When we look at things with a view to changing them we can’t see them as they really are. This is because we are looking at the world in an inherently prejudiced way, and when we look at the world in a inherently prejudiced way we don’t see it as it really is (any more than we can see a person as they really are when we are looking at them in a prejudiced way.) We see only what our prejudice makes us see. We see only what our agenda makes us see.
Prejudice conditions what we can see: certain aspects are emphasized, whilst other aspects are thrust into the background. So when I look at things with a reason behind my looking this necessarily puts a particular slant on what I see, just like wearing sunglasses makes everything seem dark. The motivation behind my looking effectively screens out everything that is unrelated (or irrelevant) to the matter at hand. Or to put this another way, the ‘wide-beam’ of my attention is narrowed down so much by my purposes, my wanting, my trying, my straining that most of the world simply becomes invisible to me. I’m stuck in a long dark, tunnel – the long dark tunnel of my prejudiced (or ‘closed’) mind…
When I look at something with a reason my looking is contaminated with my wanting – I am focusing narrowly on how I want the thing to be (which is the same thing as focusing on how I don’t want the thing to be). Whichever way we put it, my attention is entirely caught up (or ‘absorbed’) either by what I like about the thing, or by what I don’t like. That’s all that matters to me, that’s all I care about…
My likes and dislikes are all about me. They are all about my past experiences, my history, my own acquired slant on things, my own particular psychology. They are all about my own particular angle. My internalized rules are governing what I see and how I see it, in other words – they are governing the importance I place on things. What this means is that I am projecting my own conditioning onto whatever it is that I am looking at. I am constantly bringing ‘me’ into the picture without realizing that this is what I am doing.
When I look at something with a reason I am bringing my habitual thinking (my old way of understanding the world) into the present moment. This is usually seen as an advantageous sort of a thing – the idea is that we are ‘prepared’ for whatever might happen, which means that we will stand a better chance of knowing what to do, a better chance of not being taken by surprise. It helps us to feel ‘in control’. But whilst ‘being prepared’ is advantageous for certain particular situations (if for example I am about to drive a car, or fly a helicopter, or perform open-heart surgery) for life in general it is not advantageous. It is not advantageous because if I am bringing my habitual thinking into the world each moment rather than learning something new then I am merely repeating something old. It is not advantageous because it means that I can never change. I am stuck in my pattern…
As Krishnamurti says, we are always repeating the old pattern, we are always bringing yesterday into today. Another way of putting this is to say that I am seeing the new in terms of the old, seeing the unknown in terms of the known. The result of this is that there is then nothing new, there is then nothing unknown. As James Carse says, the old triumphs over the new and the known triumphs over the unknown.
The point here is that when I look at things with the motivation of either wanting to gain or avoid something then I am not really interested in what’s out there. I’m narrowly caught up in myself, absorbed in myself. I am trapped in my own agenda and as a result I’m effectively closed to ‘reality as it actually is’. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want, and thus I am assuming that I already know everything that is important about my situation.
I am very interested indeed in any details that might relate to the question of how I might obtain what I want to obtain, or avoid what I want to avoid, but the fact of the matter is that I’m oblivious to anything else. I am oblivious to anything outside of the ‘issue’ that is concerning me so much and this means that I am only reacting to my own superficial and misrepresentative mental projections the whole time. These mental projections are the meaning that I place on what’s going on (never mind what’s really going on) and so I am caught up in a closed loop. I’m caught in the closed loop of ‘my projections’ and ‘my automatic reactions to my projections’.
The only way to see what is really out there is to look without having any reason for looking – to look with an open mind. This is a very simple thing, but at the same time it is not something I can do on purpose since doing it on purpose is of course the very same thing as doing it for a reason, and if there’s one thing we know absolutely for sure it’s that ‘looking without a reason’ cannot be done for a reason! When I have a reason or agenda for what I’m doing then my mind is closed (i.e. it is closed to anything that is not on the agenda) so if I try to have an open mind on purpose then I find that I can’t… This is like trying to ‘let go’ on purpose – it’s a paradox.
This seems to be an insurmountable problem but it isn’t. I can’t deliberately stop ‘looking at things for a reason’ any more than I can deliberately be unprejudiced (or deliberately be open-minded, or deliberately ‘let go’) but what I can do is to see that I am prejudiced. I can see that my mind is closed, I can see myself being caught up in my agenda, in my own thoughts. I can see myself being trapped in the never-ending narrow-minded obsession of my ‘purposes’, my involuntary fixation upon ‘gain versus loss’.
I am always free to see that I am not free – which is to say, I am always free to see that there is a purpose (or a reason) behind everything I do. And I am always free to see that I am restricted by these purposes – by my ideas, by my reasons for doing things, by my goals, by my ‘reasons for looking’. I am at all times perfectly free to see this restriction.
All that is needed in order to become aware of this innate freedom is therefore for me to take a genuine interest in myself, as I actually am, rather than automatically allowing my attention to be ‘kidnapped’ and perpetually held hostage by my goals, my ideas, my thinking, hopes and fears, my biased ideas about the way things ‘ought to be’. All I need to do in other words is the see the restriction rather than getting unreflectively caught up in it.
So I can’t change myself to be the way that I want myself to be, but I can see myself being the way that I actually am. After all, if I am a certain way then it’s got to be possible for me to see this! I just have to stop straining to change things, if only for a moment. The moment I stop straining (either to make things be different, or planning or strategizing to make them different, or simply wishing that they were) then I see things as they actually are. I see myself as I actually am.
The very curious thing about this is that when I allow myself see myself as I actually am, this changes me. This is the principle of ‘paradoxical change’ – I am only free to change when I stop trying to change.
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.