brown man face figurine

You can call ‘em like you see ‘em, but  . . .

In language (spoken and not) there is the beguiling illusion of permanence through the repetition of names for “objects” in awareness. But these manouvers are better understood as simplified labels for complex, ongoing events — “the sunrise” or “the employees” — as if things so named were fixed and complete, never not matching their names. 

Speech that refers to or categorizes objects (nouns, adjectives) appears to lend substance to, or even become the things referred to, or rather they seem to become identified with their names, and we promptly forget that the labels are mere abstractions, placeholders in memory for the ongoing flood of available perceptions gleaned from experiences. 

Mental objects are not facts. Properly attended to, no experience — no thing — persists, much less repeats. Yet the shorthand trick, the schema or caricature of naming things, has great utility and is in practice necessary for ordinary use and reflection — “It’s a lovely sunrise, isn’t it?” or “We need better-skilled employees.”  But if we mistake the tool for reality, forgetting the trick, then naming becomes identification bias, lies perpetrated against facts as they are — which is to say, changing. Then we cease to pay close attention, which, if it were unconstrained, would allow the “things” in awareness to continue on as events instead of as (impossible) objects. 

Freedom from the identification bias that so seamlessly accompanies labeling (making something now “the known”), is hard-won. The already-known, the automatic thought, is the enemy of renewable attention. Yet the ability to direct and redirect attention, at will and even without intending to, is the defining behavior of any mind (even if that mind is not self-consciously able to observe its mental behaviors), and the evolved purpose of all this effort is both good and needed — which is to be alert to opportunities and risks at all waking times.  

Dropping the bias of the known, ceasing identification and objectification, however briefly, allows attention to notice even that the habitual self —  the “me” of experience — is merely another object that arises mentally through labeling. It employs a schema we call “my self.” Yet the assumed persistence of the thing called me stifles the freedom to change and is at the same time the most intimate and sacred of falsehoods.

error: Content is protected