One thing I find interesting about the Buddhist perspective is the acknowledgement that we don’t have much of a clue what’s actually going on.
As far as we can tell, impressions come in through our senses. What we experience is limited to what our senses can perceive and how well they perceive them. So the colours you see will be different from the ones I see. And the ones we both see will be different from someone who can’t see at all.
On the other end of the spectrum, none of us can hear beyond a certain range of frequencies. This doesn’t mean that ultrasonic frequencies don’t exist. Or infra red for that matter. And who knows what else is out there.
Once the impressions enter through our ‘sense organs’ as Buddhism calls them, they are logged by our mind/brain. The Buddhist abhidharma says that there is a ‘sense-consciousness’ for each ‘sense organ’. The sense consciousness is conscious of the data coming in through that sense.
From there, our mind/brain interprets that sense impression. And from there, we decide how we feel about it. And from there we have a more complicated feeling, called an ’emotion’. This is something beyond ‘like’, ‘don’t like’ or ‘don’t care’.
If we ‘like’, generally craving for more of that sense impression will arise and we move towards. If we don’t like, we’ll probably experience aversion and pull away from that experience.
This is happening hundreds of times every second, through all our senses. And in this way, we live out our life. We aren’t seeing reality. We’re responding to our own interpretations of what our own brain makes of what our own senses are telling us.
Some of it, we can’t do much about. We have the apparatus we have. It’s in whatever condition it’s in.
But how we make sense of that stuff is, to some extent, up to us.
According to Buddhism, we’ll have a tendency to feel certain ways about certain things, because of past habits we’ve built up – both in this life and in previous lives.
I’m not going to get into that stuff in this post.
The thing I’m interested in here, is some of the language we use to describe this subjective experience to ourselves. Because on top of our interpretations, the words we use have a power all of their own.
If we pan out from individual sense impression and look at ‘global’ experiences – how we experience the world in more general terms – we can notice patterns.
How do you feel about life? Is it tough or easy? Safe or dangerous? Fun or boring?
Are people fundamentally good or bad? Enjoyable to meet or not?
What is this based on?
When we look at this stuff, with some degree of mindfulness, we can start to do a ‘stocktake’ of our attitudes. If we do some work with ourselves, we can start to identify the references we used to arrive at these global beliefs.
Believing the opposite
What we tend to find is that we formed global beliefs based on relatively few experiences. Probably experiences that happened quite a while ago.
We then project that belief onto the present. And we look for evidence that backs it up.
A simple practice is, for one day, decide to believe that the opposite is true. If you think life is hard, decide that life is easy. Look for evidence of this truth throughout the day. You’ll be amazed at what you notice.
Some Buddhist schools call this our ‘karmic view’. There’s more to it than what I’m talking about here, but essentially, it’s the habitual things we notice and don’t notice. This shapes our world. It’s a fantasy world. We didn’t consciously choose it, but we chose it nonetheless.
Which fantasy did you choose? How well does it serve you? In what ways could you tweak it?
Some views you might choose to test out:
1. Life is fun
2. Money is everywhere
3. I attract people I’m attracted to effortlessly
4. The right things and experiences come to me
5. When I put effort in, I achieve my goals
6. People are kind