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Tahlia Newland

How meditation helps us see reality

We think we see reality as we go about our day, but do we, really? See that person over there whispering to a friend and looking at you and giggling. Are they talking about you? Are they saying horrible things about you? That’s what it looks like to you, but what if they’re actually looking at the person behind you or they’re planning your surprise birthday party, not talking about what a terrible person you are?

We make assumptions all the time. My mother used to call it ‘jumping to conclusions.’ It means that we perceive what is happening based on what we think, rather than what is. Sometimes it might be the same, but when we get it wrong, we can make a real mess of things. For instance, if we decide to spread bad rumours about the friend who was whispering about us because we’re sure that’s what she was doing to us, that surprise birthday party will probably never happen and we’re likely to lose a friend as well.

As soon as we’ve made a concept about something, we’ve stopped seeing reality and started seeing our version of reality. For example, a dog bounds across the park towards you. Initially you see a moving form and register its colour, texture and other visual details and hear its bark. You recognise it as a dog. In the next instant, your mind associates everything you know about dogs to that dog. You are now seeing a generic dog, rather than the actual dog before you. The dog you see is now coloured by your past experiences of and opinions on dogs, on whether you like them, don’t like them or don’t care either way. If your concepts about the dog are as far as you look, they’re all you will see. If you have strong feelings of either like, dislike, or disinterest, you are likely not to see anything that doesn’t fit your assumptions, unless it’s glaringly obvious, and even then you may choose to ignore it rather than change a cherished belief. This is how prejudice is maintained and strengthened.

 

What you are doing is preventing yourself from seeing the actual dog before you and from reacting to what is actually happening now. Instead you are operating on preconceived notions that you ascribe to the concept of ‘dog.’ It’s a kind if mental processing that happens extremely quickly and by closing our minds, it robs our life of its immediacy, vibrancy and effectiveness. To counteract it, we need to open our minds. This is where meditation comes in.

 

In meditation, our mind is open, relaxed and alert. We can see the dog, recognise everything about it, including our preconceptions and thoughts about it, but we are free from automatic reaction. Meditation takes the knee-jerk out of action. We don’t have to act on what we think. The more we meditate, the more we take this mental freedom into our daily life, the less likely we are to ‘take things at face value’ and the more likely we are to be able to be present in the moment and act according to what is, not what we think it is.

 

Can you see the benefits in acting in accordance with what’s happening, rather than our concept of what’s happening?