– The mind as “reality-processor” –
Our minds have been trained to accept only the prepackaged and filtered. We can’t handle the raw stuff anymore. But awareness can.
We sat at Punta Arena, having breakfast, watching probably a thousand Cormorants feeding in the distance, when they suddenly all took off and flew toward us, passing us very low over the ocean only 30 feet away. It was quite still, almost no wind, and we could feel the air vibrating from their wings, thrumming like a musical instrument. It was as if a warm, powerful radiation emanated from this almost endless stream of birds so close by. A faint, wild smell wafted our way.
It lasted for quite a while. The sound of two thousand wings filled the stillness. It wasn’t really that spectacular, but when it subsided we sat as if something extraordinary had happened. It was a mystical experience.
Although it was objectively not that dramatic, I was in awe. I was sure I had never seen something quite like this. Everything seemed strangely new, unknown. As usual, there was this old universal urge to relate, to compare; the mind scanning the memory for reference, for past experiences it can relate this to. But somehow, this time it did not work. There are moments when this doesn’t work, when the experience passes through, pristine, unchanged, unprocessed, no reference found, no context established. Quite reluctantly and someway “unbelieved” it arrives in the consciousness in a raw, unfamiliar, pure state – the full experience, just as it is, in its total truth, without label or name. I was overwhelmed; I was in awe. I felt a mystical presence.
I call this “overwhelming” because it overwhelms our well trained system that deals with experiences. This system does nothing but judging, filtering, comparing, evaluating, nothing but thinking and dealing with the thoughts we have about the experience instead of with the experience itself. Thinking is creating a reality instead of experiencing reality.
Awe takes place when the raw material that arrives at our sensory doors suddenly makes it through the system without manipulation. This happens mostly kind of accidentally, in those rare moments when the judging doesn’t work because the sensory information is simply too new, “unjudgable”. Or it can happen when the mind is found somehow off guard, or when we are able to control this, when we’ve learned to gently but deliberately override the totalitarian dictate of the mind to judge and compare and dare to trust the experience just as it is. When we dare to simply let things be, resisting the old entrenched routine to try to put things “into some order”.
We may think: “oh this is nice”, but when you are in awe ‘nice‘ doesn’t even come close to what it is. We may think “this is really impressive”, but that is also just another empty word for something that is clearly beyond words. When we are in awe we are indeed speechless. However, quite often states of awe are not dramatic at all.
The mind finds these states threatening. We don’t believe what we think when we are in awe. And believing here means reacting on sensual input with a set of ideas, with a concept that only appears real because it feels comfortable. This fascination of the mind with its own creation is what I call believing. Believing is nothing but merely psychological comfort.
We mostly think that we perceive reality, but as soon as we “think”, what we think about is not reality anymore. The mind could be seen as a “reality-processor”. First, it receives real sensual input, the true information, what is. But this truth is by no means what is registered and used for decision-making. It is not trusted, not believed. Only by comparing this information to memory, by checking how it relates to what it already knows the mind creates “processed information”, an interpretation of the truth, that, which finally makes enough sense to be taken for real. All this remains deeply unconscious. Then, in the end, it presents an “experience” in the conscious state that is of course everything but true. The mind creates an edited version of reality. Our brain produces its interpretations of reality without ever consulting us. The only world that we know – as presented to us by the brain – is always a “manipulated photo”, a revised and edited version of the original.
And all this is driven by fear: the general pessimistic scheme of the mind to principally suspect danger with every change in the outside conditions. Our mind is a natural pessimist. As a form of self-defense, probably left over from our primitive ancestors‘ need to be constantly alert for outside threats, it evolved to expect and anticipate the worst. In order to survive in an intrinsically hostile environment that vigilant negativism, that evolutionary bias towards pessimism, helped our ancestors maintain a “ready-to-defend attitude”. The brain seems indeed better prepared for the unexpected when it anticipates unpleasant possibilities. The brain continuously monitors and measures the conditions of the environment and compares what it sees to what it knows. And what it knows means: what it remembers, what it has learned.
So thinking is an extremely successful survival technique, we wouldn’t last long without it. However, it’s far from knowing the truth. In order to see the truth we have to risk our lives in a way. We have to overcome the primeval fear that unprocessed, raw information might be dangerous, that it must be considered potentially threatening, until it is processed, judged, and compared, and only then taken for real.
A mystical experience is such a moment when we are in direct contact with the ultimate unspeakable, unthinkable reality. Mystical vision – as J. Carse says – is the way the soul sees. It has no object, you don’t really see with your eyes. With your eyes you think to see facts. When you see with your eyes you want nothing less than see God. The soul, however, knows that if the Devine were to appear, your eyes would not recognize it.
The eyes, and thereby the mind may see the wonder, but they take the mystery personally, they feel challenged and want to conquer the mystery; demystification is the purpose of the mind. For the soul, there is no separation between self and the mystery. The mystic is content to bask in the same wonder and revel in a mystery without feeling a need to do anything about it.
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A tiny ant wrestling a huge butterfly wing. At first I saw just the wing moving over the rock, the ant was hidden under it; it carried the damn thing all by itself and moved it over every conceivable obstacle.
Miguel plays music on a barrel cactus. The spikes of this cactus make a guitar-like sound when you strum them. With some practice you can pick certain spikes of particular length that make a specific note and can actually play a melody.
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Look at things not as them being the things themselves, but as manifestations of a mystery: the idea of a mystery is what it’s all about.
Klaus Feb. 20. 2010