the eye ‘I’ metaphor

POSTCARD#327: Bangkok: Completed the cataract surgery in one eye, and waiting now for the second one, thus going around in a one-eyed condition. What I’m seeing through the right eye is a wonderful enhancement, a brightened-up version of everything… hard to believe. Close the right eye, look through the left and the world is a dull, indistinct, old, yellowed photograph. Just to confirm this, I close the left eye and look through the right again and it’s like the Nat Geo channel, as clear as the iPhone X 458 pixels per inch; the techno-device metaphor used to describe physical reality.

The world is an analogy, a figure of speech, a conceptual metaphor. In my case the lens in one eye is a tiny piece of sophisticated plastic – in the same way, someone might have an artificial leg, or a dental crown. No difference, except that you walk around with an artificial leg, you chew with a dental crown but I’m seeing the world through this artificial lens. The artificial lens is a functioning part of the cognitive process.

Light passes through the lens, images appear, mind considers all this, based on received experience of similar images and selects a file, saying, ‘what you see is like this’. It resembles something that’s familiar, so I re-cognize it, and that’s what it becomes – whether it is really what I think it is, or not. The metaphor pushes the whole thing over the edge; one thing becomes another. There’s that thing out there and ‘me’ in here, looking at it; ‘I’ am on the receiving end, therefore conscious experience ‘is’ individual identity: ‘I think, therefore I am. “cogito ergo sum”

The assumption is that the ‘self’ is a fixed reality and everything coming through the senses is real; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, cognition – and it’s all coming to (((me))). I like it, I want it, I want more of it, or I hate it, I don’t want it. This is how it is, I get all the joy but also the pain, the good and the bad, love and hate, heaven and hell – thus I have to spend a major part of my life (maybe many lifetimes) having to cope with these polarizations that I accidentally created, thinking I was doing the right thing.

Buddhists say this is not it. Thoughts can exist in the absence of a guiding “self” – obvious to anyone engaged in the practice of Buddhist meditation: cogito ergo non sum! What can I do about it? How to be free of it, to not be a slave to it? In some circumstances, taking an indirect approach means simply the intention to be mindful is enough, sufficient to disengage from the automatic reaction. Not caught up in the experience of it, one step removed, just knowing that this is how it is; that’s all. Knowing it takes the place of not knowing it. Step by step, experiencing how to do it… words cannot go any further.

“Emphasis is laid on the principle that this (same) thought-complex is an aggregate or combination of such factors, and nothing more… there is no permanent entity or self which acquires the states”. [From a footnote in the English translation of the Dhamma Sangani, by Caroline Rhys Davids, 1900] Explained further in the Atthasalini, a 5th century commentary by Buddhaghosa: “… here there are only states: no permanent being, no soul is known. These are mere states without essence, without a guiding principle… there is nothing else whatever, neither a being, nor an individuality, nor a man, nor a person.”


Reflections on an earlier post

the blur

POSTCARD#313: Bangkok: My first visit to the eye hospital, unwilling to go, but blurred vision in the both eyes, and still I’m thinking it’s nothing, disregarding the fact that I’m finding it difficult to read, identify coins, and other necessary actions. Making excuses for a long time, and going on like this until I’m stumbling into things too many times; only then am I persuaded I need to go. Even so, still insisting no, I don’t need anyone to come with me. Thank you, I can manage by myself and next thing, I’m squeezing through the crowds at the Skytrain (overhead railway) entrance to get a one-day ticket (because it’s easier than putting the right coins in the slot). Some regret then, that I’d refused the kind offer of someone to come with me, but another part of me insisting I can manage, I’ve done this so many times what could go wrong? Same old situation, I am a foreigner living in someone else’s country, not possible to ask anyone for help, too complicated to explain – therefore there’s that familiar alertness, awake and mindful.

Getting off the train is a challenge, it’s a place I’ve not been to before, and I can read Thai but can’t seem to find the correct exit (the signs are unclear?) So I choose to go with the North/South orientation of the map, knowing that if I face the way the train is travelling as I get off, in this case North, and as I go down the staircases and escalators to street level, I’m always orientated in that same Northerly direction and notice which way the traffic is going so it’ll be easier for the taxi driver. All this because doing a U-turn can be a lengthy process here; somebody said the whole of Bangkok is one large, U-turn…. A pink and white cab is waiting and I tell the driver where I’d like to go – will he take me? He thinks for a bit (doing U-turns in his head), yes, ok. So we’re off.

At the hospital, it’s a long session. I’m lying down and they put some drops in my eyes to enlarge the pupils so their equipment can see inside the eye (this is just so freaky). The doctor asks me if there’s anybody to take me home because the drops in the eyes will make things a bit indistinct for a few hours. I’m in denial, thinking, I’ve been living in an indistinct world for a long time and have managed okay. But when I step outside, it’s raining and the world is a blur, a smear, a sea of colour, yellow, green and pink taxis, red tail lights of vehicles in vivid splashes. No form or definition anywhere, I’ve lost my North/South orientation, having come into the hospital by a different door.

What to do? A motorbike taxi comes along and I tell him where to go and get on – let him to sort it out. We get up to a surprising speed on what I believe to be the wrong side of the road, dodging oncoming traffic, weaving in and out of the other lane, wherever there’s a space.

A great whoosh of hot wet wind, colossal noise and we get to the Skytrain station, with its dynamic staircase insisting on the direction we need to take. After that it’s just a case of getting the North/South thing sorted out, following the crowds up the escalator, on to the train, and into the coolness of the AC carriage, with this wild wind crashing against the window and the strange dark sky. A wind also blowing through the mind; papañca, proliferations arising from the single thought that I have cataracts in both eyes and have to have the operation on the right eye on August 9th. Mindfulness of breathing…


Reflections on an earlier post, necessity of mindfulness