“How often do we encounter something new?”
John Peacock, Pali scholar and dharma teacher tossed off this question in one of a series of video lectures he gave on perception. He was pointing to the tendency we have to label everything and correlate it with past experience.
This ability is survival-driven. Our ancestors needed to make quick decisions in dangerous situations and the ability to sync a present problem with past experience could literally be a life-saver.
Our ability to use language greatly facilitates the perception-labeling process. In The Hidden Connections, author Fritjof Capra says:
As humans we exist in language and we continually weave the linguistic web in which we are embedded. We coordinate our behavior in language, and together in language, we bring forth our world.
But language is symbolic, not real. As scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski put it, “The map is not the territory.” Our perceptions can create a reassuring illusion that existence is solid and enduring. Familiar perceptions can channel new experience into long-established conduits. We may block the magic of existence by converting it into the predictable. We can create a seemingly safe, but unremarkable, everyday world where the marvelous is not permitted.
Have you ever played the children’s game of repeating a word or phase over and over until it loses its meaning and becomes silly gibberish?
Similarly, if you stare into a mirror long enough, your perception of your own image may relax and eventually dissipate. This can take considerable patience and courage too, because it can be disconcerting, even frightening, to let go of our tightly-held inner template of our own appearance.
But seeing the world with a fresh eye can be invigorating. Being in a forest or by the sea, in a natural setting, particularly in solitude, the constriction of labeling can break down if we allow it all in. Most of us have experienced the rich and transcendent beauty that arises.
This can actually arise in almost any setting if we have an opportunity to pause and quiet the inner mental chatter and profoundly relax.
William Blake, poet, printmaker, and visonary, said it best:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
We know the answer to that!
There are comics on this planet –strange and wonderful comics. For instance…ahem!…”Multiverse Comics and Stories,” by yours truly. Buy it, figure out the mystery of how to read a digital comic. And then, give it a 5-star rating if you don’t feel like that would compromise your integrity. Thank you!