Monday Musings Part Twenty-one: Painting Pain

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Painting Pain


All of us tell ourselves stories about what confronts us. We paint pictures in our heads of how we think things are. Then we compare this to the picture we’ve already painted about how we think it’s supposed to be. This habit is what most screws us up in life. In effect, what we’re doing is painting pain.

Herein lies suffering.

Our brains constantly filter out and add in to aid us in making sense of our world. Which means, of course, that our brains constantly make things up. Rarely do we see something just as it is. Usually, it comes through the filters behind our senses. Sit for a moment and think about how certain smells or sounds can trigger memories and emotional responses for you (or even words you hear or read). Most of the time, we are anything but neutral when it comes to our experiences.

This is why there are as many different viewpoints as there are human beings.

My experience of writing this is not your experience of reading it. And, I’m sure, if you shared this with a friend, their experience of these words would likely differ from yours. Were this a book, some of you would absolutely need to hold this as a physical book in your hands, while others would be content to look at it on an e-reader. Though still the same book, and the same words, our experience differs.

Once or twice, I’ve experienced a delay between what I see and the brain making sense of it and giving me an understandable image. And, while this isn’t helpful from a functional point of view, it serves to show how much our brains fill in and leave out. Happily, the following happened while I sat in a car as a passenger and not as the driver. While travelling along a rural road, we topped a hill that revealed a hidden dip. I think that what my brain did next was because I saw something I simply hadn’t expected to see.

I received a series of broken images that made no sense. It is impossible to put the vision into words, as that would need descriptors with which we can identify. And, at that point, I had none. After a few seconds, by which time the driver had already eased off the gas, my brain identified water, a car, the road, and grass verges. It took only a fraction of a second for all of that to then coalesce into something I could relate to: The road had flooded in the dip, and a car sat in the middle of the pool, stranded and evidently half-submerged. Meanwhile, either side of the dip still had road and verges. Interestingly enough, until my brain ordered what I saw, it all appeared upside down, so that what should have been on top came out on the bottom and vice-versa.Zen Stones for Monday Musings

On the flip side, the Temple I lived in moved to a new property. Initially, we had no coat hooks for visitors, so everyone hung their coats on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs. A couple of weeks passed, and finally, we put up the required hooks. Not one person noticed them. The whole dozen still hung their coats on the newel post. This is because their brains had already catalogued the space, and on each subsequent visit, their brains gave them what they knew should be there, not was actually there.

While (usually) this keeps us safe and functioning and stops us from getting run over by a bus (for example), it can work against us. Especially when it pertains to the stories that we tell ourselves and the specific pictures that we paint.

If our views are strong enough, then chances are, all we will see are our views and nothing else. It takes a lot to knock us into a new perspective. Though difficult, we need to catch our stories and pictures and identify where our editing and colouring have taken place.

Meditation and quiet reflection offer us the best tools for this job. This is because, the rest of the time, we’re too busy and full of noise to see. The trouble is that unless we’re willing to set aside at least a few minutes each day for these, then much of our life and world will remain hidden to us. We will be living a make-believe life that shows us little more than the creations of our mind.

And, it is when we have a dichotomy between what we think we see and what we want to see that we experience suffering.

The thing is, things only have the power that we give them.

Peace comes when we let go of it all.

In the wise words of Zen:

‘For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.’

If you’ve missed my previous Monday Musings, you can find the links here: 🙂