Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Sunday, February 5, 2006day link 

picture Once in a while I wake up and notice something I haven't noticed for a long time. Some small thing. Like the contents of the stack of paper I have lying next to me on my desk. When I actually looked at it last month, I realized that it was mostly just some old papers I hadn't decided exactly where to file, some unopened letters that weren't important, and some notes on stuff I had to do on some particular day, last year. Nothing important, really. But, for several years, that stack has been lying there next to me, symbolizing that I had a lot of stuff to do, and that I was busy, and fairly disorganized.

And then, when one actually is present, things become very simple and obvious. That stack of paper disappeared in a half hour, and it becomes abundantly obvious that the right thing to do is deal with things when they happen, and not letting old unprocessed stuff lie around, cluttering things up. And, ok in this case, my desk has remained clear and organized since then. But that's usually not what happens. It is easy to stop noticing that which one noticed before. It is easy to forget being present.

I might suddenly remember something or someone or somewhere. Like, my home when I grew up, somebody I went to school with, or some particular thing I took great joy in earlier in my life. And I suddenly remember, and I also notice that I haven't thought of it for maybe 10 years. And I marvel at that. I rediscover something that has great meaning for me, and I really GET it, and I feel awake and alive. And at the same time I feel like a robot who's asleep most of the time. Because, it seems, there are certain things I will notice only once every 10 years. Things that are wonderful and important and meaningful to who I am. But I forget them again. Every 10 years, that would mean I'd think it another 3 or 4 times before I die. That's sort of depressing.

What I'm saying is that I'm doing most things on automatic. Some things I'm good at, some things I'm not, and I still keep doing them. And only once in a rare while do I actually pay attention. Meaning, I become present and conscious of what I'm doing. And I'm actually in a position to change it. You know, to change something, you have to at least be conscious of what is there. Once you see what is here, you might actually decide what else you'd like to be there, or where else you'd like to go.

It is something one is likely to do piecemeal. I.e. I might be quite present and aware of certain aspects of my life, and quite able to make good decisions about it, while other aspects are thoroughly forgotten. And at other times it changes, or various things pop up once in a while and suddenly, wow, I get it, why didn't I look at that before.

But the sum of that awareness, that presence, that consciousness, that clarity of mind, it doesn't really add up to a whole hell of a lot. Sort of like I might add it up over my life, and it is like I've only really been present for a few hours, or a few days. Seems like a waste, to go to all that trouble, and then not really pay attention.

Oh, it is not black and white. Of course I've been conscious enough to do many things, and of course I have to be partially present to write this here. But, truthfully, I can write inspiring philosophical essays while half asleep. I'm talking about something more.

What if you actually could be fully present here and now, fully conscious, keenly perceptive, and you could do that all the time?

OK, some people will wonder what the hell I'm talking about. Sounds like nonsense if you haven't particularly noticed any difference between being aware of BEING or not being aware of being. Sounds like just some new age mumbo jumbo if you haven't actually ever noticed that you exist. And, it is fascinating, but many people haven't really realized that they exist. Probably a majority of humanity is people who haven't ever been conscious of their own existence, of if they have, they've thoroughly forgotten.

The culprit is the mind. Both our strongest asset and our prison. We can think abstractly, which allows us to do amazing things. And it allows us to trap ourselves in stuff that isn't really there. It allows us to make abstract ideas as real or more real than what is really there.

The mind stores and processes incoming perceptions, and it stores and processes abstract representations of what things mean, and extrapolatons of what those abstract representations mean.

That allows you to learn about and influence circumstances way outside your local area of what you can directly perceive. For example, it allows you to be able to vote. That's a terribly abstract thing. You most likely haven't actually met any of the people involved, and you don't have any direct experience with any of the issues that are considered important. Your vote won't directly do anything either, but you can feel that you're part of something meaningful, and it does make a difference. Now, you could only do that because you have some fairly complex abstract models of cause and effect and connections and probabilities in your mind. Most likely they're ridiculously over-simplified, but you do have some structure there that tells you something.

But this abstract mental stuff easily gets to mean that you spend all your time doing stuff your mind tells you to do, and zero time actually looking for yourself.

Yes, I know, if you think that you ARE a mind, such a statement makes no sense. Even worse, if you think you're a brain, you've already locked yourself away and thrown away the key.

There's a certain circular reasoning thing which makes minds get out of hand. You prove abstract ideas only with other abstract ideas. That works some of the time. But if one has gotten so used to taking certain abstract ideas as The Truth, one forgets at some point that they're just ideas, and one no longer checks in with reality.

I'm saying we pretty much all do that, but you can see it most dramatically at the extremes, with people who're very religious or who're very scientifically, materialistically oriented. In the fundamentalist way. I.e. people who wouldn't recognize reality if it bit them in the nose, but who live inside a mental structure, and who deny the existence of anything that isn't situated and labeled within that structure.

But most people in the "civilized" world go around spending most of their energy on keeping up with abstract ideas. All your "shoulds". You should get up in the morning, get the kids to school, go to work, have meetings, file reports, do shopping, pay your bills, etc. Most of which you aren't doing because it is what is in front of you, but because of some mental structure you have in your mind. A structure that will predict the consequences of not doing some of those things, so you do the logical thing, and you do them.

But, back to my point. You're so busy being busy that you aren't even there most of the time. OK, maybe you are, so I'll speak for myself. I will frequently catch myself in not having been present for an extended period of time.

You know, how you find yourself in your driveway, having driven home, maybe from work, maybe something you do every day. And you notice that you weren't present the whole way, and you don't remember the trip at all. Maybe you were busy thinking about something, and that's where your awareness was. But you still drove the car perfectly fine, for a half hour, through rush hour traffic.

I'm talking about that in your life. Despite going through the motions somewhat successfully, you suddenly wake up and realize, where was I?

And, to get to the point, the ability of actually being fully present here and now is what we could call "enlightenment". Oh, I'm sure one could define it different ways, but I find that the most useful. You have somehow transcended your identification with the mind, plugged into a fundamental source of peace of mind, and you can comfortably be present here and now, without having to have anywhere else to go.

That's not necessarily any hocus pocus spiritual thing that you will attain after 33 years of chanting. Probably is a terribly simple and pragmatic thing. Just being present and not giving in to mental delusions. Noticing what is really going on, what is really there in front of you, and what is really there inside of you, and not obsessively overlaying a lot of opinions and filters and 'shoulds' on top of it.

Anyway, this is just a note to myself, to BE more of the time, and to not put up with being absent. To pursue enlightenment, although I strongly suspect it can't really be pursued. There's nowhere else to go to. It is right here, right now. No fancy technique or secret knowledge to learn. And that's a hard one. Would be so much easier if one could just go and take a class. No, one actually has to pay attention, really pay attention, be quiet and notice the obvious.
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 Islands for Sale
Here you'll find a bunch of islands for sale around the world. Starting one's own country on a tropical island is a nice dream. Seems like $28,500 will get you started. (Via BoingBoing)
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