September 21st, 2008
Illustration compliments of Lem Fugitt of Robot Dreams
In a prior post, I wrote about the value of thinking inside the box. Working from within the box, we can come to recognize the bounds of the box and begin to understand the framework it establishes. It is after coming to understand the box that we can begin to think outside of it. In a similar fashion, mindfulness training takes an inside to outside developmental route. Though there are a lucky few people in the world who can immediately reach enlightenment and perceive the world with unclouded vision, most people will need to journey through a path of self-discovery first.
Our minds are partly formed via luck of the genetic draw and partly forged through environmental and societal influences; our life experiences and interactions with family and community shape our identities. Starting from childhood, we discover patterns of understanding in our everyday existence and use our life experiences to form a framework for understanding the world. Formulating patterns from our experiences allows us to establish coping strategies to survive life. For example, we learn or are taught early in life not to touch hot objects or stay out of the path of large moving objects. On the other hand, we also develop mental frameworks which only serve to color our perceptions. For a multitude of reasons, we may come to like or dislike certain foods, people, style of clothing, etc. The mental constructs we forge become filters through which we perceive the world.
These mental constructs that we form obscure the true nature of the world we perceive. Our sense of self–our egos–assign labels and values to things based largely on preconceptions. By relying on preformed labels and values, we bias our perceptions. We can’t see with fresh eyes, listen with attentive ears, or taste with a cleansed palate. We constrain ourselves in what we allow ourselves to perceive. Our preconceptions form the walls of box which limit our ability to see things as they are, and our egos become the guardians of those walls.
Due to the imperfections of the mind, we are prone to revert to thinking inside the box. In mindfulness training, we strive to expand our awareness to perceive the world as it truly is, but the constraints of our boxes hinder our growth. Often, we may not even know that we view the world through tinted lenses. Part of the challenge in mindfulness training is to focus our attentions our thoughts so that we can come to recognize the mental boxes which bias our perceptions. After recognizing the box formed by our preconceptions, we can begin to understand the box and recognize the walls which trap us.
Recognition of the box and acknowledgement of our egos is prerequisite to breaking down the walls of mental ensnarement. Mindfulness training teaches us to recognize our mental boxes so that we may learn to look past them and perceive with greater clarity. Mindfulness starts from within and expands our awareness outward as we learn to let go of the mental frameworks that our egos so closely guard.
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