Mind-full of oranges
On Saturday I spotted this video, sort of an Alan Watts mashup, on mindfulness. It’s worth watching, as it talks briefly about what we’re discussing. This won’t show up in the e‑mail, so to watch it, click here.
So, last week, we looked at a suggestion or two about what mindfulness looks like, and where suffering comes from. This week, I want to give you another suggestion, so that you start to both appreciate and notice what your mind does, and what realm the mind operates in.
Buddhism’s 6 consciousnesses
In addition to the normal 5 senses, Buddhism adds in “mental consciousness.”
These things make up the 6:
eyes — sight,
ears — hearing,
tongue — taste,
nose — smell,
body — sensations, and
the sixth, mind — mental formations.
The first 5 operate one way, the 6th, another. That we are unaware of the reality of the difference between sensory input, and our thoughts about it/them, and how they operate, is samsara (ignorance and confusion, leading to suffering.)
Rather than get all philosophical, I’d like you to do an experiment, for which you will need an orange.
Please, go get an orange!
I’ll wait until you get back, (sound of twiddling thumbs and the occasional sigh…) Or, if you must, grab another piece of fruit.
Set the orange down. Look at it. See how the light reflects off of it. Look at the colour, texture, and all the little pore-like thingies. Really look.
Now, scrape your fingernail along the skin, and listen to the sound. Pierce the skin, and start peeling, and direct your attention to the sound of peeling, then to the sound of separating the segments.
Go back to looking, seeing how the orange pieces look.
Bring the skin to your nose, and smell it. Set it down. Bring a segment to your nose, and smell it. Give it a little squeeze, and smell again.
Squish one of the segments in your fingers, and really feel the pulp, juice, and any seeds or pith.
Pop a segment into your mouth, and chew it slowly. See if you can take 5 minutes to eat one segment. Really taste it!
Take another segment, and rub it on your arm or leg, or just get creative, and use your body to feel the orange section.
Now, stop, and go either wash or hose off. (Again, I’ll wait until you get back…)
Now, let’s think about what just happened.
I may be orange,
but I’m not the orange…
You’ve likely not thought about this before, but your eyes only provide visual data, your tongue provides taste data, etc. You can’t hear with your eyes, in other words. This may seem obvious, now that you think about it(!) but humour me.
Let’s go back to the orange. The only orange you have ever seen is the one right in front of you. The same is so for all sense data. All sense data happens in the here and now, and never anywhere else.
So, what I hear now is what I hear now.
None of your sense organs did anything other than what they do. Your eyes, your ears, did not name the orange, nor did they tell stories about the orange (where it came from, what it tastes like, etc.) The sense organs only present to “you” sense data by converting what they are aware of into electrical impulses, which are “read and interpreted” by our brains.
Data, then, like to object perceived, is empty — it “just is.” All interpretation is done by your mind, which only deals in phantoms, abstractions, and thoughts.
What you think about what you see, therefore, is not equal to what you see!
On to the 6th consciousness — mental formations. As your senses operate (in the here and now) your mind takes in the data. It compares the data to other data. Here’s the hard part: data is data, and therefore not real! Mind does not experience here and now—it’s too busy analyzing, judging, and contrasting. As soon, then, as you start a mental formation (a mental game) you exit the present moment and fall into imagination.
Here’s a quote from a Tricycle article on this topic — I’m borrowing heavily from the article.
This is the important point to recognize: Thoughts do not perceive anything directly; they cannot perceive the actual, unique object. They can only impute generalities and unclear abstractions. In contrast, the five senses do directly perceive specific things, but they do not make conceptual judgements about them.
(Tricycle Spring 2010, “The Path of Faith and The Path of Reasoning, ” p 74, Gyamtso)
A few months back, a client was telling me a long story about what was going to happen in a future situation. I tried in vain to help him to understand that, despite all of the data (what he’d heard and seen others doing — he hadn’t tasted them yet…) the interpretation of the data was all his, and had nothing to do with what he’d seen and heard. He argued that his thought were reality — the truth.
Finally, I said, “OK, take a break. Do you like pizza? ”
Pause… Then “… Yes… ”
Me: OK, imagine your favourite pizza. Really get into how it looks and what it smells and tastes like. You may even notice that you are starting to salivate. Have you got it? “
Him: ”Yes! ! ! I love pizza! ! ! “
Me: “Perfect! Now, take a bite! “
Silence. Then, “I can’t. It’s not real. ”
Me: “Hmm. You think?
Many people mistakenly confuse their internal judgements, stories, and interpretations for reality. They describe how hard done by they are, in glowing detail, and even make themselves sad or angry (just like my salivating client.) And I say something to the effect that the story is imaginary (not that something didn’t happen, but that it isn’t happening now, and they are upsetting themselves now by imagining.)
Suffering is thus caused by mental formations, which want to dictate what things mean, and they do so with little or no evidence.
This why a client can say, “My husband never loved me, and always treats me badly. ” I might say, “Even right now? ” but if I do, all I get is a puzzled look. Then, “That’s how it appears (or seems) to me.” I agree. Her husband is doing whatever, and my client is making it fit the story she already believes. And at the same time, pretends that she’s being objective.
Objectivity would actually be:
“In this moment I hear my husband’s words, and here is the story I am concocting out of them. I am lumping this behaviour with others, so as to judge him inadequate. Perhaps I might have a breath, and ask him about his intent this time.”
Next week, we’ll use an analogy, using movies, and the TV show “24,” to discuss this further. In the mean time, spend the week seeing what you see, hearing what you hear, like with the orange, and just watch your mind try to attach stories.
Have a breath, and hold you mind to one thing: “What is my present moment experience of this taste? ”(No stories!)