THE TRUTH OF THINGS
Episode 9: "I see only what you see, it's just that I notice what I see." With these words from the enlightened master Ramana Maharshi, we explore how quite often, things are not as they seem, and we'll learn how, with the right effort, we can pierce through the illusion to find ever greater clarity, joy, and our most essential identity.
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I see only what you see, it's just that I notice what I see.
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
One of the great secrets to a rich and successful life is clarity. The ability to clearly and accurately see what's true. In the spiritual realm, this clarity is about our ability to see the truth of who we really are beyond this body and mind, something that many people would call enlightenment.
But clarity is equally important in the day to day busy-ness of our lives; in our work, with our friends, in our families. Our ability to clearly see the truth of things can literally make or break our health, our happiness, our success. But the unfortunate thing is that this kind of clarity is actually an uncommon thing because the truth of the matter is, in many ways, we are all living a fiction. What we see, what we hear, what we feel even, and maybe especially who we believe ourselves to be, is a creation of the mind.
Now to be clear, this is not to say that the things we experience are not real, that they do not exist, but rather it's to suggest that the way that we experience these things and what our minds are making them mean can be far removed from reality, from the truth. Sometimes they're set as far apart as heaven and hell.
I see only what you see, it's just that I notice what I see. These words from Ramana Maharshi were offered with the intent of helping his students dismantle a most common confusion. The confusion that is often found in so-called spiritual circles, but one that is certainly not limited to them. The confusion is this: that the perception of the truth is somehow reserved for a special few. That enlightenment or spiritual liberation or God realization or whatever you'd like to call it, derives from some special power or some special knowledge that are not available to most of us. At least not yet.
The fact is that the truth is right here, right now, and it is available for all of us to see. And when I say the truth, I'm speaking of the truth of who we truly are beyond this body and mind. Again, so-called enlightenment or God-realization, but also many, many more mundane but equally important aspects of the truth.
The truth behind why I feel anxious, the truth behind why sometimes I do what I know I shouldn't do, the truth behind why I find myself annoyed with loved ones, or the truth behind why I don't feel safe or worthy. And of course, there are a million other truths that can either lift us up to soaring heights or just as easily pull us down into the depths of despair.
The fact is this, the truth is important and our ability to see it in all of its forms clearly and without distortion is something that can radically change our lives. It is true what they say--the truth will set you free.
Here is the difficulty. Our experience is a construct. It's not reality. It's not the truth. For each and every one of us our experience is built out of a sort of collision between our outside world and our inside world.
Outside is what is objectively happening in any given moment. It's who and what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell like a bird singing in a tree or a loved one baking cookies.
And inside, inside is made up of the experiences, beliefs and memories the mind uses to interpret what is happening. To interpret the outside.
The inside is what makes the outside mean something. It's not unlike a mathematical equation. One plus two equals three. In this case, outside plus inside equals our experience.
Here's how it works. You experience something. Let's say you're flipping through a magazine and you come upon a picture of a red barn. That's the outside, a picture of a red Barn. Now this picture is processed by the brain where it collides with your beliefs, perspectives, and memories. And here a memory is triggered. One of your dear departed grandmother who happened to live on a farm with a red barn and now you experience sadness. Outside picture of barn, inside memory of grandma, experience sadness.
It's a process that while it may not be quite so neat and tidy in all cases, in fact, not in most cases, but it's one that is taking place within each and every one of us, thousands upon thousands of times a day. But here's the problem. Even though our experience is a construct created by the brain from the meeting of the outside with the inside, nearly all of us take our constructed experience to be the truth, but it's not. It's a skewed and refracted version of the truth, a comingling of the outside and the inside together.
For most people, the inside piece of the equation is the real problem because the mind's interpretation, this inside piece, is largely invisible to us.
While, it's true that the inside dramatically skews our perception of the outside-skews what we see, what we experience—it's happening automatically in the background. It's a little like looking through the Coke bottle lenses of a pair of glasses we don't even know we have on, and so more often than not it doesn't seem like there's any inside component at all and this is what causes us to take our skewed experience as the truth.
And just to make things a little more challenging, my glasses are different from your glasses. That is to say, my inside is different from your inside.
So, even though we may be living the same circumstance, the same outside, our experience of it can be markedly different. Our different insides cause different interpretations which cause different experiences.
Ever wonder why you can find yourself outraged by something and your best friend barely seems to care? Here's your answer. The fact is that we can look at the same outside but with insides we see very different things.
At this point, the logical question might be what is driving the mind's interpretations? What is behind the inside part of the equation? And it's a worthwhile question, indeed.
