Thursday, August 20, 2009

When the illusion becomes a cage

My dear friend and neighbor Joanna gave me Offerings, a photographic collection of Buddhist wisdom sayings, for my birthday; I keep the book open next to my Buddha candle and visit with it briefly every morning.

Today's saying was something about living "in a cage of our own making," which seemed to follow nicely after yesterday's post about how our perceptions color our impressions and experience of the world we live in.

There are times, for me at least, when things seem to get badly out of focus; somewhat like this image. It takes a while to understand that something is wrong -- I keep bumping up against things, and eventually realize that I'm just not seeing all that clearly.

But once I realize that something is off, it takes quite a bit longer to make the necessary shift back into reality. And part of the problem is that I keep staring at the same old thing, sort of squinting at it, trying to see it in a new way to make it work. But what is often going on is that my focus has shifted from what is real and true and now -- the actual trees and sky captured in this image -- to the reflected surface of that reality.

In the case of this photo, that's the hood of a car; in my own life I think it has to do with ego, and the way ego tends to reflect the needs and demands of our society and our surroundings. I could stare at this reflected image for hours and it would never get any clearer because the reflecting surface is itself flawed. And I could spend hours mulling over my ego's perceptions of the world -- and get pretty grumbly in the process! -- and never really get any closer to extricating myself from this uncomfortable and unfocused space, because those egoic perceptions are inherently flawed, entangled as they are in history and shoulds and unfulfilled longings and expectations; cluttered as they are with shadows and fears and black holes and blind spots.

The trick -- when we get stuck in this reflected life and finally begin to see that an about face is in order, that we need to close our eyes, turn around, and open them again to see the true path before us -- is to stay light on your feet. There is -- for me, anyway -- this frustration that emerges when I finally begin to see what's up, and at that point I'm tempted to break out the sledge hammer, to attack myself and that reflective surface, indulging in a destructive bout of guilt and recriminations for having fallen into the egoic trap yet again.

But look at this image, this reflected image. It's not that it's bad: it actually has a lot of charm and appeal. It only causes problems when we think of it as reality and expect it to be accurate. We need to understand and accept -- in true Buddhist fashion -- that this unique way we experience life, reflected as it so often is in our own surface perceptions -- is an illusion. Once we understand that, we can learn to dance lightly through it and over it; we can step back from it and see it for what it is without getting caught up in our need for it to be true or our need to justify our own particular perceptions.

Having understood that it is an illusion, that there is a deeper I behind the me, we can also learn to appreciate the value of our own unique perceptions; to smile at them with compassion, the way a fond parent smiles at a child's illusions. Because this out-of-focus place that so often lures us off-course isn't bad in itself -- those departures from reality have an enchantment all their own, and the mid-course corrections they necessitate have a lot to teach us. We just need to work to keep it all in perspective, and not let the illusion turn into a cage.


Stacey Grossman said...

Diane, I glanced at this image, read your words, and thought "this reminds me of that bible story about the blind man healed by Jesus, who looked and said 'I see people but they look like trees,walking.'" I like the contrast of the unidentifiable movement in this image (you tell us it is the hood of the car, but who would know?) and the known image of trees. Great contrast which asks the viewer to ponder.

Of course the rest of the story is that the healing caused the man to see clearly. I think of seeing in reflection and "seeing through" as opposite sides of the same jewel. Something about perspective, as you say.

Thanks for your reflections!

No No Nanette said...

Thank you, Diane, for today's message. I just need to remember that your blog is waiting for me when I need a break from seemingly constant deadlines.

You are becoming a wise woman.
Nan said...

Takes one to know one...