we can call capacity for the world and the oneness that the world to us appears within and as. And we don’t make the leap of assuming that our nature is the nature of all of existence. (Even if it will inevitably appear that way since the world, to us, happens within and as what we are.)

This view is compatible with the essence of what mystics of all times and traditions, and outside of traditions, have described. And it’s also compatible with a range of worldviews or assumptions or guesses about what our fundamental nature is in a more outside or objective view, and what the nature of reality is.

For instance, it is compatible with a guess that we most fundamentally, in an objective sense, is this physical human self and that consciousness somehow is created by the biology. To ourselves, we will still be what a thought may label consciousness, and to us the world will still happen within and as consciousness. We will still find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as the oneness the world to us happens within and as.

Here, we can talk about several onenesses.

I find myself as the oneness the world, to me, appears within and as. You find yourself as the oneness the world, to you, happens within and as. And it’s fair to assume – or guess – that this is the case for all conscious beings. If they “have” consciousness, in conventional language, then to themselves they are consciousness. They are capacity for the world as it appears to them. And, to them, the world appears within and as what they are.

These onenesses may live from their nature, and the dynamics of the being they have a special connection with, without being consciously aware of it. (This may be the case for most species.) They may get caught up in a much smaller identity for a while. (Typical for humans.) Or they may notice their nature and live from this noticing. (AKA awakening.)


At the same time, we can say there is one oneness.

Same kind of nature. Our nature – as capacity, oneness, and what we can call consciousness – seems the same for anyone who has reported about it. And, again, it’s fair to assume it’s the same for all conscious beings.

In that sense, there is oneness. There is an oneness of all beings consciousnesses since we seem to have the same kind of nature.

Oneness in perception. To us, all of existence happens within and as the oneness we are. This is another kind of oneness. A oneness in perception.

One system. At a story level, we can see all of existence as a seamless system. Everything is a seamless whole. It’s a holarchy with holons within holons.

All as Spirit. And we can also take the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening and assume – or guess – that the nature of all of existence is the same as our nature. It not only inevitably appears that way to us, it actually is that way too. There are certainly many hints suggesting this, including synchronicities, distance healing, sensing at a distance, and so on.


So from a psychological interpretation of awakening, we can say there are several onenesses. Each being is a oneness whether they notice or not.

And we can say there is one oneness. All beings are one in that their nature is of the same kind. We perceive existence as one when we notice our nature. We can see existence as a whole as a seamless system. And the spiritual interpretation of awakening may be accurate, and all of existence is Spirit AKA God, Brahman, and so on.

All of it seems to have a certain validity in its own way.

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The experience of my human self when I notice my nature 

I had lunch with family today (father’s day) and experimented a bit with shifting identification and where my center of gravity is in terms of identification.


Normally, I notice that the whole landscape – of this human self, others, and the wider world – happens within and as what I am. The field of sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, and thoughts happen within and as what I am. It’s all happening within and as consciousness. It’s happening as a dream in that it’s created by consciousness and its nature, to me, is consciousness. To me, my world and all I am is consciousness.

This is freeing. It allows a noticing of this human self as he listens, speaks, feels, thinks, does, and so on. It allows a noticing of this human self as he lives his own life.


I then tried to consciously shift identification more exclusively to this human self. How is it to imagine me as only this human self? Inside this skull? Looking out of these two openings in the skull onto others and the world.

For me, that immediately feels claustrophobic. I feel locked in. Looking out. The world feels more threatening. My social anxiety goes up several levels. I more easily become self-conscious in an uncomfortable way.

Note: I have written similar articles on distancemovementtime, the physical, and doership.

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Perception of doership when we notice our nature

I find myself writing a short series of articles on how our perception of different things – distance, movement, time, and so on – may change when we notice our nature.

Here is one on our perception of doership.


In the world, it’s important for me to take responsibility for my actions, words, and choices.

It helps me live in a slightly more mature way. It’s more in integrity. And it helps me see things about myself more accurately which may lead to changes. (There is a lot of room for improvement.)

