The awesome lie of your foolproof perception

March 3, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Recent events remind us: You have no idea what you’re really looking at.

Recent social media outbreaks slap us asunder and say: “You think you know what’s going on? You think you have a true sense of space and time? Of color and light? Of blue dresses or white? Of how the world works and what speed knowledge, wisdom and totally weird phenomena?

“The gods have news: ‘Ha.’”

It's all a swirling, churning, moving pulse of Now. Even when it's not.

It’s all a swirling, churning, moving pulse of Now. Even when it’s not.

In the great wisdoms of the world, this teaching: All is conditioning. All is social construction, thought forms, carefully built identities, established “facts” that aren’t really facts but merely mutually agreed-upon illusions we greedily suck down like wine.

Do you already suspect? Everything you see, everything you think you are, everything you remember is but a grab-bag of mental tricks and devilish self-inflicts all trying to make sense of the world, to box it up just right, describe and categorize, to say “I like this” and “I do not like that,” “I believe this” and “I do not believe that,” “that is blue” and “that is white” and then seek furious validation, because aren’t you just so adorable that way.

As if any of it resembles truth. As if there’s a giant Tablet of Certainty floating just behind the membrane of this reality, and as soon as you declare that you hereby detest iced coffee, you were wronged by your ex, you are addicted to cigarettes, you will never be a morning person and you were traumatized by your creepy uncle as a child, boom, so it is written, unchangeable fact, the gods nodding along solemnly.

Goddamn madness, is what that is. Hapless self-deception. And we love it.

Of course there is no such tablet. Of course there is no such ironclad information. Even science is all just sharply educated guessing, constantly imploding. The “fact” that you are this or that, that you believe or don’t, is just a set of tenuously built, powerfully clung-to impulses, the brain a flimsy life-raft tossed about by a perpetual hurricane of OMG WTF. I mean, obviously.

Do not misunderstand. Illusions abound, but not all are of the same density. Wounds can cut deep. Traumas and addictions, abuses and horrors, joys and rewards can make for serious imprints, scars, samskaras. Many have been around a long (long, long) time, refusing to be dislodged. Working them free is perhaps a (multiple) lifetime’s effort. Nevertheless, the illusory cloth is the same.

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You see white and gold, I see blue and brown. You see a vase, I see two faces. You see unyielding stone, science sees swirling atoms. “Up” only exists in gravity. The tree falls silently until you hear it. Dark matter mocks all knowledge to date. Somewhere in between, the gods laugh and keep sucking your hard-candy soul.

“But wait!” you wail. “What about moral facts? The ethical code? If nothing is certain, if everything is flux and perception is but a messy, unreliable edifice, how to know right from wrong? Murder from peace? Why not mayhem all the time?”

Don’t be silly. Of course there’s a line. Actually, it’s not a line; it’s more like a clarity. An obviousness. A realization.

How do you snap to it? You do not turn to religion, that’s for damn sure. You do not turn to leaders, power-mongers, warlords, priests or popes or rabbis, corporations or cash or even science. They usually point you exactly the wrong direction, give you more rules, dictums, fees, formulas, layers of guilt and shame and murk.

All wise ones agree: There is but one place to look for “moral” clarity. If you line yourself up just right, if you’re in full possession of your core, your Source, your Self, your center, your innate divine nature (choose a word any word they’re all just symbols), that’s when you tap into the true nature of consciousness itself, and only one energy, one sense of moral “truth” can ever spontaneously arise – and it ain’t zombies, addiction, rape or guns. It is the exact opposite.

Me? I used to argue that we’re all just shambolic amalgamations. “What is life,” I blithely wrote, thinking I had a clue, “but a grand collection of all our past experiences, tastes, family dramas, memories and desires? What is ‘you’ but the sum total of everything that’s happened to you so far?”

I have come to realize, I have been fantastically incorrect. It’s a romantic falsehood writ supreme. AKA, bulls–t.

Skull or woman? Both?

Skull or woman? Both?

How do we know you’re not just a sum total? Because memory is fickle. Thoughts and emotions, even more so. Colors, objects and moments, too. Nothing ever happened exactly the way you remember it. Nothing will ever happen exactly the way you think it will.

Neuroscience is just coming to understand: memories are invented and discarded on the fly, constantly, all the time, fragments and shards, wisps and strings endlessly knotting and fraying and burning up in the ether. Completely unreliable. You never remember the same moment the same way twice. You are never the same organism you were just a moment ago. Half a trillion cells have died and been regenerated in the time it took you to read this far. Who are you now?

Do you see? Everything is flux, pulse, spanda; it’s all dying and being reborn as stars, as cells, as the inhale and exhale. You think you’re static? You think you got it down? You think you ‘know’ me, yourself, anything at all? You are full of it. But, you know, adorably so.

The greatest teaching is also the greatest paradox: The minute you (or rather, your ego) admits you have no clue as to what’s “really” going on, then it happens: You finally know what’s going on.

Which is to say: The instant you realize your mind, your thoughts, your collection of fears, memories and desires are all just making up “reality” on the fly – all well and good until you mistake it for truth – that’s when the world can finally reveal its true nature: as spontaneously arising in every moment, every breath, a constantly exploding bombshell of now.

Is that too esoteric? Too woo-woo? Too bad. Consciousness swallows all labels, spits them back out as origami ducks nowhere near in a row. Deal with it.

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Mark Morford

About Mark Morford