Let’s start it off by thinking of our lifetimes as a wide, and hopefully long, 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 to the entire 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 inevitable process of aging.
On one side a wall is lined with windows, which represents the view of our personal 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, and our ability to interpret them.
We can’t see people’s heat signatures or skeletons or feelings by looking at them. We don’t know what others are thinking, and there are many things we believe we understand when we really do not –which is why we continue to grow as we age.
While we can perceive an impressive amount of the universe through 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. Everyone has their own unique view.
Some have some parts of their view in common (friends), and still others look in entirely opposite directions (enemies). Only ‘God’ could every really perceive all of those views at once.
Our life emerges from the shape of the reality we let in through the windows of our unique consciousness. When we say ‘I’ve changed,’ what we really mean is that we have expanded or shrank our worldview by moving closer to, or further from, our unique row of windows. But we’re still always only seeing part of everything.
In terms of what we can see, our perception of how smart we are is one view we have. Another might be our perception of how likable we are, or how funny, or how healthy, or date-able, or fat or thin etc. etc.
Importantly, we are also impacted by the fact that others will have independent views of us that won’t necessarily reflect who we believe we are. There is no reconciling these differences, these emerge from the quality of individuality.
If we don’t think our limiting thoughts can feel real and solid and immovable, just ask a sports fan how okay they would feel about changing their view so that it moved away from their favourite team and pointed at their sworn enemies? Or how most of us would feel singing sincerely to a different national anthem?
Those negative reactions can feel like near physical blocks within us. They shouldn’t be dismissed as meaningless. Everyone’s ideas combine to form the realities of everyone around us and there are a lot of differences.
The reason those differences don’t matter is because how the views came to be is all the same. Our windows might look in different directions, but we are all looking out of windows. Still, these conceptual frames are things that are often invisible to us despite their obvious need to exist.
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 like the frames of film in a movie, so we don’t really notice one ending and another starting. But as we move through these moments, when we feel we have become wiser it means we have moved closer to the windows and we have gained perspective as a result.
By moving closer to the glass we are able to appreciate more of what’s outside of our previous experience. And people like me, or Sydney Banks or Wayne Dyer or Eckhart Tolle are just people who temporarily (and generally accidentally) smashed the glass and went outside –once.
We went outside for a look at the whole deal. But we couldn’t stay there and we wouldn’t want to. It’s too much to form a life from. So we each chose our lives as a focused direction.
It’s easy to be happy with almost any direction after we’ve learned to appreciate the big picture –that God consciousness would be all-knowing and just a little bit boring. Then we see the dramas as our life as our unique piece of that God-perspective.
in this way 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 before we can even really exist. Our personalities were formed by those frames.
When Jill Bolte Taylor had her famous insight, what she lost track of was her ‘windows.’ She found herself half-wandering around outside, while another part of her was still trying to look through her windows.
If we can surrender into the idea that we need a perspective –a self to have experiences through– then we can surrender and accept that our limitations serve to create our lives.
Too many people invest too much time on the treadmill either trying to make it last longer, or they try to smash the windows when that’s not a route to peace because again, it’s just too much. We want to make our moving treadmill our friend.
In doing so, we can realize that we can just stop trying to get out. The idea of escape must be surrendered. This is what it means to end suffering by accepting all suffering. At that point we get right up against the glass for our best view yet, even though it may include some ugly things.
And 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. We should take it seriously the way an actor takes the play they’re in seriously.
We should not lament our filters. There is no other reasonable way for us to experience the entire universe. Instead, we are a way for the universe to experience itself. So ultimately it doesn’t really matter which hallway we’re in. Leaving one just puts us into another.
We don’t need to break the glass or unify our perspectives. We only need to realize that it only makes sense that we all see things differently.
Without that knowledge, 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. But making enlightenment a goal makes it impossible to achieve because in an enlightened state of mind we don’t even exist to have any desire –including one to be enlightened.
A wanting state of mind is what keeps us separate from an enlightened state of completeness because the two concepts are mutually exclusive.
The second mistake we make is we get lost because we don’t go with the flow. We battle the movement of life. 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 trying to walk backwards or forwards.
But this treadmill is our lifetime. We’re not only wasting energy walking ahead of things, we’re also skipping by the moments we would have experienced had we just been patiently present. If we run to focus on some other time, we ensure we’ll miss the present while we do it.
Yet, 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, it only appears to because we have adjusted our perspective.
In going backwards there is nothing new to see. We are simply wasting energy moving against the flow. We bounce up and down from running, and we distort our 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.
Rather than trying to perfect life, we should all stop trying so hard and just accept that every set of windows is limiting, and yet they all still give us the opportunity to be grateful that we get to see anything at all.
When we reach the end of our hallway, that’s when we know the value of having the windows of experience. Any experience. Even the ones we fought not to have.
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 and grew as we grew, and our perspectives expanded.
Rather than breaking free of the hallway, we are best to learn how to use our perspective to our greatest advantage. Here’s hoping this piece helped get you closer to the glass, and to a greater view of all that is around us. If our minds and souls are open, the world is always ready with things to be grateful for.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.