worlds inside worlds

IMG_6784POSTCARD #168: New Delhi: There’s a little Assamese girl who lives next door, looks Japanese but speaks an Indo-Tibetan language. I can’t communicate with her well so we sit on the floor and I give her a few small objects including a brightly coloured gift bag. She opens the bag and puts the objects in the bag then closes it. A moment later she opens the bag, looks inside and the objects are still there, worlds inside worlds. Closes the bag and they disappear again. She repeats the action again and again, develops it by opening the bag and bringing the objects out one by one and giving them to me.

This curious thing about internalizing objects; the contents of our houses, the contents of our minds, and the news here is we are moving house. The house agent informed us on Diwali day; fortuitous, they’d say here – the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and the symbol of the doorway contained in the number 11. The passageway opening and repeated (11/11) as if there were two doors, the old door, the new door and we’re moving from one into the other. The event, conceptualised as a moving-into action, brings to mind the common idea that all things are ‘in’… the child in the womb of the mother, we are contained beings, somehow.

We want to hide in the prepositional form ‘in’… language gets lost in the mystery, can only describe it in technical terms; capacity, volume. We are in a traffic jam, we’re in a bad mood – in a good mood. Always there’s this feeling we want to go ‘in’, it’s a spatial metaphor, inner/outer. We seek refuge ‘in’ our spiritual world… we are ‘in’ the middle of the Pacific Ocean, even though surrounded by space. Everything is ‘in’… I’m ‘in’ space. Space is everywhere, I’m sunk in it, space is submerged in me… I cannot escape from it. Mind is contained in consciousness. Consciousness is a spatial thing. Contemplating something directional that isn’t spatial; dimensions extending in a non spatial sense… for a moment, it holds my attention.

The moving-into is a transformational event, a rebirth. Everything is deconstructed, taken apart, the pieces are wrapped in paper, packed in boxes, placed in the removals van, taken out at the new house, removed from the box, unwrapped from the paper and things are reconstructed in their new setting. Something is forgotten, something new is acquired. The completeness of it evolves over time and becomes the new context within which we engage and interact, like actors on a stage. The story will come to an end some day and we will have to pack and move on again. I can see it coming but that seems like a long way off right now.

“The moment you start talking you create a verbal universe, a universe of words, ideas, concepts and abstractions, interwoven and interdependent, most wonderfully generating, supporting and explaining each other, and yet all without essence or substance, mere creations of the mind. Words create words, Reality is Silent.” [Nisargadatta Maharaj]


Photo: The monk practices mindfulness by meditating in a dangerous situation seated on the peak of a rock, knowing that if his concentration moves from the present time in this precarious position he may fall.
Thanks to Garrett S for his inspiring post: The Philosophy of Metaphors as a Means to Define Spatial Consciousness. Also thanks to Lou at Zen Flash for the Nisargadatta quote here.
~   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   ~

12 thoughts on “worlds inside worlds

  1. I agree strongly with Nisargadatta Maharaj and disagree strongly with The Philosophy of Metaphors (“Since our language, by nature, expresses consciousness as “spatial,” then consciousness throughout history has always existed in a “spatial” space.”).

    I’ve had quite a few fruitless conversations trying to explain that language does not define experience – even if it defines how we communicate about it – and even more fruitless ones trying to encourage people to try to conceptualise things without falling back on spatial metaphors (hence people debating what happened before time began or what exists outside of space or how ‘god’ was created).

    I think most people automatically try to conceive of things against some kind of background – instantly creating an inside and outside whether or not they exist. In particular, people who think consciousness (or emotion or intelligence or personality …) exists inside a brain or can be programmed into a computer are, I think, fooling themselves with their own metaphors. Similar to those 19th century images of a little homunculus in the head perceiving and controlling everything.

    Some pretty interesting experiments have been performed in which subjects are induced to perceive their consciousness as residing in a mannequin. Most people instantly recognises such ‘out-of-body experiences’ as illusory but fail to see their own ‘in-body experience’ is just as deceptive.

    • I was wondering if the original writer was going to respond, maybe you should post on his blog. Thanks for the link, Ehrsson’s work clears away a lot of things inexplicable and the extent to which this ‘self’ is a construct, the plasticity of it reaching to the borderlines of ordinary perception blows me away; ‘ownership’ is a created thing and can be taken apart. I agree with what you’re saying about metaphors after all language itself is a metaphor; words intrude, name things according to received knowledge. It’s a construct from start to finish. My limitations are reached when I start to consider what else there is if the medium of space is excluded…

      • Well, it’s hard to conceptualise no-space spatially – to exclude space from a spatial representation – but do you automatically ‘locate’ all your mental formations?

        Does a feeling of contentment necessarily attach itself to an object or place? When you do mathematical calculations do you imagine the numbers existing in a location? Do your ideas about abstract concepts such as ‘liberty’ or ‘society’ automatically associate with something or somewhere in space/time?

        Even the things we usually associate with a place, such as consciousness, only seem to have a fixed location when objectified. Setting Ehrsson’s work aside, I often ‘project’ my consciousness into/onto another being when I feel empathy or even into an entirely imaginary person and realm when I read fiction. And of course when all distinctions between subject and object are removed my consciousness becomes identical to everything I can perceive and imagine. So if consciousness exists within space/time at all it seems to be able to range across it’s entirety and expand or shrink itself almost without restrictions. That suggests to me that locating consciousness anywhere in space – whether in a mannequin or a lobe of the brain – is arbitrary at best.

      • I am that which is observing the thoughts of me; the conceptual explanation of it, not the experience of it. At the present time, mostly it’s me as the observer of the ‘me’ I think I am. That’s as far as it goes – the reason I can’t figure this out is that it’s not the sort of thing that can be figured out. It’s more like a transformation into the experience of it – this has happened a few times in my life, a tidal wave, but what I’m writing now is seen from the explanation point of view.
        For me, mental formations have always been floating around somewhere without a location. I’m aware of attaching the feeling of contentment to an object, before that happens it’s free of attachment and yes the association with things is applied, objectified when necessary, otherwise there’s no location.
        I can see how one could project empathy on to another person, and that interests me but right now I’m so wrapped up in my own condition. Consciousness can take any shape when subject and object are removed; this is still mostly conceptual for me – there are short experiences of it and contemplation gets me there, a breakthrough. Then the ordinary world returns and I feel that it’s a concept that consciousness is without limit as you’re saying here…

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