The power of symbols
We use languages made up of symbols, symbol systems. There’s a zen saying about ‘the finger pointing to the moon’. This teaching helps us remember that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. Language symbols point to the moon, but they are not the moon. The nature of thought is abstraction. Thought has no inherent form. Early childhood is all about learning the names (symbol forms) of vibration experiences interpreted with the tool of the mind + body. The names of the things are not the things, the name only points to the thing. The name of the person is not the person, the name only points to the person. As we grow we internalise body sensations and images to accompany the word symbols, these association entanglements become our experience reference dictionary. We have varying degrees of agreement among us about the meaning of words depending on our subjective entanglements on learning the word. If we are out of line with group consensus, the world will give us a standardisation to adhere to, perhaps a dictionary or the like, helpful others will shame us into Getting it Right, this is thought to be helpful for communication.
If you speak or understand the language symbol set English and I say to you for example the word ‘bitter’ you might have a mild or strong body sensation, you might have a typed word symbol appear in your mind, you might have a smell memory, you might have an image appear, you might see a mini movie that plays, or a combination of these. Generally we pay no attention to these entanglements, we are in a hurry! We have practiced the word so much that we don’t need to think about it or really notice it, it’s usually just a piece in a whole, a means to an end. The word bitter and the associated entanglements with the word are not the actual experience of bitter, they are fingers pointing to the moon, memories only. Our immersion in abstraction causes us to miss the point, we make no time to actually connect and experience life in the moment, we have the symbols to distract us. Storytelling is not wrong, storytelling is one of our most favourite things about life. Suffering stems from our addiction to story telling without Presence, suffering comes from missing the point, mistaking the word for the experience. Suffering comes from our obsession with the notion that we are ‘getting somewhere’ . We have no time to notice the path when entirely focused on the destination. If we do reach a goal (that we made up) we might have a celebration, but in the abstraction of the mind we’ve already moved on to the next mountain to climb.
We are now a powerfully image based culture. We have honed our symbol systems so much that we can perceive meaning with the barest and most simple visual hints. Living in an interconnected online world has given rise to the need for a universally understood language transcending word based symbol systems. Babies are born more symbol savvy generation to generation. I recall the early days of app icons on smartphones, tablets and computer screens, the trend was to airbrush the icon so it looked like a press-able button. This was an important stage in progressing from the experience of solid push-able buttons on machinery, to a flat screen button simulacrum that function like buttons in that you touch them and there is a corresponding function. Today we don’t need the button icon to look like a button at all, we’ve transcended and adapted our understanding of visual symbol systems. We are transcending and adapting our symbol systems at a rate never experienced before. Airbrushing an icon now translates as outdated or retro, depending on the design purpose.
Contemporary humans are fully immersed in entrenched thinking + feeling in the service of the mind identity. We focus most of our waking attention on the abstraction of our own created symbol systems. This is not inherently wrong, but it’s definitely enriching to really take a moment to notice that for example the word tree is not the tree. A picture of a tree is not the wholeness of the tree. A memory of a tree is not the full tree experience. We are missing an important element that transforms life experience. Thought , the activities of the mind identity, arise within Attention. We are in such a rush to get somewhere that we only have attention on the symbol systems. When we are connected to Attention we have experience that is ‘full dimensional’. Sometimes we are shocked into full dimensional Presence by life, most of the time we miss it for the flat version.
There’s nothing wrong with being enthralled by our own poetry, this is something beautifully human, but there’s also nothing wrong with just taking a moment to experience something in its rawest sense, like you never tasted it before. The aliveness felt by taking a moment to have direct experience, to temporarily put aside our embedded reference dictionary of assumptions and really meet Life is unparalleled. This is sometimes gifted to us by accident, the irony is we can learn how to unlearn into this moment. We’ve been gifted with curiousity, the willingness to take a fresh look and really notice.