In yoga, we have a term, it's samskara and samskara is usually translated as a mental impression or a mental activator but it might best be thought of as a kind of mental habit or tendency. A piece of mental programming if you will, and these bits of programming, your samskaras, are what drive how your mind interprets your lived circumstance.
Your samskaras are what make up your inside and it's at this point that it's helpful to remember that our brains and our nervous systems are really little more than programmed and programmable mechanisms. They are processing data, making sense of what is happening and then feeding us a story, a story based upon the outside and the inside or the currently installed programming or our samskaras.
Now just in case you didn't catch it, I said the brain is a programmed and a programmable mechanism, meaning that the samskaras were originally programmed by experience and they can also be reinforced or updated or purged by experience.
The fact of the matter is that your brain is constantly taking in these new experiences, processing them, and this yields for you new programming in the brain. Through experience, your brain learns that this kind of person is safe and that kind of person is not. That's a samskara. Through experience, your brain learns that this kind of behavior is good and that kind of behavior is bad. That's a samskara. And through experience your brain learns that this kind of activity is deserving of your effort and that kind of activity is a waste of your time.
And yes, that too, is a samskara.
Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week your brain is being programmed by your experiences. Now, sadly, most of the programming is random, haphazard and left to chance, which is why so many of us are saddled with bad habits, harmful beliefs, and sabotaging tendencies, but we don't have to be. More on that in just a bit.
Imagine yourself sitting with a friend in a corner booth of a 24-hour diner. It's a cold night and you're sipping on some hot chocolate to fend off the chill in your spine. As you wait for your dinner out of the corner of your eye, you see the front door begin to open and you feel the cold wind begin to swirl around you. You watch as a rough looking tattooed man in a worn leather jacket steps through the door. Your heart instantly skips a beat and you feel yourself nervously shifting in your seat. Fear wells up within you and you avoid eye contact and think, please don't come this way.
Your friend on the other hand, smiles and nods at the man. She lets out a deep and satisfying sign and her gaze seems to follow him to his booth. Your friend seems almost happy. Now to be clear, you just both lived the exact same circumstance, but you had dramatically different experiences.
For you, the outside was filtered through the samskaras that were formed when your brother got mixed up with that biker gang and the front windows of your house got shot out and from this you're now feeling unsafe.
For your friend. The same outside was filtered by her, samskaras that were formed when her favorite uncle. A brilliant tattoo artist with an affinity for Harley Davidson's would take her on weekend motorcycle rides. And from that she was left filled with fond memories.
So, from this it's easy to see how different people who grew up in different households and in different communities with different parents and different friends and with different cultures end up with very different samskaras, very different insights.
So, while we live our lives looking at the same outside-the same truth, our insides-our samskaras are different, and at times, very different. And as we look at the same truth, through our very different lenses, what we see can seem as different as love and hate.
Trevor was a student of mine, and no, Trevor is not his real name, but he has given me his permission to use his story. Now, Trevor was feeling rage and resentment toward his wife Susan because her new job at an accounting firm required her to work late during the busy tax season. And Susan wasn't alone. Everyone at the firm was working late, as was customary during that time of the year. But as customary and logical as it was, Trevor was furious and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake it until we uncovered the problem.
Remember, our experience is really a construct. It's a combination of what's happening outside with what's happening inside- a summation of our actual circumstance and our brains pre-programming or our brains samskaras.
Now in this case, as in most cases, understanding the outside was fairly straightforward. Susan, Trevor's wife, had to work late. Period. And this, when viewed independently, conveniently ignoring the effect of Trevor's samskaras, whatever they are, ignoring Trevor's inside, his anger seemed to make no sense at all.
But then Trevor and I together did a bit of introspective excavating and we uncovered a surprising little nugget.
Years ago, in fact, 22 years before this time, when Trevor was in college, his girlfriend at that time dumped him. Now, it was no minor breakup as Trevor was convinced that this woman would be his wife someday, the mother to his children, and he had in fact their entire life together mapped out in his mind. So, the breakup was not only a surprise, it was devastating.
And so, what does this have to do with Trevor's unexplained rage, his irrational and seemingly inappropriate anger?
Well, as it turned out, Trevor's college girlfriend left him for her boss, her boss that she was seeing while she was telling Trevor she had to work late.
Now the interesting thing is that Trevor had long forgotten this event. It wasn't in any way conscious in his present relationship and not even in the midst of his anger had he made any conscious connection of the present circumstance with any part of his past. But even though there was no conscious memory, there was a samskara that had been created by that breakup so many years before, and this samskara, this bit of programing, had been long living dormant in Trevor's brain, just waiting to triggered.
