When we were babies, we used our fingers to point to the objects we desired. Then we learned to speak and used words to point to objects instead. Next, we silently internalized our words and created thoughts that pointed to the objects in our environment. We are under the assumption that this process represents an evolution in descriptive accuracy when, in fact, it represents a devolution.
An object exists in undivided totality in the environment. Our five sense organs drink in the raw entirety of an object a split second before our thoughts interpret the information.
Thoughts function as a reverse assembly line: disassembling our world into categories and descriptions.
For example, our thoughts deconstruct the image of a tree into a tall brown object with green attachments. The mind further subdivides the tree into the smell of pine or cedar and the sound of the branches in the wind. Our thoughts go on to describe the tastes of the bark and the rough feeling of the trunk beneath our fingertips.
A baby or an animal knows a tree as a nameless object that simply vibrates in unison with the rest of life. There is no room for partitions in a house without walls. Without thoughts, the world is perceived unobstructed.
This is all well and good for the baby and the animal, but for most of us it’s too late. We have bought a ticket and found our seat on the Thought Train, and it is barreling down the tracks. So what, if anything, can we do to reverse this devolution and regain a more authentic appreciation of the objects in our environment?
Before I answer this question we must digress momentarily. The argument has thus far been created using concrete objects, such as trees, for clarity’s sake.
Our thoughts separate and categorize people, dreams, cars, concepts, and thoughts themselves. We interact with our own mind in the same way as we interact with the environment, as if we could pick it up and hold it.
The second digression involves a fundamental paradox of the article that jeopardizes the reader’s completion of the piece. On one hand I declare words as being mere pointed fingers that distance us from the truth. While on the other hand, this entire article is created using words. The necessities of communication require that this paradox be held in tension only as long as you are reading this article. As soon as you finish, I welcome your internal purge of all my words for I have no doubt that the important concepts will be held in wordless knowing even after my sentences are forgotten.
Anyway, back to our conundrum: how do we stop distancing ourselves from the objects in our environment?
Well, the short answer is that we can’t completely do away with mental representation; we are limited as organisms by our sense organs. And the raw information from these sense organs is of such a volume that we must have at least a rudimentary cataloging system in our mind to separate the necessary from the unnecessary.
But we needn’t completely eliminate representation to return to a more authentic understanding of our environment.
Mindfulness practice exploits the link between the esoteric mind and the material body. The ephemeral mind is grounded in our environment through the body. Mindfulness shows us that we need only tap into the natural wisdom of the body to decrease the need to point and return to a more authentic state of being.
When we meditate on our breath, we allow our body to teach us about the tidal rhythm of life. At least ninety-five percent of the time we are not making any effort to breathe. The natural intelligence of the body breathes for us. During meditation we become aware of this natural intelligence by simple observation.
We may be instructed to count our breaths in the beginning. But this is simply a marker to remind us to return to our breath when we get distracted and lose count. We are not trying to categorize or compartmentalize our breath.
We learn to just coexist with our breath. We stop trying to describe it. And as we stop trying to describe it, we develop our sixth sense.
I believe our sixth sense is the synergistic use of our five senses without the interference of our thoughts. I call the sixth sense: Knowing.
Knowing is like a limitless sponge that simply absorbs our environment through the pores of our sense organs without judgment or filter.
Mindfulness teaches us a path back to the unobstructed knowledge of our world. We learn to simply observe both our external and internal environment. We learn how our body feels during different emotional states and thought processes.
And with this Self and environmental knowledge we can grow synergistically with the world rather than in spite of it.
As long as we point to objects they will forever lie just beyond our fingertips. But to Know an object is to realize the inherent lack of separation between object and subject.