To “see” something is to become aware of or perceive it – just by opening the sense gates might we see. “Looking”, on the other hand, is an intentional act of directing attention. Meditation teacher Rob Burbea says the way we look at things is crucial to our liberation. Just like the way a photographer decides to frame a subject through the chosen camera lens shapes the story told by the scene, the way we look at things impacts our interpretation of events, thus informing our reactions. Mindfulness training can help us realize, open to, and explore more of the infinite possibilities available to us so that we can exercise some degree of choice in how we relate and respond to ourselves, others, and the world.
Meditation is the exploration of different ways of looking. – Rob Burbea
Our way of looking in any given moment is impacted by biology, environment, and conditioning. All living creatures have specialized sensory organs, which are the instruments we use for gathering data. These instruments possess qualities that impact how information is taken in. For example, human eyesight depends upon light from a limited range of wavelengths. Similarly, our ears can only detect certain frequencies of sound. Human touch sensing happens primarily through the skin while some other creatures can gather tactile information from a distance through neuromasts, whiskers or tentacles. Some creatures can taste their environment through specialized receptors on their bodies, while our taste receptors are located in our mouths and throats. Finally research has shown that different species specialize in detecting certain scents that are important to their survival. Our neurology also impacts how we experience the world. The sense organs, with all their diverse strengths and limitations, take in bare information while the brain interprets and makes sense of what is gathered. Even the way the central nervous system is organized impacts data interpretation.
The environment we live in can also influence what information is available to us and how we interpret it. Many creatures, including humans, adapt to specialize in gathering and interpreting information in their environment that supports their survival. Factors such as isolation, deprivation, pollution, and intentional manipulation can distort both the data we receive and how we make sense of it. In addition, humans are conditioned by our lived experience – indoctrinated and trained by our families and cultures and influenced by past experiences, beliefs, expectations, desires, and preferences, coloring our interpretation of the data we gather.
How we see something depends quite a bit upon our way of looking. You might even say that our way of looking determines our reality. Because of our biology, environment, and conditioning, there is always a construction or fabrication of reality happening. Some ways of looking bring wellbeing or ease and some ways bring suffering. This doesn’t just happen on an individual level – reality is also constructed on a collective level. Mutually agreed upon beliefs and shared assumptions, when they reach a critical mass, become the basis for our traditions, systems and institutions.
Because reality can be constructed, it can also be deconstructed or unpacked. In meditation, we can ask ourselves, “What are the qualities of suchness – what makes a thing a thing?” or “What makes me, me?” We may begin to discover we have some choice regarding the way we look at things. We might ask ourselves, “Am I looking in a way that separates, solidifies, and limits or in a way that unifies, opens, expands – frees?” Since there are an infinite number of possible options, we are free to choose the lens that best supports our collective wellbeing. First, we must be aware there is a choice and then we must possess the wisdom to choose skillfully. Fortunately, both awareness and wisdom can be cultivated through the dedicated practice of mindfulness.
Ours is a journey toward simplicity, toward quietness, toward a kind of joy that is not in time. In this journey out of time to ‘NowHere’, we are leaving behind every model we have had of who we thought we were. This journey involves a transformation of our being so that our thinking mind becomes our servant rather than our master. It’s a journey that takes us from primary identification with our psyche to identification with our souls… and ultimately beyond any identification at all. Life is an incredible curriculum in which we live richly and passionately as a way of awakening to the deepest truths of our being… – Ram Dass
Burbea, R. (2014). Seeing That Frees. Hermes Amara Publications
Ochester, T. (2017). In Search of Truth. Ochester Psychological Services Blog