Bits from The Book of Not Knowing, by author Peter Ralston:
Whatever we “are”exists in the present – it is what we are “being,” and that is a current condition. This means that what is not presently existing cannot be ourselves. Therefore our memories of the past and our desires and fears for the future are not who we are as a being. Certainly a memory, desire, or fear could be described as existing presently, but the subject of the memory, desire, or fear cannot.These functions are activities that may occur now, but are not directed toward the experience of what exists now, nor are they even about now. We need to be able to make this distinction between what exists, and the activity of imagining what might exist or did exist. We seem to get a bit stuck viewing the what-isn’t rather than the what-is. it’s sort of like shining a flashlight at night in the forest: we can see the distant trees but can’t see the flashlight right here in our hand that illuminates them.
We have confused self with the complex conceptual activity (“being” like a verb) that we call mind. We must remember that this is an activity of representation and imagination. it is not the source of the activity itself. Whatever produces this activity can more rightly be called Being (like a noun). The activity is what we are “doing”; it’s not what we “are.”
Our “doing”is so constant that this activity is easily confused with “being.”A great deal of our sense of self has been built up over time. We identify “self-traits” by recognizing repeated patterns of behavior. Through sheer repetition these can take on a very solid and forceful presence, since we have so much historical “evidence”that suggests they reflect inherent aspects of ourselves.
The truth is, our personal traits are all based on the conceptual activity that we call memory. There are three problems with that. One: The activity is not an experience of our current existence. Two: Our memories are likely to be biased, and to distort even more over time. And three: these character traits are predisposed to relate to some “story”we’ve made up, or that we’ve heard repeated time and again by us, family members, or others, and will be consistent in meaning and significance with the kind of stories told by our culture. Such stories paint a picture of a character (you) interacting with circumstances.
The point here is that our conventional sense of self is not real, but is confused with a complex activity that resides within the domain of concept and belief. Our “real selves,”or the actual beings that we are, are buried beneath this conceptual-self, and so the real-self resides, hidden, as it were, within an unknown aspect of our experience of “being.”
We must continue to layer into these many dynamics. Addressing them is one thing, but our real job is to experience them in place. In other words, we need to pound at this complex of conceptual-identity from many angles and learn to recognize the many subtle traps that have gotten us into and keep us in this condition. This takes time, observation, and contemplation.
Here is a little exercise from me. Contemplate the following:
What is an apple?
Before mankind even discovered the appearance of an apple, we never “labeled” the thing called an apple. We use our senses to recognize familiar patterns. An apple is round shaped (as you can see), most of the apples we see are red (The eyes are at work again!), you may remember what it taste likes, how it smells etc. etc. Nowadays we are familiar with an apple product. Is that the same apple we thought we knew? No, but we “remember” parts and bits that represents the appearance of an apple, so we also call the product an apple.
Time to get the actual experience
Your eyes are like the flashlight in a dark forest. What is the perceiver (“Being”) and what is perceived (the illumination)?
Can you “sense” this being right now? As you read, can you see the laptop or mobile phone that your eyes illuminates?
What is real? It’s simple. Close your eyes for a bit and open again. Can you still tell the laptop, mobile phone or apple were constantly real? Did your mind “remembered” these images? Memories are concepts. Made up products appearing in the mind. Could you still sense this infinite, never changing perceiving Being the moment you closed and open your eyes again?
Did you sense the distinction between what is real and what seems real? Between Being and doing? What you “did” was reading, contemplating, and probably sensing a subtle change. What you did 5 min ago isn’t here now. Are you even doing any damn thing or is it a passing of the breeze; moments in the past or future thoughts. Is it possible you never did anything at all and everything runs effortlessly.
Are you simply imagining a life or actually living it! Be present, hug every moment like it’s your last. The Being is your true self. Not even these words can reach it, for it’s unknown to anyone. Sense it for yourself.