That difference is subtle. I’ve used the analogy before –it’s like that day when a person realizes that ‘uncle’ means their ‘Mom’s brother.’ Nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed.
In that case, the uncle becomes a new person in much the same way that we learn math; like that moment when the concept of ‘multiplication’ shifts from being a description of a mathematical function into a fairly basic but universal action in the universe. One’s a noun describing a verb and one’s the verb itself. That is a significant difference.
Rather than some lightning bolt or jolt awake, most people come to greater understanding by taking little steps. One minute we see the world one way, the next moment we can suddenly grasp the concept of multiplication no matter where we see it.
Through the miracle of continued breakthroughs of understanding, the world can, bit by bit, become both less mysterious and more manageable. Mindfulness classes are essentially gatherings designed to incite a-ha moments.
The same thing happens when we understand our egos in a particularly profound way. Through greater understanding and an acceptance of our lack of control of the world, we ironically gain greater control over ourselves.
As people increase their awareness of how reality works, apparent paradoxes commonly come to make sense. Those in turn often lead to new action in our lives. But the action itself can’t be the aim because the clarity only occurs if it is conjured through sincerity and earnestness. Wanting to be a better person is a want, and desires trap us in a state of ego.
Our biggest gains are made when we come to profoundly understand our thinking so well that we simply let it be. It becomes separate from us, like a city walled off by a large garden. In this way our mind must become like a Zen Garden, where the outside world is calmly considered, but where it cannot intrude. After all, the point of a Zen Garden is not to control nature, but rather to slow life down to the speed of our soul.
We need to see spaces of no-thought as being like an oasis, just as a Zen Garden has walls that contain the spiritual equivalent of a sailor’s dead calm. They take the wind from our ego’s sails; the walls and plants and water somehow absorb and prevent the echo of our egocentric thinking, and they dissolve the bouts of thought we attempt to begin again.
Over time, we surrender. Eventually we learn to carry the garden within us.
It is important to note that the garden’s beauty does not mean it creates only beautiful flowers, exclusive of thorns. Rather than removing the thorns from our lives, our understanding unites the beauty and the pain in ways we feel are both sensible and profoundly worthwhile.
By living with a deeper understanding of our how our lives happen and what that means for us, we are suddenly transported to a bigger and more exciting landscape in which we have more options and greater access to our own capabilities.
Living with this underlying truth may or may not make us appear more successful to others, but what it will do is ensure that we respect how we feel about our own lives. Having an ego is understandable. Allowing it to control our spirit is unfortunate. We should do all we can to prevent it from succeeding in hobbling our potential for a rich and rewarding life.
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.