The ability to think is a wonderful and useful tool. Yet we have a hard time separating what we perceive from how we think. We make the capital mistake that Sherlock Holmes described as a tendency to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. For example, if you think that your visual system provides a faithful representation of what is “out there” in the same way a movie camera would, you might want to think again.
Seeing is not an objective, clearly defined experience. Vision is a construction of the mind, so you could say that all of vision is an illusion. Perception involves interpretation, and our thoughts, memories and emotions determine how we interpret what we see. Yet we readily accept what we see as “real,” forgetting that we are weaving data into a mind-created rendition of a world. Magicians figured this out long ago. By directing the audience’s attention, magicians perform their tricks in full view. Even when we know the deception, we still see the illusion.
Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains reach out into the world and actively extract the type of information we need. As our eyes interrogate the world, they are like agents on a mission, optimizing their strategy for data. Not only do we overlook what doesn’t seem important, our brains often settle for what makes sense within a predetermined framework. The brain makes time-saving and resource-saving assumptions and sees the world only as well as it perceives it must. According to David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, our brain operates on principles of “inaccessible machinery and rich illusion.” That is, we don’t have access to many processes of our brain, and we tend to leap to conclusions to fill in the gaps.
This means that we can easily deceive ourselves and yet be convinced that our judgments are exact and correct. For example, we all agree that the sky is blue, but in reality, it’s violet. Even though the atmosphere scatters much more violet light than it does blue, our eyes perceive the longer wavelength blue light to a much greater degree. Also, experiments have demonstrated that most people don’t see a gorilla walking across a basketball court when given the task of counting the number of players on the court who are wearing white jerseys. And discrepancies in eyewitness accounts of accidents are common. Clearly, perception is neither objective nor accurate.
Albert Einstein stated, “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Obviously we can’t rely on our perceptions to know what’s true. What we see merely reflects back to us our inner picture of the world—what we think is true. So how do we become aware of truth? How do we free ourselves from our delusions and yet live in an illusory world? We realize our essential nature only when our rooted-in-the-past minds are quiet. In quiet stillness we are able to step out of thousands of years of collective human conditioning and become aware of the truth of our oneness. In quiet we experience the love that is our identity, our expression, our gift.
We need nothing to make truth be true. Truth simply is. In stillness, we know with a certainty beyond thought or perception. When we know the truth of who we are, we don’t take our thoughts or ourselves so seriously. All of life is set against the backdrop of love, joy and peace. Problems become opportunities to give and receive love while finding the solutions that honour and respect all who share the planet.
French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal declared that all of our problems stem from our inability to sit still in a quiet room. He’s right. If we sit still in a quiet room, we remember the truth that transcends our problems. It is in stillness that we realize the truth of our oneness and free ourselves from optical delusions of consciousness.
Eckhart Tolle states that the “joy of Being emanates from the formless dimension within you, from consciousness itself and thus is one with who you are.” In stillness we know.
Jan Waterman is a writer and teacher who is passionate about life. She hopes that what she writes will inspire others to consider new thoughts and ideas about their spiritual selves.