To become wise, you must under stand your confusions.
Knowledge builds upwards: conscious thoughts float on top of deeper feelings. What, in your mind, you can see most clearly, is most superficial. Remember that.
Impulses begin as deep neural pathways -- ones which know only fear and pleasure -- and transform, blossom into feelings, then feelings into ideas, and ideas into thoughts. There for us to sense are only these most refined mental concepts -- so far removed from the source that they have often become delusion or fiction. Yet we take these thoughts to be true simply because they are there, despite that most of what we are, and what we believe goes on behind closed doors, outside of our imagining and thinking, in the subconscious.
This is not to say this subconscious cannot be accessed.
Doors were made to be opened. But first, realize that while the whole kaleidoscope of your mental universe seems ever in flux, its entirety can be traced back to but a few roots. Diversity of thought is merely a reflection of the endless array of stimuli and experiences we have in this world.
So much has been said in the annals of spiritual literature about the importance of distinguishing the observed from the observer. Here on this site, we’ve done nothing to put an end to this task. However you’d do well too conceptualizing the whole situation in another light -- not as observer and observed, but as reflector and reflections.
At least, it’s another way of looking at it.
Your mind, the reflector. Your thoughts, its reflections. To know yourself, there is only one goal: to throw out reflection, and find the reflector -- which is the essence. The essence of you.
That which reacts -- not its reactions.
Imagine looking in a mirror and seeing not the reflections, but the essence of the mirror itself.
Mind bending, isn’t it?
But nevertheless, find me somebody who can do this and I will show you someone who understands, who is self-aware, who is wise.
But let’s try another metaphor, this one only a bit more extended.
Ready your imagination.
Envision a vast forest, that stretches in all directions to the horizon. The trees are bunched close together. They are probably well over one hundred feet tall, and bunched so close, that at the tree tops, where you are, nothing can be seen of the forest floor. An undulating blanket of interwoven green leaves stretches out, brightly illuminated by the sun. Leaves shimmer, and glow, fluttering green. Just feet below, are the twisting branches from which the leaves sprout. But quickly, as you move lower still, things become dark.
As you would descend downwards, you would notice curling twigs combining into branches, those branches into limbs, and limbs into thick trunks.
While leaves flutter, trunks do not move. They loom, in towering and silent stillness. Down, all the way to the forest floor, where the sound of the wind high above can no longer be heard.
This is the mind; this forest imagery another allegory.
Think first of the leaves -- they flutter, they are delightful. But they are weak in a way, mercurial. They point every which way, and so point in none. They shift as the wind goes, each with a mind of their own.
At this level, you cannot find security, nor permanence. Indulge in observation, watch how the leaves go. From such chaos nothing can be known, so be content to know nothing. Rather see, and no more.
But go deeper, you will find there is stability and order. You will find there is direction. You will know how ideas are supported and organized, and the forces which structure all that above.
Leaves are mere reflections of environment -- the result of interplaying sun, water, and wind. And most conscious thought is this way. Reflections of sensations, myriad, fluctuating ... intellectually worthless.
Discover what is beneath. Under stand the canopy, and you will know something timeless, strong, and sure.
All questions, confusing as they may seem, when examined, dissolve into air.
Knowledge comes through sensory investigation; intelligence is the patterns built upon these senses. All you know begins as stimulation, information -- you observe it effortlessly. Then thinking juxtaposes, and synthesizes predictions and patterns from this raw data, placing thoughts into coherent systems and schemes. This process takes effort, burns calories -- for it induces the physical re-wiring of the mind such that where before there was nothing, now there are pathways, relations, and sequences, all free to fire.
Hence from the physical sensation you come to know objects of the mind, be they beliefs, opinions, or principles.
This twofold process constitutes education. Sensation and construction. You observe, and then you build.
You might see how absent the scene is any sort of question.
What is there to question?
(If that isn't the question, I don't know what is...)
Sense and build. Seek not to question, for nobody ever learned by asking a question.
Learning occurs when the questioning finally ends.
Further, the primary goal of education is not to inspire questions, or to teach which questions should be asked or how often. Questions come automatically, naturally and in no short supply to a curious, supple mind.
Rather, education must teach the pupil to remove himself from his questioning phase as fast as possible, so as not to become lost in the questioning and kept from an answer.
Towards this end, we must outline the nature of our questions, and understand what they represent.
Let's begin with how, what, when, where, and who. I'll lump them all together.
These are desires to seek information, and sensation. You’ll have no trouble learning if you stick to asking these, for they address the effortless process of sensory input.
Ask these questions to get to the facts. Can't go wrong with those.
But “why”… and “how”… here we have some more complexity, and trouble. For they do not seek to procure mere sensory information. Rather they go towards those processes of the mind that organize and arrange those raw sensations into secondary patterns and opinions.
