Time to slow down
Apr 12, 2020
Have you noticed the general quietness of this pandemic time? The diminution of disturbing and unharmonious noises, of overwhelming visual queues and pungent smells. It’s especially noticeable for those of us spending our quarantine in an urban environment. How strange to open our window and only hear one car in the distance, covered by the songs of birds and the whispering of the wind passing into fresh spring leaves. We usually know the opposite to be true. Even music or the chatter of our neighbours comes through to us with the muffled sound of distance. Yes it is truly enjoyable to savour perception without overloading our senses. Only a few things are still going at the pace we knew a month ago, our phones constantly ping us with messages, memes, news and more, the flow of content on the internet is perhaps stronger then ever before, TVs are bursting with programs that they think entertaining or informing. Most of all, behind these tools, it is the human mind that knows no rest and overuses what he still controls; underlying the dissonance between the rhythm of men and the rhythm of nature.
How can we explain this disaccord, rooted in the difference between what the world around us most probably is, and how we experience it? The question of our conscious representation of reality has fascinated generations of philosophers, spiritual leaders and, more recently, cognitive and neuroscientists. Yet, although we grasp some concepts around it, an exhaustive answer forever eludes us.
Why is it that not only we directly experience things around us, but that these objective things give rise to subjective feelings, different for each and everyone of us, and that a thinking being within us analyses them. That state of being is best defined by phenomenological consciousness and is perhaps the most singular characteristic of man kind. Descartes even goes all the way into asserting that it is the condition to existence. Symbolically put, we have taken a bite from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and have been forever cast away from the Garden of Eden, separated from the rest of creation by a thinking self. And with it comes great pain and suffering as the Bible warns us.
Although the upside is undeniable. This huge evolutionary competitive advantage allows us not only to directly experience the present, but to make hypotheses about the future, generating a high capacity for abstraction, the soil for our complex communication, social structures, culture, creative tools and much more.
If it is true that this wonderful machine that is our thinking mind, made us the only living species with such a capacity to bend our environment; we now appear to be enslaved by our disposition to project ourselves into the future, forgetting our very existence in the present moment. It is normal for evolution to favour what works, hence why our prefrontal cortex has been benefitting from most of the perks our bettering life conditions has unlocked. But we today live in a very different environment than the one we have evolved in, and for. Most of us being relieved from any immediate physiological need, our thinking mind is free to serve us endless hypothetical futures, that not only often wrongly dictate our present actions, but take us away from them whilst performing them. Following evolution as a rule, our entire society is built on mortgaging the present for the future. Our tool building, our communication, our culture, obey the same rule, constantly taking us away from the direct experience of the present moment. Never in our lifetime have we been given an opportunity to stop this devouring machine all together, as a species, allowing us to reconnect with the now.
The thinking mind is often referred to by modern psychology and Eastern philosophies as the ego, a word that has been vastly misused, almost given a pathological nature.This conception of the ego comes from the inflated place Western thinkers have been giving it throughout history, pushing us to identify with its endless flow of fears of the future and anguish’s of the past. But it is only an illusion, a cognitive tool meant to serve our decision making, not define our very existence. Most religions and philosophies, as well as some recent scientific studies, agree that there is a state beyond thoughts. Methods to attain these states of being are as numerous as the teachers. Breathing, mindful meditation or prayer, fasting or the absorption of external compounds, have been some of the favoured technics over history. Yet, after such a journey within, the world we re-enter is forever faster, louder, brighter and catches us back in its rapid stream. For a seeking individual, it is often confusing to live in a society that has erected fulfilling the thinking mind’s needs as its preeminent dogma, the very reason for life.
This is why the current time is such a unique opportunity. The machine has mostly stopped. What a moment for us to collectively come to the realisation that we do not want to be slaves to our thinking selves, to re-own the tool evolution has given us by seeing it for what it is, and using it in that way to reshape society. Planning for the future should not be at the constant expense of living the present. Only right now is real, the rest is speculation. Let's walk towards freeing ourselves from the fears subconsciously dictating our actions, towards being present, learning how to quiet our thinking when necessary, and not identify with the thoughts that constantly arise. Working towards being more spiritual as it is commonly said, but without identifying as a spiritual person, there lies the ever grasping ego's trap. Instead let us see spirituality for what it really is; the underlying harmony and connection between all things, the quest for a state of radiant awareness. It is an endeavour worth fighting for that we can for once set in motion collectively.