Maybe life is more about what we don’t see …
What we see can be clouded by the inner workings of our mind that manifest as thought, conflict, and fear. We crave security and often lose ourselves in an effort to find it. As I continue my discovery into the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, I try to find a reason why they don’t make sense. I cannot. They are so compelling because he proposes the only one with the answer, is you.
Our life is based on thinking. All our actions are the result of thought, either from deep past, or from the immediate necessities according to environment. Thought guides our whole life. Thought has divided us into nations, classes, into religious sects, beliefs – with their dogmas, rituals. Thought has built the churches – Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and the various Eastern religious structures and propaganda. I think this is irrefutable fact.
– Krishnamurti Total Freedom
On thought, conflict, and fear …
- A thought is past tense.
- Conflict is based on thought.
- Fear perpetuates the cycle of conflict and thought.
What is thought?
Is it a response to a stimulus that canvases your memories for a relatable experience? Why do we always compare new moments with old moments? With those comparisons, we seem to end up with a judgment or opinion. Can thoughts be considered matter? If you deconstruct the biology of a thought, isn’t it just electrical impulses signaling hormones and neurotransmitters to perform a search and rescue mission for information? It really isn’t altogether different from binary information traveling through routers, switches, fiber optic cables, silicon chips and magnetic storage devices. This is how we access information using computers. Sounds pretty mechanical, right? Thoughts can be memories, judgments, and comparisons, or they can take the form of mechanical knowledge. When you drive to work, you use your memories of previous commutes to determine the best route, find the best coffee, and translate current conditions into future traffic potential. Your experience driving also renders into standard operating procedures balancing your appetite for risk with memories of collisions or the stories of others colliding. This type of mechanical information is useful. It also is the kind that helps us bake cakes, build houses, type blog posts, play music and hit baseballs. There are plenty of useful examples of mechanical knowledge, but when does this mechanical knowledge become an impediment to compassion? Unfortunately, this mechanical pattern is ingrained in the thousands of years humans have existed on the planet, and it permeates far beyond its most beneficial applications.
Graphic credit: http://www.globalhinduism.org
Why do Republicans and Democrats despise each other? Why don’t Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millenials understand each other? Why do people die every day over religion or nationality? Why do we create these labels that perpetuate division and conflict? Are we all not built from the same material? What keeps us from understanding each other? Some forms of conflict can be based on shortcuts taken by the brain to navigate information stored in the preconditioned mind. Aren’t thoughts nothing more than comparing or judging a current experience with those of the past, or worse, comparing those to memories of reactions to those previous experiences? If you take it even further, maybe its the memory of someone telling you about an experience that you didn’t even experience for yourself. Many of the conflicts we find ourselves in are the result of our conditioning and the content of our consciousness, which amounts to the collection of our experiences and our memories of those experiences.
All of this content is based on thought.
If thought is the basis for conflict, why do we attempt to solve it with more thought?
Political arguments are continuous, linear and seemingly infinitely unresolvable. In order to maintain a prime position in the wheelhouse of mechanical thought, many of these arguments are fueled by fear and our constant craving for security. Something moving continuously doesn’t usually change. In order for something to change state, an interaction has to occur. Something has to listen to something else without judgment. The problem is that we try to be so damned efficient that even the most important interactions can feel like a ride down a mechanical assembly line of predictable stances aimed at efficiency and output rather than listening and collaboration. Our brains are engineered to seek and employ shortcuts wherever possible, and amidst conflict, our egos step in to justify those positions of our preconditioned mind. Why do we always seem to gravitate toward shortcuts and mechanical thinking? If part of our consciousness is the content of preconditioning, is there a way to find a hard reset?
The answer lies in observation and the intelligence of understanding.
What is observation?
