Complete awareness and control for each and every passing moment brings that knowledge which results from the ability to tell what is really real.
Translation by Kofi Busia
What is “real”?
Intuition? The Divine Spark? The Spirit? The Jiva Atman? The mysterious inner workings of our bodies and brains?
I don’t know, I can only hypothesize based on available evidence. But in all my exploring and asking, ruminating and pondering, I think I am starting to grasp the idea and even the possibility of indeed knowing what is real.
How can I even begin to be a little bit confident about this?
Because we’ve all been proven wrong on so many things.
Do you like being wrong?
Me either! In fact, I dislike it so much that I have an unfortunate habit of closing myself off to new information (information that could help me be “right”!).
Actually, we’re all hardwired to do this to some degree. Our brains function such that we instinctively look for affirmations of our actions because it’s a signal that we’re in safe company. So much so, that we tend to rush to conclusions (having an/the answer) because that gives us an easy feeling of conclusion on a topic.
But opening yourself up to new information –even if challenges your view of what is real or right– is such an incredibly important part of life. Given that assumptions and jumping to conclusions are natural functions of the brain, it is crucial to allow for information that can help you and me see how we came to know a reality that simply is not real! Not only does this process help us learn, it also but another part of developing the cognitive abilities that let us move beyond reaction into discerning responses.
From such understanding flows knowledge or the natural ability to distinguish between reality and appearance, even where they do not have other obvious distinguishing marks related to their species, characteristics and location and hence seem to be similar. The possibility of confusion is thus completely overcome.
Translation by Swami Venkatesananda
Happily, we can look beyond our immediate answers about stuff. We can hold back initial reactions and consider evidence that isn’t obvious. We can train ourselves to respond after a thorough, systematic evaluation of the facts.
You can start by picking up a copy of Daniel Kahneman’s phenomenal book Thinking, Fast and Slow. It will explain why we react when, given enough of a pause, we could respond, and will start to give you tools for seeing things a little differently.
You can also start meditating regularly. As I’ve mentioned before, meditation literally changes your brain tissue in such a way as to make the pause (and the peace of the mind that comes with it) easier to access.
Here’s a simple meditation you can do anywhere:
- Sit comfortably and set a timer for 5 (or more) minutes.
- Close your eyes or fix your gaze to a single object, like a blank wall.
- Observe your breathing. You can say to yourself “inhale”, “exhale” with each breath.
- Whenever you notice your mind has wandered to thoughts or distractions, gently bring it back to focusing on the breath.
- When the timer chimes, slowly open your eyes and let your focus adjust to the room.
- Take one minute to lie down or stretch to relieve the work of sitting.
If you can pause long enough –through the help of meditation or yoga or science– to realize you’re about to bully your way through with your wrong “right” answer, you can pull yourself back and answer honestly.
It’s okay to be “wrong” or not know what is right –and it’s even better to be able to embrace it.
hari om tat sat!
An earlier version of this post first appeared on the Yoga 216 blog.