Step 3

How to free ourselves from our numerous perceptions?

A truly free person is one who can look at a tree and see a tree. Let’s ponder a little on how we generally look at a tree. For instance, just now I was looking at the big tree in my backyard. My thoughts run away with me the minute my eyes had taken it in. So, within microseconds, the tree I was looking at had disappeared. Or, you might say, I had disappeared from its environs. In fact, I was nowhere close to it. In a few quick moments I had leaped beyond the tree to my childhood in northern Sri Lanka, under the margosa and mango trees, and to the political reality of the failure of the democracy and the economic system of Sri-Lanka.

Such seeing is not seeing the tree. “Seeing” the tree as I did is being hopelessly bound in the cocoon of our own thoughts. While our minds wander the globe, we end up not being present in the moment at all. We are missing from the very moment in which we think we exist. That moment has become dead, as we have become dead to it. If we look at the tree and suspend our thoughts for a while, we enter a new, rejuvenated world. We are then fully present to see the tree as it is—not as we may describe it in our imagination or in our memories. We dream no brilliant futures.

That choice of less awareness gives us a view of life seldom experienced otherwise. The leaves of the tree vibrate with a new life, and the colors seem more vibrant. The limbs are positioned exactly right. The tree is complete, perfect. Everything is in its place and as it should be. We feel a wondrous fullness, a completion, a union with other things around us, even with the tree itself. This simple exercise of suspending thought in order to see a tree can refresh us and bring joyous meaning into a tired day!

Look at a tree in your yard or out on the street. Take in the image of that tree with your whole being. Dismiss, in disinterest and with no emotion, any thought that may come by to pull you away from pure seeing.

As you look at the tree, try to feel its essence. Let it speak to you in its own language. Feel its perfection. It’s perfect as it is. The limbs are fashioned with precision. The leaves vibrate with life. Even the dry branch with its dead leaves has its role to play.

You don’t need a tree, for this exercise. Try it with anything a pencil, the moon, a spider sitting on your bathroom wall. Many of us, though, get a little help from nature in finding a peaceful break in our flow of thoughts. If you are one of those, then doing the exercise with a tree, a flower, or the moon may be especially powerful.

I remember a time when, surrounded by friends in an intense discussion about the meaning of life, my mind glided into such an intense mood of peace, such joy in simply being, that I listened, overjoyed and in awe, to the sound of coffee perking in the coffee maker and thought that in that unpretentious little noise, I was hearing the music of the entire universe. Hearing that sound was the auditory counterpart of truly seeing a tree. For a brief moment, I was truly hearing coffee perking!

The mind walks on our thoughts. The more thoughts we chain together by association, the stronger the bridge becomes for the mind to walk upon. When we cut back on the inner dialogue, we break down some links in the chain and allow for silent spaces between our thoughts. If we learn to stay intensely aware while in those silent spaces, we begin to see and hear the world in a newly vibrant and dynamic way. We actually give ourselves the chance to see a tree and hear coffee perking.

Try to imagine what our lives could become if every moment we were fully conscious of everything around us, we were fully seeing trees, pencils, people, we were really hearing babies cry, mothers weep, birds sing, we were smelling a rose as though we had never smelled one before. In such a world surcharged with the intensity of our pure, aware thinking, we could never be bored, no experience would ever be stale, and no thing or event would ever be taken for granted. We would literally be reborn fresh every moment of our existence!

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