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  • Writer's pictureRishika

Seeing what Is

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

"Ceci n'est pas une pipe." (This is not a pipe.)
Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" reminds us that meaning is assigned by the mind -- a picture of a pipe is not a pipe.

The very first lesson in A Course in Miracles states: Nothing I see means anything.

And your first thought is probably, "How can that be? Of course it means something. That chair has meaning, without it I could not sit. That person has meaning, without them I would be lost. This ring means I'm married..." and etc.

But what the mind construes as "meaning" in the above examples is simply its own interpretation, memory, understanding, or current narrative associated with whatever the eyes rest upon. We understand the world through our stories of the things or our experiences of the things as opposed to seeing the things objectively, as they actually are, which is meaning-less.

If you'd never seen or sat in a chair before, you might not know what its assigned purpose was ... it would simply be a new object to regard, and the sight of it would arouse no particular emotion, or any expectations as to its use. The "meaning" of someone you love would quickly change if they betrayed you. The wedding ring's "meaning" is lost when the marriage ends.

Why is this important? Because releasing the meaning that our minds assign to things is the first step in healing our perception of the world, which for nearly all of us is badly distorted. We tend to assume meaning where it is absent, or miss what actually is present, because we have been trained to view the world in a particular way which we can generally refer to as "consensus reality." In consensus reality certain things are considered "good," others "bad," ...and any situation in which we find ourselves is quickly assessed, using our previous experiences as a template. The process is automatic, habitual, and deeply entrenched. In yoga, we consider these to be examples of samskara, the mental "grooves" of programming worn into the brain, by which it likes to operate.

Assigning meaning to things can make life more digestible, certainly. It helps us quickly sort people and things into categories of "helpful/unhelpful," "friendly/dangerous," and innumerable others. Without it we would have to spend unnecessary time relearning things (like how to use a chair) all over again. But it also makes us lazy thinkers and leads to harmful phenomena like stereotyping and mistaken assumptions about other people's motives.

Such mistakes can lead to conflict. Our habit of assigning meaning also contributes greatly to the phenomenon of projection, in which we unconsciously displace traits we can't acknowledge in ourselves onto others -- and then attack what we think we see in them. Which is, in fact, only ourselves.

Assigning meaning to things can make life more digestible ...But it also makes us lazy thinkers and leads to harmful phenomena like stereotyping and mistaken assumptions about other people's motives.

In this way we create suffering for ourselves and others due to our inability to see with precision. It's why Jesus refused to judge and reject the people others would see as undesirable: beggars, thieves, prostitutes, lepers ... because whenever we judge others, we are unable to see them compassionately, as expressions of Divinity. We fail to recognize that they are vessels for the very same Divine Essence that animates ourselves. Instead we see only the meaning or judgment that the mind has assigned. Given that we are almost always projecting as well, we are in fact judging aspects of ourselves.

Hence, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

The human ego tends to have a difficult time with this idea. Because we are steeped in maya, the illusion that reality consists of objects that are separate from each other, our minds have grown comfortable with believing that we are different from one other, that we can judge them or rank ourselves as "better" or "worse," "sinner" or "righteous," or any other definitions we care to apply. We fail to see that we are One. And so, we create mutual suffering.

The good news is that we can unlearn this habit by stopping frequently to question our assumptions. We can actively look for a mistake in our perception and, having found one, discard it in favor of seeing only the Divine -- no matter the presentation or behavior of its vessel.

Our practice asks: Can you see what truly Is? Can you see the other clearly, with the Divine sight that knows we are all One? This is the beginning of the end of suffering.

As an example, the next time you find yourself in a disagreement with a loved one, stop and reassess. Ask: What assumptions as to motive have I made that might not be correct? Which of my unhealed issues (with this person, myself, or anyone else) might I be reacting to rather than the actual issue at hand? And here's a really important one: What am I defending? The answer can be many things but as you dive down through the layers of reactivity, you'll usually end up at the ego.

A friend of mine once stayed in my home for a vacation that went on a little too long, and we began to get on each other's nerves. After a while a series of small misunderstandings began to snowball into something more toxic. My friend began to snap at me for seemingly little things, which I chose to absorb and ignore because my friend had just left a rocky romantic relationship. One day the snapping escalated into a full blown attack that, due to the relentless tension that I had allowed to build by not addressing the situation earlier, I found myself responding to in ways I was not proud of, and an argument ensued.

At some point during our bickering, I realized that my friend's complaints had literally nothing to do with me, but were the same complaints my friend had expressed to me about the ex-partner's behavior. The why of it all doesn't matter -- it's quite possible the ex and I shared certain traits or behaviors -- but the actual things I found myself accused of, I literally had not done. I saw instead that my friend was re-litigating unresolved issues with the ex-partner by projecting them onto me.

Not long thereafter, my friend initiated a dramatic "breakup" with me that mirrored the one that had just happened with the ex-partner. Although I felt disappointed to lose a friend, understanding that it had little to do with me personally diminished any suffering I might otherwise have indulged in. I let my friend go in peace. Had such a thing happened earlier in my life, by contrast, I likely would have wasted many hours beating myself up, wondering what I could have done or said differently, or bemoaning my ineptitude at being a friend. Seeing with clarity made all of this unnecessary.

You might argue that my labeling my friend's attack as projection is also a form of assigning meaning, and you would be correct. At deeper levels of Truth, such a thing becomes completely unnecessary. At the deepest level of Truth, there was only the Divine One present behind and beneath both of our egos the whole time. The bickering and drama belonged to no one in particular, but were just a little turbulence on the surface of a vast and unfathomable sea of Peace, in whose depths there is no separation, no judgment, no accusation, no attack, no guilt.

So our practice can be to move gradually (for overwriting the grooves of our samskaras takes considerable time) from our unconscious habit of assigning habitual meaning to people and situations toward seeing with absolute precision. We don't usually get there overnight, but do this through ever-deepening Awareness. When attacked, can you see through another's attack to the truth of their own suffering, and behind even that, their own Divinity? When you find yourself attacking, can you question where the attack really comes from? Is it germane to the present situation or is it instead some old habit or wounding that wants to be seen, and healed?

Can you refuse to condemn either the other or yourself but instead recognize the conflict as a call to healing, and to love? When we do this we See what Is. We see as Jesus saw/sees. We see with the eyes of the Divine. This is what we call Christ Consciousness. And embodying it is the best, and perhaps only, way to heal ourselves and the world.

Namaste, Rishika


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