What follows is largely inspired, if not a restatement of a thread of thought from David Loy’s Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy
What is a table? It’s that which is used to support things, like food. To this end a table can be what we think of as a table, a box, a tree stump or even a rock. What is a vehicle? It is that which can be used for transportation. What is a pen? It is that which can be used for writing. And so on.
What defines tables, vehicles, pens (and more) are not their attributes, but the purposes to which they are put. As such, these “objects” are concepts that are defined according to our agendas.
We divide the world according to our agendas (intentions). This division then becomes internalized; the mental process that takes in perception and classifies (according to our intentions) becomes so habitual, that we end up seeming to PERCEIVE these objects. Thus, we look out onto the world and see a network of intentions instead of colors, shapes and sounds.
We see the world as a web of intentions — objects that can be used for various intents, means to various ends. But whose intents? Whose ends? How can they be used? All these questions imply an intender, an agent who has these goals, who can choose among these objects, who can manipulate them. In short, this act of seeing the world as an intentional web defines and reinforces the “self”.
This is the relationship of conceptualization to the self.
If we agree that how we view the world (and specifically, how we view ourselves) is the source of much of our pain, then we want to know what we can do about this. We ask because while we may agree with the above, we may find that we haven’t gained much by this intellectual understanding.
It’s easy to over-estimate intellectual understanding, yet a moment’s reflection shows how weak it can be. Take death. We all know we will die, yet how many of us are changed by this understanding? Many of us act as if we will live forever. Yet if we have a brush with death, we suddenly re-evaluate our lives and are shaken to the core. Why? This brush with death revealed nothing we didn’t already “know”.
This is because seeing trumps understanding.
So our task becomes to develop “wisdom” — getting the heart to know what the mind knows.
How do we do this?
First, we meditate. In meditation, we experience an undoing of our conceptual filter. We can witness experience before concepts kick in, and thus find that experience itself is equanimous, it’s only the concepts that ruin it. Likewise, when we see the process of conceptualization in action, the illusion of “objects” being a coherent whole — of existing “out there” is weakened.
Yet meditation is not just something we do on the cushion; we strive to bring the meditative attitude to our daily lives.
Next, we guard our speech. Words are verbalized concepts, so if we are not careful, our speech can reinforce the conceptualization we are working so hard to unravel. Silence is golden, but if silence is impractical, a careful choice of words and mindfulness of our intentions while speaking can do wonders.
Finally, we address the intentions behind our acts. Since we are trying to unravel the intentional agent behind all acts, we should choose to act in a way in which attachment to this agent is minimized. Acting selflessly, forgiving, avoiding competition, putting others first, letting go of the results of our actions — all mindfully done — can transform our lives.
The Patina of Reality: A great article on how we conceptualize experience, “smoothing” out the reality to overlay our concepts.
Blind Spots: Another great article on how we can completely miss some things. While the conceptual angle isn’t as heavily pushed, it’s there (IMO);
David Loy: Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy: A great detailed treatment on non-duality, and the basis for this rumination.