"How" implies achievement, and here we bring in all manner of problems. For desire tends to obfuscate education.
Remember you assume a goal and a value system when you ask this question. You desire something. It is critical you understand exactly what you desire, for the more clarity you have here the simpler the answer will become.
“How do I become a better student in school?”
Now you must work to deconstruct the question. What means “better” to you? Higher grades? More learning? More discipline?
“How can I have a nicer personality?”
What is “nice”? Can you achieve “nice”? Can you act “nice”? You can do things, say things, feel things. But “nice”?
See how easy it can be to hide behind this question of "how" -- hide behind vague words and confused terms, and mix up your emotional desires with your assessment of fact.
Break down the terms until they become ones you understand.
Figure out exactly what you want. Don’t settle for umbrella terms you do not understand. Get yourself into tangibles, because only upon tangibles can you act.
And finally “why,” which is perhaps the most perplexing question of them all, and one we sense to be most important of the lot.
Of all the questions, here I find it prudent to say the least in words, though the most in meaning.
Understand that there is no “why.” Why seeks cause, which is subjective construction. The answer to “why” is a matter of your choosing. If you desire causal theory, choose away to your hearts content. But do not mistake your machinations for educations.
Don’t allow yourself to become consumed by such an answer. Stay grounded in what is.
Become formless like water.
Become light as air.
The mind builds, but doubt always can destroy.
So root yourself not in things which can so easily be brushed aside. There is no idea which is true, or beyond doubt. If it can be doubted, it is an idea, and a mere object of contemplation to be sculpted or molded at whim. Associate yourself with it, become an idea, and look how others can do the same with you.
Ideas are merely creative frameworks used to see the world this or that particular way, or accomplish this or that task. But an idea says nothing about reality. It is a work of art. Look at ideas as you would a painting. Analyze them. Question them. Always be aware of your ideas. You must know exactly why you have built them up, and you must know exactly how they can be torn down.
Objectivity is subjective.
Pragmatism is idealism.
The truth lies.
Reality is not real.
Can you see how these are so?
Become a surgeon, the realm of ideas your object of study. Know how to pick them apart; know how to sew them back together. Confusion is your scalpel; questions the force and direction of your incisions.
As long as you have these things, you are invincible to the pull of ideas.
For no matter how compelling someone’s ideas may be, you will shout:
“Is that so?”
“How do you know this to be true?”
“Who has told that this is so?”
“You may speak of this all you like but leave me out of it! I know nothing of it!”
"Keep you opinions to yourself what use do I have for them!”
You will not be hypnotized. You will not be brainwashed. You will stand above theory, ideology, and logic. Everything that is built can be taken down. Observe yourself, learn the ins and outs of deconstruction.
As you do this, you become a master of the mind and all its going-ons. You will understand all your impulses, machinations, and plans. And you will be free to choose among them totally at your discretion. You will see the wheels spinning in others, and you will be free to entertain them or knock them down.
The realm of ideas is vast -- read next of all the things you will be free from if you can achieve such a state of mastery.
All of your problems are ideas.
All your worries are ideas.
All of your negative opinions of others; all of their negative opinions of you.
All of your theories, and the theories of science.
All ideas compelling you to do this or that.
All normatives -- that is, all beliefs of “should,” that one action or thought is preferable to another.
From all these things you will be free, standing above, outside of them. Able to entertain them, yet ready to knock them down at a moment’s notice should you be so inclined.
Paper tigers, hollow ringing, straw men -- so constitutes the majority of your existence.
Start looking. Start studying. Great strength is waiting for you.
Let me now at last tell you: there is one driving force behind all the activity of the mind, and it is fear.
All theories, ideas, and opinions -- are held by men who desire, like rats in a storm, to crawl back into their shelters. Children hold onto beliefs, create theories which fill this or that gaping hole in their souls.
If you would like to put behind you childhood and become an adult you must know virtue. And there is one true virtue: it is the willingness to look fear in the eye and understand what lays behind it.
In doing so, you can understand your mind and begin to live outside of it.
Here it is: a separation from ideas, from the mind… it is a separation from fear itself, which is a separation from every issue you have in your life.
That is not to say they disappear.
But no longer are they yours to trouble yourself with.
Like chains you have suddenly discovered were never bound at all; go now you are free.
Nothing comprises existence beyond sensory inputs -- unclassified, unmarked, indiscriminate variations and patterns. Yet how we grasp at something higher, believing there must be something more, but unable to put our finger on just what it is…
The mind is the grasper, yet what it grasps is merely the roots of its own creation. This reality wherein there is nothing to learn nor know, it hides from itself. That one could be the searcher and the searched for is only accomplished through ignorance alone -- an ignorance in which the grasper is complicit. For we desire to be ignorant. We desire to hide from ourselves the truth that all without is in fact within.