If I don’t take responsibility, I can notice it through some of the telltale signs (blame, victimhood, etc.) and I can use it to find the fear behind it. What’s the scary story? What am I afraid would happen if I took responsibility for my own words, choices, and actions in this situation? What’s the identity that’s threatened?


I can then find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. I can find myself as that which the world, to me, happens within and as. This is what I more fundamentally am to myself.

Here, I notice that all content of my experience lives its own life – this human self, thoughts, feelings, choices, actions, other people, ecosystems, the wider world. It’s all living its own life. It’s all happening on its own.

Within stories, I can tell myself that everything has infinite causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and the widest extent of space (if there is any).

And in my immediate noticing, it’s all living its own life.


In daily life, there are both.

I aim at taking responsibility for my own choices, actions, and life – and don’t always succeed. (Any time I go into a stressful story, it’s a sign I am not taking responsibility as much as I could.) This helps me live with a bit more integrity and it helps me mature a bit more.

And I notice that this human self is happening on its own like anything else. This takes some of the stress out of it and there is less interference from the idea of fundamentally being a doer.


As I have written about elsewhere, in an awakening process, there are often shifts that highlight certain aspects of what we are.

In this case, I experienced several shifts around fifteen years ago that brought the “this human self is living its own life” aspect to the foreground. These were shifts into a stronger disidentification with any content of experience, and they made it blindingly clear that this human self is happening on its own. (There were many similar types of shifts during that period.)

And these shifts have helped me notice it later on, even when this aspect is less obviously in the foreground.

Note: I have written similar articles on distance, movement, time, the physical, and this human self.

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Perception of time when we notice our nature

This is another article in a mini-series on how we tend to perceive when we notice our nature. I have written about our perception of distance and movement so far, and here is one on time. (Since I have written about our perception of time in several other articles so I will only touch on it briefly here.)


In one sense, I perceive time as anyone else. I know how to use our ideas of seconds, minutes, hours, days, and so on. And my sense of time stretches and compresses depending on what I am doing and whatever states are moving through me, as it seems to do for most people.


At the same time, I am aware that my sense of time happens within and as what I am.

Any ideas of past, future, and present – and what I imagine in each one – happen within my sense fields.

They happen within and as what I am. They happen within and as what a thought may call consciousness.

It’s all happening in the now that’s all I know and have ever known.


I am aware of my mental representations of time – of a timeline with a future, kind-of-present, and past, and that my mental field places certain events on this timeline and in one or more of these three times.

I have examined these through more thorough inquiry several times, which helps me recognize them in daily life. And it helps me recognize them as mental representations happening now.

These mental representations are essential for helping this human self function in the world.


Another aspect of all this is timelessness.

Since time happens within and as what I am, I find my nature is timeless.

My nature is no-time allowing time and different experiences of time, including the three times and the stretchiness of time.


When we are in a process of exploring our nature, it’s not uncommon to have experiences that highlight certain features of what we are.

One of these for me happened fifteen or more years ago. I was training a more stable attention (focus on sensations of the breath in the nose) while music was playing in the background. Suddenly, there was a shift where any sense of continuity of time fell away. There was no continuity in the music, only the shifting sounds here now.

This helped me see how my mind, and especially the mental field, creates not only a sense of past, future, and present, but also of continuity of time. Without it, there is only an always shifting now with no continuity. Without it, we couldn’t function as human beings in the world.


In daily life, all of these are here and attention may highlight some aspects of this more than others.

I operate with time in a conventional sense, and with my cultural influences. (I like to be on time since I am from Norway, and I like to stick to schedules that involve others for the same reason.)

I notice my mental field creating and operating with representations of time – a timeline, three times, events on this timeline and in the three times, and so on.

I notice my timeless nature, either in the background or more intentionally.

And I am aware that without my mental field, there would be no sense of continuity in time.

Note: I have written similar articles on distance, movement, doership, the physical, and this human self.

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Perception of movement when we notice our nature

I thought I would write a mini-series of articles on how our perception changes when we notice our nature. I have written about our perception of distance, so what about movement?


