To think about consciousness, there must be a subject in mind. When a flower is perceived we often see it from a side of its own: The flower is X variety because it resembles the traits commonly associated with it as such. We tend to see its existence when the flower is perceived. When the flower is not perceived, say, when you turn your back to the flower, what is it? We chuckle at the foolishness of a child who responds surprisingly during peek-a-boo. How are you being foolish?
“The appearance is the reality when it is understood properly.”1 We are conditioned to interpret phenomena from a lens of oneself. Understanding how this unfolds in moment-to-moment life is important: If we do not understand the appearance, we cannot effectively (we cannot actually) communicate; we bounce around saying things that make sense to our self but are incoherent to others. Try this: Ask a friend to stand by a window next to you and look outside. Ask him what he is looking at. Does your gaze match what he is saying, or, does your gaze quickly find exactly what he is peering at? When we believe the world exists from our self’s perspective our language is masked, our message is unclear, our connection is lost, we both become agitated.
Why is the appearance frequently not understood? The Buddha said, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” Knowing how to distinguish a poisonous flower from a non-poisonous one is important so that we can express gratitude to someone by gifting a beautiful bouquet that will not harm her. We need to be able to distinguish the weather so on snowy days we wear suitable footwear. We step ourselves into suffering because we often imbue permanence onto the subject. We may be shocked when our friend cannot be near the beautiful flowers you brought her because of an allergy. When I tell my friend today is a perfect day to wear sandals, I will be taken aback when I see him wearing wool socks and thick boots. Understand perceptions; they can be useful but are never completely capital T true.
Apparently so or not, we are always attentive to something—the object of our perception may be appropriate or inappropriate (fully aware and unbiased to this moment, or drifting off from the here and now):
Objects of the mind are us. The objects are us particularly when we identify with them. Identifying with objects of the mind often results in acting on them, but it does not mean we must follow that equation. The objects are impermanent. They are manifestations arising from the imprints of past conditioning. As these elements coalesce, there is still time to recognize them, acknowledge them, and befriend them before acting on them. This is done through awareness; just be aware. Validate their existence, not their intent. After all, all things arise, abide, and cease. Do not apply permanence to impermanent things. Their power originates from identifying them as not-me. “We believe things exist outside of us as separate entities, but these objects of our own perceptions are us.”2 “It is a deep and powerful aspect of human karmic tendency to try and externalize emotion and focus on judging and trying to control apparently external objects so that we may feel well.”3 With practice and continued effort, we learn that this is “ineffective at promoting wellness.”4
Practice with this by questioning your perspectives. Understand that we must rely on our feelings, but, overwhelmingly, we are unskilled at interpreting them for peacefulness in our self, the harmony of others, and the benefit of interconnected everything.
1. Nagarjuna’s Twelve Gate Treatise, Introduction; pg. xiv
2. The Heart of the Buddha’s teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh; pg. 80-81
3. Inside Vasubandhu’s Yogachara, Ben Connelly; pg. 76
4. See #3