Let’s start it off by thinking of our lifetimes as a hallway. We enter the hallway at birth and exit it at death. Time is distance. The further we move down the hallway the older we get. Simple, right?
Add a conveyor belt floor, like those movable sidewalks you see in many large airports. Without us doing anything the hallway will naturally carry us from the entrance door at one end toward the exit door at the other. This is the process of aging.
On one side a wall is lined with windows, which represents the view of our consciousness–those windows represent our ability to perceive the universe. (If we were in a coma for a while, the windows would disappear for a distance along the treadmill.)
Except for the one narrow row of windows that lines our treadmill trip, we are sealed in. In this metaphor the walls and floors and ceiling represent the limits of our five senses. JWe can’t see people’s heat signatures or skeletons or feelings by looking at them. There are things we cannot perceive even if we want to. The narrowness of our window-perspective represents the narrowness inherent in a biological view of the universe.
While we can perceive an impressive amount of the universe out of what is a relatively small window, our limited view is not so much a limitation on us as it is the thing that defines us. No being (unless we refer to it as God), can really perceive the vastness of our infinite universe. That is not an experience designed for an individual of any type because at that point all is One.
Our existence is formed by the shape of the reality we let in through the windows of our consciousness. When we say we ‘change,’ what we mean is that we have expanded or shrank our worldview by moving closer to or further from, the row of windows that represent the flow of our life.
The ceiling, floor and window frames —the areas above, below and in front of us— all represent the physical limitations and major beliefs we that have cut us off from the universe. For example, being a mother might be like a ceiling that prevents you from certain experiences. Maybe the floor is made of our belief that we are weak, and so therefore we fail to see solutions that require strength as being impossible for us. We can want to be strong, but that is just trading one window for another.
In terms of what we can see, our perception of how smart we are might be one window frame, and our perception of how likable we are being another. Other smaller and less inhibiting beliefs like our nationality, our race, our colour, our education, our life experiences etc. all combine to help complete the frames that shape our general perceptions of the outside world.
If we don’t think those sorts of thoughts would feel real, just ask a sports fan how okay they would feel about changing their allegiances to another team, or how we would feel singing sincerely to a different national anthem. They feel like near physical blocks within us.
These conceptual frames are things that often seem invisible to us despite their obvious need to exist. That’s why people just assume they are shy versus they are making the choice to behave shyly.
The second part of this metaphor deals with the fact that our lives are experienced in moments. To represent these moments imagine that as we move down our movable sidewalk that each window represents one moment. They each blend into each other so we don’t really notice one ending and another starting, and when we feel we have become wiser it means we have moved closer to the glass and gained perspective.
By moving closer to the glass we are able to appreciate more of what’s outside. People like me or Sydney Banks or Wayne Dyer or Eckhart Tolle are just people who temporarily and accidentally smashed the glass once and went outside for a look at the whole deal. But we couldn’t stay there and we wouldn’t want to.
Once a person is out there a realization occurs that there is simply no way to take it all in at once. We can know oneness is there, but we instantly realize that there is no way look everywhere at once within it. We need a frame to look out of to exist.
When Jill Bolte Taylor had her famous insight what she lost track of was her ‘self.’ But if we can surrender into the idea that we need a self to have experiences, then we can surrender and accept that our limitations create our lives. Yin and yang then make sense.
Too many people invest too much time trying to smash the windows when that’s not a route a person can find, it’s one we stumble into. But even without doing that, we can choose to meditate on these topics and in doing so, realize that we can just stop trying to get out. Escape must be surrendered before surrender is complete.
We don’t need some lightening-bolt insight. We are better off slowly and incrementally testing and proving to ourselves that our windows —just like everyone else’s— are just a way of filtering the universe into something perceivable. If we develop our awareness in stages, over time, it actually sticks better than if it comes as a burst.
We should not lament our filters. There is no way for us to experience the universe. We are a way for the universe to experience itself. So ultimately it doesn’t really matter which hallway we’re in. We don’t need to break the glass. We only need to realize that it only makes sense that we all see different things.
Most of us get lost for two reasons. The first is that we get attached to the idea of that big bright-light glass-crashing enlightenment experience when all that we learn by having one is that we never needed one. Making enlightenment a goal makes it impossible to achieve because in an enlightened state of mind we don’t even exist to need anything. An enlightened state of completeness and a wanting state that has an us in it are mutually exclusive.
Secondly, we get lost because we don’t go with the flow. We battle the movement of life. And here’s how:
On the moving sidewalk of life we can relax and move forward naturally, or we can expend a lot of energy and wear ourselves out by walking backwards or forwards and treating the sidewalk like a treadmill. The trick to this treadmill is, we’re not only wasting energy walking ahead of things, we’re also skipping by the moments we would have experienced had we been present –because those tick by whether we run forwards or backwards. The sidewalk is always moving.
If we run backwards we’re only looking out windows we’ve already looked out of. It’s not like the universe outside changes because we’re re-viewing it, only we change by adjusting our perspective. In going backwards there is nothing new to see. We are simply wasting energy moving against the flow, bouncing up and down from running, distorting your view, all so that we can re-experience an experience we’ve already experienced.
Meanwhile, the present moment is up ahead and unattended; ticking by while we’re putting effort into jogging on the spot in our past. No wonder life isn’t going well if we’re not even present for the decisions that life requires.
Now of course, we’re welcome to run back to re-experience anything we want, but we can also choose something awesome. Why not want to remember that great concert, or that great day with friends, or our wedding? Those are things that will likely invigorate our spirit.
Instead, most of us spend more of our time jogging backwards to look at heartache and loss and betrayal and regrets, and we weaken ourselves by doing that. We need to see how pointless that is.
We’re expending energy unnecessarily, all in a bid to turn life into a treadmill where we spend too much of it reinvested in old, unpleasant experiences. We’ve already seen those. All we can do is think differently about them.
The motion of running backwards will always distort our view of the past, but we can take heart. That doesn’t mean we’re entirely lost. Intense study of ourselves does tend to move us closer to the glass. This is what it is to meditate.
While self-study meditation is not like quietly going with the flow, it’s not a waste. It does help over time in that a healthy, intentional and focused revisiting of old experiences can help us to study them ever more closely. In doing so we can edge closer to the windows and that might cause us to notice some things that we wouldn’t have previously. We refer to those as ‘insights.’
Following those re-appreciations of our past, we can then relax back into the flow of the present without losing the benefits of the the broader view that emerges from studying our lives so closely. We can’t un-know any more than we can forget how to multiply numbers.
Always keep in mind that even if we do walk forward or backward, and even if we don’t move closer to the glass or smash it open, it’s not like the universe will judge us. Everything just is. Everything is an aspect of the universe. Everything outside, the hallway itself, the windows and their frames, the treadmill/moving sidewalk and us. That’s all one thing: the universe.
We should all stop trying so hard and just accept that every set of windows still gives us the opportunity to be grateful that we get to see anything at all. Because when we reach the end of our hallway we simply step into darkness. And that’s when we know the value of having windows of experience. Any experience.
Our birth was our conscious entry into a hallway of windows. At first they were pretty low to the ground and we were really limited our view, but over time they rose as we grew and our perspectives expanded. Here’s hoping this blog helped it expand even further, and in a way that consciously moved us all closer to the glass.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.