As a human being in the world, when I move I move through the world. I travel from A to B.

This is how others see it, and how I often talk about it since it’s how most people talk about it. And it has some use. It’s not wrong, even if it’s not the full picture.


When I look in my first-person experience, I find I am something more fundamental than this human self in the world. I find I am capacity for the world (what allows my experience of the world to happen). I find that the world, to me, happens within and as my sense fields. And I find that the world, as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am. Any content of experience – this human self, others, the wider world, and anything at all – happens within and as what I am.

Here, I also find that when this human self moves in the world, what’s actually happening is that the world, to me, moves through me. It moves through this field of experience. It moves through and as what I am.

What I am forms itself into the appearance of the world moving through me.


When I look more closely, I find that my nature forms itself into the world as it appears to me.

And this means this moving world is moving. And it’s also all happening as my nature, as (what a thought may call) consciousness.

So there are three things happening at once.

This human self moves through the world.

The world moves through me. It moves through my sense fields and what I am.

And the essence of it is not moving since the moving world, to me, happens as what I am. It happens as consciousness. Its essence is always the same.


For me, this makes daily life more interesting.

Yes, this human self moves through the world and that’s how I talk about it with others.

For myself, I notice that the world moves through me. It’s fascinating and gives me a quiet joy to notice it.

And I also notice how it’s all happening as what I am, and the essence of it all is – in that sense – still.

Note: I have written similar articles on distance, time, doership, the physical, and this human self.

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Perception of distance when we notice our nature

There are many signs or byproducts of noticing our nature.

One is our perception of distance.

How do I experience distance?


I experience it as anyone else in terms of things being closer or further away. I know where things are in space just like anyone else.


And at the same time, there is a sense of no distance.

Everything is happening here, within and as what I am. There is an absence of distance.

It makes sense. Since, to me, the world happens within and as what I am, there is no sense of distance to what’s happening.


There is another side to this as well.

I am aware of my mental field representations that create a sense of conventional space and distance in the first place. It’s a kind of mental overlay depicting space. It’s an overlay on the other sense fields, mostly the visual one. And it also serves as an image to put other mental representations onto, including objects and physical locations. There are also other overlays, including the ones serving as a kind of yardstick telling me roughly the distances between objects in the world.

These mental field overlays are essential for me being able to orient and function in the world.


In a sense, there are three layers to this.

In my immediate perception, there is no distance to anything. It’s all happening within and as what I am.

In a conventional sense, I operate with distances just like anyone else.

And I am also are of how my sense of space and distance is created by my mental field representations of space, distance, and so on. I am aware of these since I have taken the time to explore them in some detail so they are more easily recognized by me and they are familiar to me.


This shift happened in my teens, and I have lived with it for a while, so I don’t remember specifically how it was to notice this at first. I assume it took some getting used to. What I do remember is that I was frequently disoriented for a while after the initial shift, perhaps a few years. I had trouble functioning normally in the world. For instance, I remember walking straight into a glass door that I normally would have easily avoided.

Note: I have written similar articles on movement, time, doership, the physical, and this human self.

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The day you teach the child the name of the bird…

The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again.

– Jiddu Krishnamurti

To me, this quote is misguided.

Our stories obviously color our perception and life, and so also our stories about a bird.

The name of a bird is one story along with a range of other stories.

It’s possible that after knowing the name of a bird, we’ll be satisfied with the label and not bother so much with the bird anymore. But that can happen even if we don’t know the name of the bird. If someone responds that way, they probably would anyway.

And it’s also very possible to know the name of a bird, know that it’s just a human-made label to facilitate communication, and be fascinated by the bird. We can be in awe of it, notice a range of small details, get to know its behavior, and so on.

To me, this is an example of what Ken Wilber calls the pre/trans fallacy.

Yes, a baby without language may be fascinated by the bird. It may take it in without the particular filter of stories about the bird. (Although we still operate from a huge amount of other filters from our senses, physiology, evolution, and so on.)

