brown man face figurine

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

In language (thought and spoken) there is the beguiling illusion that “objects” in awareness are actual things that exist more or less permanently just because their names don’t change. The label is a thing, but it cannot be the thing. Names are useful as simplified labels for complex, ongoing events — “the sunrise” or “the employees” or “myself” — but it’s a mistake to treat the named stuff as static, never not matching the names. 

Describing objects (nouns, adjectives) seems to lend substance to, or even become, the things. When something is identified by name, we promptly forget that the labels are mere placeholders in memory for the ongoing flood of available observations. 

Mental objects are not facts. Experiences are not facts. The self is not a fact. No experience — no thing — persists, much less repeats. Yet the shorthand trick 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, lies perpetrated against facts as they are — which is to say, changing. But close attention, if it were not so limited, would allow the “things” in awareness the freedom to continue on – to evolve – as events instead of as facts. 

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, is the defining behavior of any free mind (even for my dogs, who are not self-consciously studying their own behaviors, or thinking about thinking, or, blessedly, demanding their own identity-fixing pronouns). 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.  

Being awake while dropping the assumptions attached to labels, ceasing identification and objectification, however briefly, allows us to notice even that the self —  the “me” of experience — is not a thing, but merely another event that transpires, and keeps on doing that, plus some continuity supplied by memories. 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 our falsehoods.

error: Content is protected