By Daron Larson
Being absorbed in the world around us–even for a few seconds or minutes–can disrupt the default mode of attention and teach us something interesting about ourselves.
Thoughts can be visual or verbal. We think in pictures. We think in words. We react in emotion.
The content of mental images and internal talk tend to reflect emotional reactions. Emotional reactions spark related thoughts.
Our attention is continually pulled to the narratives resulting from this ongoing dynamic.
We take the world around us in through our senses.
We see. We hear. We touch and feel and smell and taste.
When we gaze out at the world, we suspend the emphasis on visual thinking used to fantasize, remember, daydream, and plan.
When we listen to sounds around us, we forego the solving of story problems.
When we feel our emotions in our bodies, we erode the habit of trying to think our way out of every discomfort, unpleasant emotion, and uncertainty.
When you catch yourself absorbed by some immediate aspect of your environment, try to yield to the observation fully for a few seconds.
With consistent practice over time, you will begin to notice how thinking impacts your perception of yourself: sometimes as a character living your story, and at other times as a direct experience of life itself.
The environment doesn't need to be grand. In fact, breathtaking experiences merely serve to train us to recognize what is always present in the mundane.
You don't need to travel to the ocean. You can observe the same mechanism walking around your block, during a trip to the grocery store, and waking up in the morning.
There is no instance of this relationship that is too small to reveal something big about how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
"I don't want you to have a place to stand. I don't want you to have a center. I want the center to have you."
See also: Shinzen responds to a student's report and question regarding some of the advantages and objections to using spoken labels.