And we can also learn the name and all sorts of other stories about the bird, recognize these as stories and know that reality is always more than and different from our stories, and operate from genuine curiosity, receptivity, and take in our sensory experiences of the bird.

This Krishnamurti quote may not only reflect the pre/trans fallacy, but also a generally cynical view on humanity.

Byron Katie: Perception rules, until it doesn’t

Perception rules, until it doesn’t.  

– Byron Katie

What she likely refers to is the perception that comes from our mental representations of the world, ourselves, and anything else.

If we hold these mental imaginations as true, they will rule our life. We perceive and live as if what our stories tell us is true. Our beliefs run our life. Contractions run our life.

If we examine them and find what’s more true for us, we can relate to these perceptions more intentionally, hold them more lightly, and use them in a more constructive way.

What’s more true for us than the initial stories our thoughts tell us?

It may be that our mental field overlay on the world is just that, an overlay. A way to make sense of the world. Our thoughts are, in a very real sense, questions about the world. They have only a practical value to help us orient. They don’t hold any final or absolute truth.

It may be that the reversals of our stories also have genuine validity for us. Not only one view has validity.

It may be that we are what our thoughts happen within and as. If mind holds a thought as true, it identifies with the viewpoint of the thought and perceives and lives as if it’s true. If we recognize a thought as a thought, we can see it as an object and relate to it more intentionally, including through investigating it.

An elegant order in the way everything fits and unfolds

There is something about the universe — an elegant order in the way everything fits and unfolds

– Tom Atlee in his recent newsletter

I agree. Seen from the view of parts, this is how it appears.

There is also the view from the whole, and we can look at it in two different ways.

One is that existence is one. The universe is one seamless system. Everything happens within and as this one system. If we want, we can say that it’s all lila. It’s all the play of the universe, life, or the divine.

Another is that the world as it appears to us happens within and as what we are. If we want to put a label on it, we can say that it all happens within and as this consciousness that we are. To us, it all fits in an elegant way because it all happens within us and this oneness. And also because it’s all interpreted by our own mental field.

So it’s all oneness and dynamics and movements within the whole. The parts fit because they are part of a whole. An animal or plant or geological element fits into an ecosystem precisely because it’s a system, it’s a seamless whole. An eddy in a stream fits into the stream because the stream is a seamless whole. Any part of Earth fits because it’s a part of the living system of Earth.

And it all fits because, to us, it’s all happening within and as what we are. We are the oneness it’s all happening within and as. And we provide the mental overlay that makes sense of it all. This mental overlay makes the parts fit because of the stories we have about it.

Life 101: How we think about the world (philosophy of science)

There are some essential Life 101 topics. Things that are fundamental to being human and can serve us for a lifetime.

One of these is learning how to think about the world, also known – when more formalized – as philosophy of science.

It’s something we all can explore for ourselves. And, as I see it, it’s a bit shocking it’s not included in a more systematic way at all levels of formal education – adapted to each age level and made fun, relevant, and with the ordinariness of it emphasized.

It’s what we already know, this is just a way to bring more awareness into it and investigate it more consciously.

Here are some ideas of what could be included in formal education.

When it comes to exploring the world, there is the basic approach of observation, hypothesis, testing, revising, testing by others, etc. And how each step is influenced by our underlying assumptions and worldviews. What are some examples of how we use these steps, often without thinking about it, in our own life? What are some examples in our history? What do we find if we apply this approach to an area of our own life?

Equally or more important is how we more broadly think about the world and our understanding of it.

We don’t know anything for certain. This goes for us as humanity, as a culture, and in our own life. Our statements or assumptions are practical guidelines for orienting and functioning in the world. They are questions. They are not the final word. What is an example of an assumption we made – about the world, ourselves, others, a situation – that we were convinced was true, and then it turned out it was not? What are some examples from history and science?

Our understanding of specific things in life changes over time. Our collective understanding changes, and our personal understanding changes. Over time, all of it may change. What are some examples of you seeing something a certain way, and then change your view? What are some examples from history?

