One fish said to the other:
"Do you believe in this ocean that they talk about?"
This ancient Chinese saying well illustrates how narrow our vision of the world and the universe can be. We see the world from our limited perceptual framework. Despite evolution of our race, an average human mind is severely restricted by what it can perceive through the senses. What we hear is limited by the frequency our ears can process; dogs can hear many higher frequencies and hence, have a very different perception of the sounds out there.
Our sight is limited by the light frequencies our eyes can relate to; since pit vipers can sense heat from infrared rays (like night vision goggles), they must view the same world very differently. If we had a different mechanism, we would be seeing things differently. From our knowledge of science, we know so many things are just not what they appear — earth is not flat, the ground below us is not stationery and the sun doesn't rise in the east.
The fact is that we see and hear what we can and not what the reality is. The world out there is an unprocessed and formless data, waiting to be interpreted by us. The human nervous system takes in only the minutest proportion of the total energy vibrating in the environment. Research shows that each conscious moment is actually comprised of many much smaller and unconscious "mini" moments, each appearing and disappearing rapidly.
According to Buddhist texts, it takes 17 mind-moments for a cognitive experience to register. As Marshall Glickman describes in his book 'Beyond the Breath': "This happens so quickly that we experience a steady state of consciousness, just as a movie appears seamless even though it's made of many quickly flashed still photos." We are so engrossed in this fascinating movie that we are unable to step aside to distinguish between the movie and the reality.
Besides the limitation in our ability to pick up the absolute truth in the first place, our perceptions are further clouded by our own thoughts and emotions. It is believed that 20% of what we see is objective data and the rest is a projection, biased by our thoughts and emotions. Neuroscientists highlight that the electrical impulses that reach our retina must also interact with the thinking and the emotional parts of the brain. Thus, we don't see a mosaic of blue, white and colorless space, but sky and clouds.
As French author Anais Nin said, "We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are" — our thoughts and emotions project their own hues and colours to whatever we observe. We are also quick to dole out intrinsic qualities to things and people, thinking "this is beautiful, that is ugly," without being cognizant of the fact that these attributes are assigned by our mind. As a Buddhist verse says: "Is anything on earth universally and unanimously recognized as beautiful? For a lover, a beautiful woman is an object of desire; for the hermit, a distraction; for the wolf, a good meal."
As we gain deeper insight, we learn that the smallest units of energy are just in free flow thought it all. We create a three-dimensional world from what is a continuum of free flowing energy, comprising of electrons and neutrons. Like the fish in the Chinese saying, when we cannot see this continuum, we notice the separate parts of the creationthe trees, the animals, the objects —as disjointed from us, which in turn make us feel separate from the whole. The question is would a tree falling in a forest make any sound, if there was no one to hear it? It's our presence and perception that gives way to the formation of reality as observed by us.
What is the truth then and how do we experience it? The powerful thing is that among all the living beings, only human beings have the ability to comprehend and experience this reality. We can get initiated into grasping this reality by starting to reach out to our inner awareness.
This inner awareness is not the mind, nor our thoughts; it's the consciousness which allows us to observe the mind, and our thoughts and emotions. It's this awareness which allows us to remember parts of a dream even when we are asleep. If we close our eyes and just observe the thoughts that arise in our mind, it's the inner awareness which allows us to notice these thought patterns. While it's easy for us to initially get swept away by the thought patterns and not be able to observe, steadily we can begin to recognize the observer as distinct from the thinking mind and the actor. We can then discover that this awareness is like a mirror — it only reflects what the mind is going through, without any projections of its own.
This inner awareness is who we really are. In our normal life, we are so busy with external stimulus that we lose connection with our true self. As we become more attuned to this awareness, we begin to get closer to understanding our own reality — which in turn allows us to better comprehend the truth out there.
Meditation can be greatly helpful in building deeper clarity as well. When we feel connected to this inner awareness, we realize that this awareness is never born, never dies; it's vast and is in no way limited to time and space. We can then start to comprehend that this awareness is omnipresent, and governs everything; all of us are made of it, and are not discreet individuals, but just parts of a continuum of awareness.
It's similar to knowing that God is in each one of us, and we are part of the same whole. Interestingly, this does not take us away from the regular worldly life but helps us live with greater joy and fulfillment.
As we make a conscious effort to stay connected with our inner awareness and our true self, we become better equipped to playing our roles as a businessman, doctor, husband, father or a friend.
This knowledge facilitates us to be like an actor who plays his role with sincerity but stays mindful through the movie that he is really not the character he's playing — and thus not overly identify with the privileges and adversities of the dramatis personae.