The mind needs function, meaning, and purpose. This is its essential aim. Tools, fire, hunting, and onwards to the iPhones and electricity of today -- everything is pursued with an intention and purpose in mind. Working towards ends only imagined but never realized, the mind is a builder. It appropriates the sensations it receives -- that is to say it converts sight, sound, or touch into something appropriate for use in construction.
Action exists without meaning, yet the mind refuses to accept this. Behind every action is an impulse, and drive. The quest for food to sate hunger, and the pursuit of sex to release aggression are but two examples. Such actions the body demands -- but what of the mind, whose abstractions create desires insatiable by physical reality?
Towards these ends the mind must create its own reasoning and purpose, things beyond those which is so clearly felt by the body…
and yet it must also believe its own machinations to constitute genuine motivations.
This it does by never questioning, and simply accepting it to be so. The preference of an ignorant state may seem unlikely to you, but it provides to humanity a great benefit, which is to be free of the soulless, black void of nothingness.
You see, the mind, absent any immediate problem to solve, must create the impetus for its own existence. It wants to work, mechanically, constructing theories and ideas, but to do so requires inventing the cause for this action. It cannot work on fumes; it cannot build on vapors; it cannot make something of nothing.
And it must build: it is voracious in this activity.
These roots, these groundworks from which all thought and action grows, these most fundamental assumptions we take to be true in order to act, to live, and to know what cannot be known -- here is the domain of the spiritual. To sate the churning mind, to stop the question of “why,” at the largest level, to allow us to continue to pursue our single-minded desires and passions free from haziness and uncertainty.
It is enormously empowering; it is severely limiting.
To create this “something” from nothing is to trap ourselves to the endless imagination -- one wonders whether this situation is oxymoronic. To become slave to freedom.
And yet one must wonder if this situation is not preferable to the void, where the scope of freedom has expanded and stretched beyond meaning, where terms like slavery and free will explode into insignificance.
In this horrid, enchanting stillness we become dead, yet wonder whether we were alive in life anyways.
You exist only because nature allowed it.
There is no soul, nor divine image from which you were made. There is no greater reason for your presence, but that you are an expedient for your own survival, and by extension that of the human race.
But to this perhaps disheartening message I will return at the end.
Natural selection, remember, is no selection at all. You’d do much better to think of it as a lack of any selection whatsoever. That is, a level playing field. For when no packet of matter -- what may be called an organism -- is overtly selected in favor of or against, simply those that survive, thrive, and reproduce will exist, by virtue of their ability to bring more self-similar matter into existence. Those that do not will perish, and they will prove to be adept at not existing.
Quite literally, those objects of matter that are best at bringing more of themselves into existence,
will exist, and continue on.
So reader: drop all these questions of “who am I?” Or “what is my purpose?”
For science has solved the debate. What you are, is a packet of matter designed to exist. Honed by millions of years of trial and error and constantly adapting to new environments, you represent the intelligence of life itself. Quite literally, that pattern of matter that can and will survive, exist, and go on. Everything you are is fashioned towards this end; it cannot be any other way, for any part of you designed to help you “not exist” could lead only to your demise.
Now the question can be asked: how much of you is yours?
In your body is incredible intelligence. Absolutely and positively unfathomable to you. Every cell constantly operating, dividing, replicating, healing, organizing into structures like bone, organs, and muscle, all firing in precisely the ways needed to keep you alive.
Their enormous complexity notwithstanding, these elements all make perfect sense for achieving survival.
The only real mystery here is you.
Why, exactly, are you needed? Surely the body could go on surviving on its own, like a robot? Observe the plants, fungi, and insects. Are “they” in there?
I am speaking, of course, of self-awareness, for all these sensations of the “I,” all these delineations between the world and between you in particular are what define “you.”
Why is that whole mess needed? The fact is the vast majority of your survival, the processes of the body and many of the mind, takes place completely outside of you and your awareness. No control is necessary, nobody needed to observe and react.
Imagine a simulation with artificial intelligence. Imagine robots replicating, programmed to survive:
“When variable ‘energy level’ drops below x, acquire class ‘food.’”
It seems it could work, no? Even without a “driver” or “subject” or “you” there? This, I might say, is the true question of existence.
This is the true mystery of ourselves.
Not our purpose or identity, but why we are needed for our purpose at all.
I do not seek resolution here towards that question, but only to make two points. It is clear that you, as a self-sensing, self-conscious being, must serve some purpose towards achieving your own existence.
What that purpose is, or what advantages it holds over your non-being remain less than clear.
For now though, find comfort, if you can, in your necessary importance to your own survival. You may have depression, you may feel worthless, you may be happy, you might feel hopeful.
Up or down, it is all working to your benefit.
Ride that wave, brother.