Our worldview and most basic assumptions about the world change over time. What are some examples of worldviews changing over time? What are some examples of different worldviews from different cultures? What are the most basic assumptions about the world in our culture? Could these change in the future?

There are other understandings and other worldviews that may fit our experience (data) equally well as the ones we are familiar with, and some may even fit them better.

Our worldview and most basic assumptions about ourselves and the world is the water we swim in. It’s hard for us to notice these. And if we do, it’s often hard for us to question them. What are some basic assumptions we – in our society and culture – have about the world? What are some examples of assumptions that we usually wouldn’t even think of questioning? Are there taboos around questioning some of them?

Our background colors our understandings, values, and worldview. Our background – – as a species, culture, and individual – color what we see as important, what we see as right and wrong, and our assumptions about the world and ourselves. What are some examples of how our background influences how we see something? What are some examples of cultural differences? Imagine an intelligent species very different from us (bird, reptilian, fish, etc.). How would their perceptions, inclinations, and perhaps values differ from ours?

What is cognitive bias? What are the most typical cognitive biases? Take one and see how it plays a role in your own life. Is there a time you realized you made a wrong assumption because of bias? Which cognitive biases do we most see in our society? How can I be more aware of these? How can I counteract them? What may happen if I don’t notice or question my biases? And what are the benefits of noticing and questioning them?

How do we discuss well? Do we go into a conversation with the intention to learn from the other? Or do we just want to keep our initial ideas unchanged? (If so, what’s behind it?) What is the outcome of one and the other? Roleplay both and see how each one feels.

What are some common logical fallacies? What are some examples of logical fallacies in public discourse? And in our own life? How can we notice and counteract them in ourselves? How can we – with kindness and effectively – point it out when someone else uses a logical fallacy? When is it appropriate to do so?

This ties into trauma education since traumas often influence our perception, ideas about the world, and how we hold onto them (often for dear life when traumas are involved).

It would be a fun challenge to adapt this to each age level, and also develop (potentially) engaging, fun, and illuminating exercises and activities for each of the areas listed above. (And other areas I inevitably have left out.) Of course, it’s even better when the kids/teens develop this on their own.

And it is important to show that this is a fundamental part of being human. It’s something we already know and apply, at least to some extent. This is just a more organized exploration and application of it.

I personally learned some of these in school. Some on my own in my teens through reading books about science (especially the Fritjof Capra books). And some at university. (Philosophy of science courses are mandatory at universities in Norway, although why not at earlier levels?)

I am a bit surprised that this is not a more integral part of education at all levels. It’s useful in all areas of life and throughout life. Essential for nurturing a more well-functioning society. And today, with the internet echo-chambers, it’s more important than ever.

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The only way I know the world

The only way I know the world is through my sense fields – sight and mental images, sounds and imagined sound, sensations and imagined sensations, and words which are images and sounds.

This means that the only world I know is my own world, as it is here and now.

I can examine this. How is my perception of time created? Or space? Or myself as a human being? Or a particular future, a particular past, a particular deficient self? What happens as I see more clearly what’s here?

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All-inclusive gratitude practice

I have taken up my all-inclusive gratitude practice again, and it feels good. In a sense, it feels like coming home.

A conventional gratitude practice is – I assume – more accessible to more people, and it can be very helpful. It helps us find love and a sense of abundance. And yet, it also has a limitation, as all practices do. When I filter and separate out what I am grateful for from the rest of my life, I reinforce my ideas of what’s good and bad, and what I can or should be grateful for. It reinforces a split perception of the world.

An all-inclusive gratitude practice also opens up for love and a sense of abundance. In addition, it helps me soften and question my habitual ideas of good and bad, desirable and undesirable, fortunate and unfortunate. It opens me up for gratitude for all of it, and finding the gifts in it. It invites me to meet all that is with love, and perhaps notice it’s all already love.

An all-inclusive gratitude practice will also flush out “what’s left” in me. It helps me see the fears, hopes and beliefs I have about life. I can include these too in the gratitude list, and I can meet it with love and gently explore it in inquiry.

