The Lens of Perception

क्षीणवृत्तेरभिजातस्येव मणेर्ग्रहीतृग्रहणग्राह्येषु तत्स्थतदञ्जनतासमापत्तिः॥४१॥

“A tranquil mind is like a crystal—it assumes the color of whatever is in its proximity, be it an object of concentration, the process of concentration, or the pure consciousness that witnesses the inner functioning of the mind.” – Maharishi Patanjali, Yogasutra 1.41

That’s a rather wordy translation, but it’ll do. If you like study, here’s a more literal take. Taken rather simply, it’s in reference to the state of perception, and how it the tranquil mind sees the object, the one seeing, the process of seeing, and the inner workings of our own sensory interpretation.

This implies the “non-tranquil mind,” which would be what your author is working with 99% of the time, colors perception through a lens of interpretation. This is focal basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, that it is often not a situation itself that brings us unhappiness, but our framing for what it “means.” Quite often, we not only assign meaning where there shouldn’t be any, but we make ourselves miserable in the process.

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.

Effectively, this kind of wisdom could also be seen as how we feed our own unhappiness. Often, it isn’t an experience itself that causes us to feel depressed or anxious, but our rumination upon it. We feed the feelings with more thoughts that only serve to extend our own suffering. So, how do we stop this?

We must begin to analyze our initial reasons for understanding things in the manner we do, and then…stop. By removing our preconceived notions about how to value things, we can see them in a way unfiltered by our own biases. The first question should be, “Does my thinking on this help?” We often work long hours trying to understand things that we simply cannot control at all, and that…that help nobody.

As we do this, we should work to still the mind so that it can perceive its own processes as well. It’s more than thinking, but being aware that thinking itself is a part of the complications.


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