So, when Susan said she had to work late, the outside circumstance was seen through the lens of this samskara, through the lens of the inside. And instead of seeing someone busy during tax time like you or I might see, Trevor had seen his wife about to abandon him. And again, it wasn't even conscious. It was just an emotional reaction of rage and fear and jealousy.
So, from this we can see that Trevor wasn't living the truth of what was happening. He was living his mind's story of what was happening. He was living his story, he was living history, he was living his history, not the present, and certainly not the truth.
Of course, it's not just Trevor, it's me, it's you, it's everyone. We all are in many ways living our history as much, if not more than we are living our present.
Without even recognizing it, this complex tangle of samskaras, or mental programming, our brains have picked up as we rolled through life are driving our thoughts, our feelings, our impulses, and ultimately our actions. And worst of all, most of us aren't even aware that that's what's going on.
We believe we're seeing the simple truth not recognizing how our experience is actually created by that mathematical equation of outside plus inside equals experience. But it's not all doom and gloom because our samskaras and the version of reality they create are normal. They're natural, and in fact they're necessary.
The truth is that many of our samskaras are actually working for us: for our health, for our happiness, for our success. For instance, my samskara that drives me to meditate each morning serves my inner peace and my samskara that drives me to eat my veggies serves my health and my samskara that drives me to treat others with kindness, well, it nourishes my relationships. But of course, not all samskaras are created equal and while some do indeed serve us, many do not.
Like the samskara that leaves me feeling like I'm not good enough, or the samskara that drives me to lay around at home instead of going to yoga, or like in Trevor's case, a samskara that maybe was once appropriate but now causes him to relate to a situation in a damaging and inappropriate way.
But here's the very best news because your samskaras were created by your experience they can also be changed by your experience. It's possible to deliberately and methodically uproot and change the samskaras that are not serving us. The ones that make us feel anxious and doubtful. The ones that prevent us from taking action towards achieving our heart's desire. The ones that obstruct us from being the very best version of ourselves.
And this is where the true power of disciplines like yoga come in. By helping us to work a three-step process many of you may recognize from my book Waging Inner Peace, we are able to literally change our insides in a way that lift us up automatically and effortlessly.
The three steps are: recognize, release, and restore.
The first step is recognize. To recognize that our experience is not reality. It's not the truth. It's here that we begin to see that what we have come to believe is true is actually a creation derived from the present colliding with our past, from our outside meeting, our inside, from our circumstances, meeting our samskaras. This realization opens the door to our creating lives of evermore joy and connection and wonder in a simpler and more direct way than wrestling with everybody and everything around us. By addressing our inner worlds, we're able to make what can best be thought of as quantum leaps in our wellness, in our clarity, and in our joy.
Now the second step is to release. That is, we want to release the samskaras that are not serving our highest good. For some, it may be a samskara that creates unnecessary conflict in their most cherished relationships like Trevor's samskara about Susan working late. For others, it may be a samskara that causes them to live in a near constant state of anxiety, like that little voice in their head that says you're not good enough. And for still others, it may be a samskara that causes them to cut themselves off from an experience of spiritual fullness that is their birthright, like the one that has you believing you're somehow limited to this body and mind.
And lastly is step three: to restore. And this step, to be honest, is a kind of natural outflow of steps one and two. Once we recognize the mechanics behind the forces that hold us back and release those programmed beliefs, tendencies, and perspectives that keep us stuck, we are setting the stage for our entire lives to be restored with a fullness and joy we were born to live.
But it all begins with the first step, with us noticing. Back to Ramana's words "I see only what you see, it's just that I notice what I see".
And that's why today I invite you to join me in noticing, noticing that there are hidden forces called samskaras that live within us and alter our perceptions and rob us of the lives we deserve. Noticing that these inner forces, these samskaras, can be changed so that the bestow us with ever greater clarity, ease, and joy, and noticing that by making the right effort, there's great possibility for us all. Possibility for love, possibility for connection, possibility for success, and possibility for abundance. It is with this noticing that we take our first steps.
Well, that's it for today. I hope today's discussion has, in some small way, opened the door to greater possibility in your life. As always, I am grateful for you, and I welcome all comments and questions, so do drop me a note at my website at ericwal.com.
Also, if you can do me the kindness of helping to spread the word about the life changing power these ancient teachings have by sharing the podcast with friends and family I'd be more thankful than you know. And don't forget to hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes.
Thanks again and remember, I'm here for you, so if there's anything I can do to be of service, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
I'm wishing you a week of great clarity and ease. I'll see you next time.