Attention, Awareness and Enjoyment

Attentive observation

by Jayaram V

We hardly live in the present. What we experience in the present is almost always superimposed by the memories of our past. We cannot experience anything and make sense of it, without labeling it, categorizing it, comparing it or contrasting it. Here comes the most significant existential problem of our lives.

We experience reality through our minds and our minds do not perceive reality accurately, as they are subject to many filtering and disruptive mechanisms. Our past is the filter, the accumulated knowledge, through which we experience the current reality. What we experience currently is mostly understood and interpreted in terms of what we already know or what we have already experienced. Hence it is seldom the real reality.

When we live through the windows of our past, there is hardly much scope to enjoy the spontaneity and beauty of life. Jiddu Krishnamurthy, a wise master of modern India, once said something to the effect that there was no true observation if there was an observer. It is true because when we see everything from the colored lenses of our past, there is no actual seeing, but a validation of what we have already seen. He also said that when we looked at something, we were conditioned not to see the thing itself, but invoke a copy of its image stored in our minds and treat it as real.

So, for example, when you see a rose, you actually do not see the rose, but an idea of it or an image of it that is already present in your memory. When one falls in love, one actually does not fall in love with the person, but a glossed over image of that person or an ideal image, which is why when one is in love one hardly sees any flaws in the other person. It is also why human love fades away as quickly as it is formed, once the reality settles in and both sides begin to see each other more clearly and objectively.

We are conditioned to perceive the world this way. It is our normal behavior. It is how we are created and there is little we can do about it, because we to overcome such limitations, we have to use our minds against our minds and that also within the limitations, to which they are subject.

Whatever knowledge we claim for ourselves is but an accumulated knowledge of memories and past impressions, gained through the activity of the senses, which are in themselves limited and arbitrary. While our knowledge is memory based, our experiences are repetitive and conditioned and what we know is not adequate enough to know the unknown. So, as Krishnamurthy said, as long as we are in the field of the known, or within the boundaries of our minds, and rely upon our memories, we do not see the truth or experience it accurately.

To a person familiar with the metaphysical aspects of life, this is a profound revelation. If we observe ourselves carefully to know how we live and experience the reality around us, we realize that actually most of the time we lead repetitive and monotonous lives. Every new experience we undergo is actually a different version of what we know or already experienced. We waddle through life, staying within our comfort zones, preferring to deal with what we already know or familiar with, and when we are forced to experience the unknown and unfamiliar, we suffer from fear and anxiety.

If you are familiar with the concepts of object oriented programming, you will realize that the human mind uses the same objects and a few design models all the time to interpret and classify information. It is as if we have created a framework, in which we want to fit in everything, however unrealistic and difficult it may be.

The mind is geared to perform many complex tasks and remain alert to external threats, as a part of our survival mechanism. It has to deal with a lot of raw information that keeps coming continuously through the senses and process it efficiently, without getting lost in the details. Since it is impossible to do everything in a short time, it usually employs various filtering mechanisms, generalizations and over simplifications to minimize effort and maximize efficiency and yet give us a feeling of continuity, experience and awareness.

In the course of our daily lives, we do not pay attention to many things that happen around us and when we pay attention, we do not perceive them correctly. We see the world mostly in terms of our beliefs, assumptions, previous knowledge and states of mind. So the world, which we see and which we believe to be the real world, is actually an assumptive world. We may see the same object differently at different times, depending upon what is going on through our minds. When we look at things, we do not look at them with complete attention, as if we are seeing it for the first time, as if we have never seen it, as if it is unique and independent of all that we know and experienced. Unfortunately, since we do not have enough time for such detailed and thorough observations, we make up things, fill up the blanks and mix our imagination with reality.

Thus we go through life in predictable ways, confining ourselves to the known and the familiar, losing things, the moment we perceive them and letting our past images and impressions replace them to give us the impression of reality. To focus on things, in which we are particularly interested, we allow our minds to shut down what is not necessary and what we consider to be inconsequential and irrelevant. While such selectivity helps us to resolve the problem of information overflow, it also limits our experiences, our perception of the world and our understanding of it. Unfortunately there is no way we can perceive the world and experience it differently, other than through our minds and senses, and as long as we depend upon them we are subject to their limitations and the conditioning to which they are subject.

Source: Reproduced partially from the article, "Becoming Aware of Yourself" from the book Think Success by Jayaram V. You may purchase this book from our online store

Suggestions for Further Reading

About Think Success: In 44 well written articles presented in this books, you are introduced to a treasure trove of transformational wisdom. By following the suggestions given in this book, you can achieve success and happiness and live. It is written by Jayaram V, author of several books and hundreds of essays about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Spirituality and Self-help. This book is currently available at our Online Store (for residents of USA, Canada, UK and some other countries only).

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