Reading this post might be harmful to your serenity.
It may cause a severe case of “thinking.”
If you don’t mind the risk, then take a peek . . .
My Curiosity Occurred One Rainy Afternoon
I was hunkered down beneath a tarp shielded from the rain on a remote section of trail in the Adirondack Mountains.
It was long before cell phones and Internet and I had nothing to read. So it was just fine to waste an afternoon pondering useless questions.
I became curious to see if I could figure out where the subtle edge of “the outside” world ended and “the inside” of me began.
Obviously the forest and mountains around me were “out there,” and Bill was “in here,” beneath the tarp I had stretched over me.
But what about the more subtle separation between me and the outside world?
So I passed the time taking a Descartes-type self-examination of myself to see if I could find that fine edge between “inside” me and the world “outside.”
My Descartes-style Self-Examination
Clearly “the clothes make the man” myth did not hold. Sure, my clothes were definitely not part of my body “in here,” but clearly part of the world “out there,” despite how closely they clung to my body.
I wondered whether the air that I’d just breathed in was still part of the “out there?” Or was it part of me “in here,” once it was in my lungs?
I went further, wondering about the tea I drank? When did it pass from being part of the world “out there” into me “in here.” And how long could I think of it being “in here,” if it even could be considered “in here” at all?
It got personal.
The banana I ate at breakfast? When did the crap I took this morning transform into the world “out there” and was no longer part of me “in here?”
Or was it ever me “in here” while it was working its way through my digestive system?
I’m no biologist. But I know from indigestion and belly aches, that there’ve been microscopic things inside me like bacteria and viruses that don’t count as welcome being part of me “in here.”
Even an annoying mosquito bite has an “in here” phase once the mosquito lets go and it stops being “out there.”
I pushed my inquiry to extremes. I had a whole afternoon for it.
A physician friend, Lou, mentioned one time that all of the fleshy and bony cells of my body are transient, only part of me after being food “out there” to being transformed into cells residing “in here” in me. And each cell is “in here” for only seven years before it is back “out there” again, replaced by a new cell coming “in here” from the body’s food intake.
So much for the ins and outs of my physical body.
Invisible Ideas, Feelings, Imaginings and Dreams
When I was a child I thought as a child.
Most of my child ideas left my “in here” and were replaced by other ideas from “out there,” as I grew older.
This brought up another puzzle — the transience of ideas and feelings. They come mostly from “out there” and stay for different lengths of time “in here.” Or are they caused mostly by things “out there” but aroused from something “in here?”
How could I distinguish between their either being “in here” or “out there?” I mean, where do they go when they leave me “in here?” And where are they before they pop into my awareness?
This was a really silly mind exercise, I know.
But still . . .
It still leaves out some big things, like the subconscious with its feelings, memories, attitudes, talents, judgements, morals and a whole lot of “inner workings” of mind, glands, and flesh.
A lot of these can be tickled up into awareness through various psycho-stimulation mechanisms.
What is hidden even from these methods though, is something I call “me” who is aware of myself even going through this thinking process.
Where is this “me?”
Where, in other words, is this awareness that sparks alive, as I say, to give attention to the thinking?
I don’t mean that “me” that does the thinking.
But that which is aware of “me” doing the thinking.
Is that awareness there when I’m not doing the thinking?
If not, where does it go?
How is it that I can come to awareness when I’ve not been particularly aware?
This gets really tricky.
The question itself.
Coming to Awareness
I say, “I ‘come to’ awareness,” which makes it seem as though awareness is already there and that I “come to” it.
Is that just a mental construction?
Even if so, it is experienced. I can see that.
I suppose it is sort of like “sitting up,” or “speaking.” Something I do. An action. I come to awareness.
I see that the “coming to” is the action. But I come to something — a consequence. Like when sitting up I sit up. So too when I come to awareness, I become aware.
It nonetheless leaves me with the question of the awareness that I’ve now come to.
Did I bring it with me?
Was it “in here” all along?
Or “out there” that I came to?”
Doesn’t it seem as if it was “in here” and I discovered it by getting past that which was covering it up?
The “in’s” and “out’s” were stumbling me.
But I did see something about it all.
My awareness became keener when I had no thoughts in mind, not even a thought about awareness.
There I was, down to the nitty gritty.
So I let go of all thoughts.
I found that when I did that, it was a nice comfy place. It was not easy to stay there though, without thoughts.
Bodily needs wanted my attention, pushing themselves into the empty mind.
Stray thoughts kept popping up uninvited — from seemingly nowhere.
I’d found, over the years of practicing meditation, that I could prefer to stay still and to let go of distracting thoughts.
As soon as they pop into mind, all I have to do is prefer to allow them to pass along their way and remain with the stillness.
Now while not meditating, but thinking, I was trying to decide where the ideas were before they entered mind and where they went when they left.
Clearly it was not clear which was which.
That was many years ago. And i’ve come back to that mindlessness over and over and over again over the years.
I like it because it frees me from a lot of useless worrisome thoughts.
And it gives me a clearer understanding of how little distinction I have between the “ins” and “outs” of things.
I’m sure I’ve come closer to the blurred distinction between what I think I am and what I think I am not.
Between what is and what is not.
What always is and what is transient.
It bolsters the identification I have with the more permanent that is out there, and less identification with the transient that flows through this body and mind “in here.”
So it is that I leave off with Descartes’ self-inquiry and go on along with Plato’s essences.
As the old Greek philosopher said, While “the many can be seen but not known, the ideas (essences) are known but not seen.”
Isn’t that what we mean by “intuition?”