We experience a reality which so far appears unlimited both in its depth and range. It would seem that human happiness consists of exploring and appreciating this vast field of possibility. It contains everything known to us, and everything unknown. All the great hopes, the unrealized dreams, are there. We stand before it as a baby bird just from the nest, testing its wings.
Nothing obscures our vision of this reality more than ideas. Ideas can become a substitute, a way of remaining inside the nest while giving a show of knowing what’s outside. They provide an illusion of greatness, expansiveness, and a wilderness for our mind to conquer. They are a virtual reality, constructed by a being who must dwell in actual reality.
As a virtual reality, ideas relax the need for effort, and the tension of unpredictability. More than anything else they offer a promise of security and an ability to know – through general principles – the character of whatever experiences we encounter. Ideas turn the Unknown into a speculative known, thereby reducing surprises. They seem to change chaos into order, though it is an order confined within the limits of our own comprehension.
Whether reality is as ordered as our ideas we can never know, without a mind to encompass the whole of it. Comprehension is not what bears us thence, but wonder; reality is not a place of informed decisions, but of playing by heart. Love is the prime mover there, and the mind following as an awed spectator.
The desire for security keeps us in the nest, our ideas isolating us from the boundless possibility of the Unknown. Mainly we do this to lessen fear, but in fact it worsens it. Since ideas cannot map the reality, the discrepancy between the two forces us constantly to seek more certain structures of thought. If instead we allowed the winds of uncertainty to carry us, we might do better than all of our projected futures. The function of plans in this sense is to give us answers to questions we might face, rather than painting a picture of a desired future.
What has been traditionally called awakening is, I believe, little more than discovering that ideas cannot fathom reality. Thinking is highly adept at solving problems of theory, and is immensely useful in those aspects of life, but it can no more act as an interface for reality than logic could be expected to address qualitative problems. Thinking, like reading or writing a book, is basically unrelated to the experiences it describes. Once this is grasped at a level of primary awareness, things are no longer seen in terms of thought, but d thought in terms of things. Thought appears comical by contrast, like a distorted, colorless caricature, held up to the living, vibrant, ever-changing reality. No wonder the experience of seeing this often provokes laughter – somewhat like realizing that life so far has been lived within an empty coffee, bobbing along across the ocean. nothing that ideas can grasp truly relate, expect in specific, superficial aspects. Ideas are more like a kind of math: theories which make sense and seem sane in relation to each other, but that bear only a distant relationship to what they aim to describe. Yet for all of that they have a definite value, and work well enough to improve life, so long as they are not misunderstood as representing what they describe.
Awakening, then, is by no means the end, but only a first beginning to exploring life. It is like opening the eyes after waking, and realizing the difference between the world of dreams and waking life. With a clear sight, we can now move out and see what there is to be seen. We have still to address the question of goals and choices, but at least now the matter concerns what is real.
What is real seems also to answer what it is our nature longs for. The fuller our experience of it – undimmed by the cloud of ideas and fears – the greater our satisfaction in the moment of perception. Ideas alone have long been known as lifeless; they promise sure rewards, not in the present, but always in a distant future, often a future that is unachievable while still living! Reality, however, offers its riches in “real time”. If it were not so, how could joy be found in the fact of being alive? Merely to anxiously strive for some foothold on an impossible ideal, so that the life after death might be made more enjoyable?
To escape ideas is to abandon them as a means of experiencing reality. They run very deep, and have become our instinctive response to phenomena. First and foremost, we must be willing not to know. Not to know the names of colors, of objects, or the shape of possible futures. We must allow death and pain and sorrow to be equally as possible as their opposite; even not to know where one begins and the other ends. Life must simply be what it is, without reduction.