As with any all-inclusive practices or views, it opens up another “layer” for in how we perceive the world. I’ll still – hopefully – be a good steward of my own life. I’ll still aim at acting with kindness to myself, others and the world. I’ll still be engaged. Although now from a slightly different place.

To put it metaphorically, the layer of my human self is much the same. There is still a human self here living as best as he can, and from kindness and clarity when possible. And there is another layer here, a layer that softens the split perception and recognizes all as already grace and love, and perhaps even Spirit.

An example of a conventional gratitude list:

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter. I am grateful for family and friends. I am grateful for living in a country in peace. I am grateful for being able to rest.

And an all-inclusive gratitude list:

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter. I am grateful for family and friends. I am grateful for living in a country in peace. I am grateful for being able to rest. I am grateful for brain fog. I am grateful for fatigue. I am grateful for fears about the future. I am grateful for discomfort. I am grateful for the contraction in my throat. I am grateful for wishing I was further ahead.

These lists often include more specific items too.

I perceive, therefore I am

This is quite straight forward, and yet has a big impact to the extent it sinks in:

The only thing I know is that perception (awareness, consciousness) is. That’s all. Any content of experience is up for question.

For instance. I know there is experience here. That’s indisputable.

As for the content of this experience, I see a laptop, a room, a fire place, windows, I hear sounds outside, there is a cat here etc. Thoughts interpret my current content of experience in this way, and also adds a human being perceiving all of this, a me sitting here, and so on. And all of that is made up by images and words. It’s all up for questioning. It is, for instance, possible I exist in some sort of Matrix type reality. All of this content of experience may be created for me. It’s perhaps unlikely, but if I am honest I have to admit it’s possible. (And in a loser sense, it’s accurate. My world, as I perceive it, is created for me by this mind, by life.)

Also, I know quite well that as I question my thoughts and assumptions, including the most basic ones of a me and I, what’s revealed is often quite different from how it initially appeared.

So in this sense, Descartes had a point. If we take cogito to mean perception, he was close. I perceive, therefore perception is.

That’s all that’s known. Anything else is up for questioning. (When I wrote “I perceive, therefor I am” in the title, it’s intentionally sloppy – and more aligned with Descarte’s statement. It’s assumed that the “I” in that statement is questioned too, and that even “perception” is questioned. What is the “I” that’s perceiving? Can I find it? What’s left when I see that my images and words of an “I” are not “it”? And if I look, can I really find perception? Can I remove it and show it to someone? Can I take a picture of it and publish it in a magazine?)

Just to mention it: Questioning doesn’t mean not using conventional views as guides for my everyday life. I will still do that. The only difference is that I am open to question even my most basic assumptions, and from that holding them much more lightly. From taking my assumption as true, solid and real, and identifying with them and feeling I need to protect and defend these identities, I recognize them as assumptions and hold them more lightly. And that gives a sense of ease in my life.

Just a thought?

When we see for ourselves, even to some extent, that the sense of separate self, and also space and continuity, and much more, all comes from thoughts, it can be a little shocking at first. After all, we typically see thoughts as just the verbal type, the one that it seems “I” am thinking and producing, consciously. How can that thought create this sense of separate self, and space and continuity, which seems so substantial and real? It doesn’t make sense.

And it doesn’t make sense, because the thoughts producing all these core beliefs and experiences are of a different type. They are not verbal. They are rarely if ever consciously noticed. They are certainly not produced by me, consciously. And they underlie our whole experience of the world, throughout the day and even in our dreams at night.

For me, these thoughts are image thoughts, and they organize a whole elaborate system of other thoughts, which all filter perception in a certain way, making this filtered perception appear very real and substantial. So real, in fact, that it is rarely if ever questioned. And if it is, then usually only in an intellectual way, as a fun idea to play around with.

It is quite different to notice it as it happens, through for instance labeling practice or choiceless awareness, or any other practice that helps us differentiate pure perception and thoughts. (Thoughts themselves are also within the field of perception, but for this purpose it helps to differentiate that one into two.)