Photo credit: Minneapolis Art Institute (Leonardo – The Codex Leicester)
In order to define something, it can be helpful to define its negation. Observation is not just looking at something in a passing glance while rushing between meetings. It also is not the processing of a stimulus with comment and judgment resulting in a conclusion. One of the best observers in history was Leonardo da Vinci. The desire to observe the details of the world stems from an insatiable curiosity of it. Observing is not an assignment or a duty. It is rooted in love and gratitude and supported by unending child-like wonder. Observing requires total present moment awareness and the innate activation of all of your senses working together. Its anchor is the quiet mind unhurried by the clamor of the loud sirens of resistance taking the form of easier but radically unfulfilling tasks, notifications and an endless search for more noise through a series of interactions with small glass windows.
There is time in your day.
Remember that you have 1,440 minutes at your disposal.
960 minutes with 8 hours of sleep.
Why do we find ourselves unable to detach from noise enough to experiment with the nature of what the human mind, body, and spirit are truly capable? Leonardo was famous for his commitment to observation. He studied how water flows, forms eddies and how it fills a vessel. He painted the most famous smile in history only after dissecting human bodies enough to understand how the muscles of the face work together to form a smile. One of his findings included that the muscle in the upper lip is highly reliant on the muscle in the lower lip. You can’t purse your upper lip without your lower lip. Try it. He spent hours watching birds to understand the mechanics of flight related to the position and motion of their wings. One of his notebooks detailed a particular task to describe the tongue of a woodpecker.
Author, Walter Issacson on Leonardo’s curiosity and observational discipline.
“The tongue of a woodpecker can extend more than three times the length of its bill. When not in use, it retracts into the skull and its cartilage-like structure continues past the jaw to wrap around the bird’s head and then curve down to its nostril. In addition to digging out grubs from a tree, the long tongue protects the woodpecker’s brain. When the bird smashes its beak repeatedly into tree bark, the force exerted on its head is ten times what would kill a human. But its bizarre tongue and supporting structure act as a cushion, shielding the brain from shock. There is no reason you actually need to know any of this. It is information that has no real utility for your life, just as it had none for Leonardo. But I thought maybe, after reading this book, that you, like Leonardo, who one day put “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” on one of his eclectic and oddly inspiring to-do lists, would want to know. Just out of curiosity. Pure curiosity.”
Walter Issacson – Leonardo da Vinci
Photo credit: Bob Lewis
True observation doesn’t separate that which is being observed and the observer. It brings together a connection and sense of oneness and wonder. It’s not always an easy place to find on the map of our clutter-filled existence. The I and Me (deftly played by the ego) are a proud bunch that is not quick to assume a subservient position to observation and presence. But without ego, there is more to see, more to feel and experience through the lens of judgment-free observation. Although, our thoughts and our mechanical mind quickly generate rationalizations and justifications for not spending time on such trivial exercises. We are battling thousands of years of conditioning that are the pilots of our journey dangling the illusion of security and squashing our desire for inner exploration.
What is intelligence?
Intelligence lies in the understanding that our thoughts can condition us into believing this or that, which leads to division, disconnection, and conflict. Intelligence sees the whole from an unconditioned perspective. By affecting change through personal interactions and observing your behavior in personal relationships, we can further this understanding of the whole … this intelligence. With intelligence comes energy, with energy, comes passion, and passion brings compassion. Compassion moves us from merely responding to crises, crossing our fingers during boom-bust cycles and exercising futility to find peace in war into a true understanding of the whole and our place within it.
Observation is the foundation for understanding and the path to true intelligence.
Where there is love, there is compassion, and compassion has its own intelligence. That is the supreme form of intelligence, not the intelligence of thought, of cunning and deception.
Krishnamurti – Total Freedom
The realities of work, life, and family through the conditioned mind often lead us to believe that we do not have time for such passive and artistic luxuries. Don’t we, though? I would argue that cultivating the muscle of pure observation will lead to more colorful, connected and beautiful experiences in every facet of life. From a quiet mind, give yourself the opportunity to indulge in judgment-free observation and begin to see its transformational effects.
What do you see without your thoughts?