Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about experience and perception as it pertains to this precariously defined thing we call ‘reality.’ The self, the thing we call ‘I,’ is the fundamental enabler of experience, but it is a synthetic construct. The I is nothing without experience. The self emerges when we combine the experience of our present moment with the continuity of our existence. We interpret the present, filter it through a pile of previously acquired data, and from the result of this comparison we project outward an expectation of what will be.
If we consider consciousness as a river in constant flow through a static channel (say, the body,) then to say something IS – to ascribe permanent attributes to it – is to attempt to freeze the flow, to turn the river to ice; to trap a moment in time and perceive it as autonomous and enduring. When, in fact, that perception is merely an echo of something that only once, briefly, was. In the sense of ourselves, an ‘identity’ is but a spectral formation made up of past consciousness and future expectation. It is static electricity. It’s white noise.
It’s in our base nature to simplify things by packaging certain pieces of data and making ‘entities’ of them, and then to conclude that those entities are fixed in place. We have structured our comprehension such that every description of events in space involves the use of a rigid body to which those events have to be referred. This is language, this is math, this is science, this is philosophy. Were it not for these reference points, were we forced to perceive the world as a whirlwind of atoms that is never the same even for a fraction of a second, we would lose all notion of what is. The prospect is, at best, baffling; at worst, terrifying.
I think, though, that the creation of – and stringent adherence to – these reference points is directly related to the suffering we endure and that which we inflict on others. This is especially true when it comes to the ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ ‘Self.’ Our identity, our perceived status in life, is so deeply rooted that it constantly influences our interactions with others. The least slight to that image is unbearable, whereas the same qualifier applied to someone else would yield no reaction. If we have a strong image of ourselves, we are in constant search for fortification of that image by others, to see it universally recognized and accepted. Nothing is more painful than to see our self-image opened up to doubt, and indeed nothing is so capable of ruining a good time like the negative emotional choke hold such doubt will yield.
It is the disturbing emotions that will cloud and distort our perception of reality. The emotions make us believe that beauty or ugliness is inherent in people and things, even though it is the mind that decides whether things are attractive or repulsive. We are repelled by things that threaten our sense of self, and attracted to those that fortify it, but it is our mind – not innate attributes – that drive these attractions. We forge bonds and fight battles with people and objects as we perceive them to be, and it is our attachment to these perceptions that drag us further and further from reality and into the vicissitude of attraction and aversion that these mental imputations relentlessly perpetuate. From this, savage beasts are born.