Now, we can see the thought image of space overlaid on perception, allowing perception to appear spread out and be localized in particular places in space. We can see how thoughts create the appearance of continuity and time through memories. And we can see how a sense of a separate self is created through image thoughts of a center in space, of an inside and outside, of a subject and object, and other similar ones all contributing to creating a sense of a separate self, and of a doer responsible to thoughts, choices, behaviors and so on.

Impermanence as an idea, and immediate perception

We can explore impermanence in two ways, at least, and both are useful.

First is the exploration of impermanence in the world of thought, and also in terms of what it brings up in terms of emotions and so on. This may be in the form of high level generalization thoughts such as all is impermanent, and then also explorations within thoughts in more specific ways. I can for instance explore my day or my life, or the life of my parents, or my culture, or human civilization, or the Earth, or the Universe, and specifically see how it all changes over time, including how it all will be gone at some point in the future. This is an exploration of impermanence using thoughts of change, continuity, past and future.

To make it a little more real for me, it is helpful to bring it back to my own life. Everything I have experienced in the past is gone and will never come back in the same way. My life is limited. My days are counted, and there is a specific year, day, hour and minute that I will die, although I don’t know what it is. In a hundred year or so, I and everyone I know will be dead. In less than two hundred years, all memories of me will probably be gone, or at least not kept alive much.

In some thousand years, most of what is happening in my lifetime will be forgotten. In some hundreds of thousands of years, or maybe millions of years, humans will be gone, and everything humans have done will be gone and there will be nobody to remember it. In some millions of years, this Earth will be burnt to a crisp and all traces of human civilization will be gone (unless we went to another solar system in the meantime.) In some billions of years, this whole universe will either collapse into a big crunch, or disperse enough to die a slow heat death. Then, at the very least, will all traces of humanity be completely gone, and there will be nobody left to remember it either.

Also, what happens if I have a vivid, felt-sense of knowing that I will die in ten years? In five years? In a year? In six months? In a month? In a week? Tomorrow? Next hour? Next minute? What comes up for me then? How does it reorganize my priorities? What becomes more important? Less important? How would I live my life then?

This way of exploring impermanence can certainly have an effect, especially in terms of my priorities and what seems important in my life. Trying to impress others seems quite a bit less important, because it will all be forgotten and gone in a while anyway. Living a meaningful life, in a way meaningful for me, becomes more important.

The other way to explore impermanence is through how it shows up here and now, in immediate perception.

Since thought creates a sense of continuity, and also tells us that different experiences are the “same” as previous ones, it is helpful to differentiate the sense fields, to explore sight, sound, sensation, smell/taste and thought distinct from each other. By doing that, it becomes easier to notice how all the sense fields are in constant change. What was here a moment ago is utterly and completely gone, only a thought is left at best, a memory, but this thought is here now, brand fresh and new, even if another thought says it looks a lot like a thought from the past.

Everything arising, in each of the sense fields, is fresh and new. A thought may say that it looks similar to a memory of something that was, but that is a story of the past. What it refers to, both as here now and as something happening in the past, is already gone.

This form of exploration undermines the whole tendency to take stories as anything more than a thought, arising here now.  Attachment to stories is weakened, revealing everything arising as awakeness itself.

Imagining a world

As I continue to explore the thoughts through choiceless awareness practice (labeling the six sense fields, including thoughts) it becomes easier to directly see thoughts, and their effects, as they arise here and now. The jumble of perception and thoughts mixed in with each other is differentiated, which makes it easier to see what they are in their selves, and also how they combine to create gestalts.

It is especially interesting to explore the image thoughts, thoughts mimicking the visual field. These are overlaid on most perceptions in different ways, and serve as cues for emotions and reactions, and as a source of material for discursive thoughts.

The basic image thoughts include…

  • Space, a visual image of space overlaid on perceptions, creating a sense of space and of perceptions spread out and located in particular areas of space.
  • Continuity. Or rather, an image of time (past, future, present) with memories of perceptions overlaid onto it. Without this, no sense of continuity.
  • Body image, which serve to map bodily sensations, smell and taste, and other perceptions. Body images also serve as a guide for identifying sensations that can serve as an anchor for a sense of a separate self, and then amplify these sensations when needed through tension, so they are more prominent and even give a sense of solidity to lend to the sense of separate self. And body images also serve in locating thoughts in and around this body, even thought they arise nowhere and everywhere in immediate perception, prior to this particular filter.
  • Separate self image, and an image of a center here and periphery our there. This one is usually anchored to the body image. The body image serves as a guide for where to place the separate self image, and where the center is located in space. Space image > body image > separate self image > center/periphery image > identity images > etc.
  • Identity images, defining how this particular separate self is different from other ones. As soon as there is a sense of separation between this separate self and another, I can find an image to go with it, and see how this image is taken as real and identified with. For instance, there is physical attraction, and I see that images of me as man and the other one as woman is there, triggering the sense of attraction (along with other images saying what is attractive). And in seeing that, the solidity of it falls away (although it is still available to play with).
  • Boundary images, as permeable or more solid, creating an I and Other, and an inside and outside.
  • Metaphors we organize our world by, such as up=good, down=not so good, etc.
  • And even the archetypes in a Jungian sense…. the wise old man, the hero, and so on.

They are all image thoughts, organizing and mapping perception, serving as cues for emotions and reactions, providing material for discursive thought, and much more. And they are all directly seen as they arise, overlaid on naked perception.

Labeling practice is very helpful, which helps me see how image thoughts are placed on top of just about any perception. A sound, then an image of a crow. A sound, an image of a car on the road. A sensation, an image of the ankle. A taste, an image of the mouth and tongue, and an apple.

Simple experiments are also helpful, such as first visualizing my left hand with eyes closed, then move the hand and notice how the image of the hand moves with it, then opening my eyes and notice the perception of the hand with the thought image of the hand overlaid.

Lately, as I go about my daily life, I can especially see how identities only come from image thoughts, overlaid on pure perception.

Visual on visual

During the most recent CSS retreat, the teacher mentioned how thoughts are most embedded in the visual field, as opposed to the other ones (sensations, taste/smell, sound).

When I explored it for myself, I found that thought seems equally “embedded”, or rather laid on top of, each of the sensory fields. In my case, and I assume this is somewhat common, there is a layer of visual thought images put on top of each sensory field: There is a sound, and a faint image of a car is put on top of it. A taste, and an image of the nose/mouth/throat area and an apple. A sensation, and an image of an ankle with a mosquito bite.

This is the same for each sensory field.

What is different, is that with the visual field, visual thought images are put on top of visual perceptions. There is visual on top of visual, which can make it more difficult to differentiate the two.

One way to differentiate, which we did during the retreat, is to close the eyes and become aware of, for instance, the visual thought image of the body, particular body parts, and how they move in anticipation of a movement of the body, or to keep track of current movements of the body. Then, we can open the eyes and get a sense of how the visual thought images are placed on top of the visual perceptions. With some practice, they become quite distinct.

What I take myself to be, is how I experience the world and others

I wrote about this earlier (as with so many of these topics), but it comes up again…

What I take myself to be, in my immediate experience, is how I experience Existence in general… the world, others, and even God.

If I take myself as an object, then that is how I see the rest of existence, including even God in some cases.

If I take myself as a particular identity, narrow even in human terms, then I tend to put others and Existence in general into equally narrow identities.

If I see myself as primarily human and anything in me as universally human, I tend to see others too as primarily human and what comes up in them as universally human.
If I find myself as soul (alive presence), I experience others and the world in general as soul (alive presence).

If I experience myself as timeless, the world appears as happening within the timeless.

If I find myself as void, then the same thing… I see whatever arises as awake void and form.

Of course, these have nothing to do with surface beliefs, those we play around with at an intellectual level… these are the deeper beliefs we operate from, those typically outside of our attention (including those held at the emotional level).