The Window

When you look outside the window, what do you see?

This question is less philocophical than you might think. When you look outside the window, what do you really see? Sometimes we live our lifes wihout noticing our own reflection.

When we live without awareness, it is like looking at the cars, people, cats, dogs and sunsets without taking notice of our own reflection in the window. You might say: “Well what’s the point of seeing my own reflection? It only obstructs what I want to see outside.” In this analogy, our reflection stands for our reactions to our experience. Without awareness, we see “fancy” cars, “ugly and beautiful” people, “cute” cats and dogs and “romantic” sunsets – we judge what we see by the feelings and emotions we have attached to them. We sometimes think that adjectives such as “ugly” or “beautiful” belong to the object we see, when in fact they are generated by our reaction. If we would pay attention to our reflection in the window, we could clearly see how the expression in our face changes, depending on what we see outside – but without awareness, we just don’t notice these reactions.

Let’s make the same thought experiment again and take this into account. Let’s assume that with enough awareness, we can see both the world outside and our own reflection in the window. If you’re a photographer like me, you might say: “That’s not possible, when you point your camera towards the window, you can either have the one in focus or the other – but not both.” When I just started to experiment with photography, I would have probably agreed with you. But now I know my camera quite well and I can assure you that it’s possible to adjust it in a way so that both my reflection and the world outside are clearly visible. The same is true for our awareness. Everyone notices their own reflection from time to time, but we usually don’t bother thinking about it for too long. Only when we realise the potential freedom hidden in this discovery, do we start to pay attention. Going through life with awareness, is like adjusting your camera settings in a way, that both reflection and the world outside are in focus. It takes practice, but it’s definitely possible.

Seeing this “hidden” layer of your existence probably won’t mean much to you, until you realise the huge impact it has on your life. By making our reflection visible, suddenly we have a much more realistic picture of what we see. Our reflection is actually never hidden, it is somply out of focus because of our selective perception.

When we look outside the window without awareness, what we see doesn’t have much to do with reality. Without awareness, we merely see the feelings and emotions we have attached to certain objects. These objects don’t necessarily need to be physical, like cars or people. They can also be thoughts, ideologies, views and opinions. Without awareness, all we can actually see is our likes and dislikes. Our camera is adjusted in a way that our reflection is simply not noticeable to us.

When we haven’t adjusted the camera yet, we often don’t realise that looking outside the window without awareness is responsible for our anguish and self-induced suffering. When we aren’t aware of our reactions to the world, inevitably we experience a subsequent feeling of dissatisfaction in our lives. We feel like something is missing. Although at times we are free of this feeling, at other times we feel it even more so, when certain habit patterns are triggered through internal or external conditions. Because we make our happiness dependent on conditions, we are trapped in an endless cycle of emotional ups and downs. We draw our contentment from the objects we see outside the window when in fact, our satisfaction or dissatisfaction depends on our reaction to them. With awareness, this becomes visible and an entirely new perspective on life opens up.

Adjusting the camera

This realisation can be both freeing and scary at the same time as it means that certain parts of our lives might be built on an illusion. Without awareness, our reactions are often unconscious and compulsive. Awareness gives us the freedom and space to not react on our compulsions, but instead we can have freedom of choice. When we practice mindfulness, our reactions to the world become visible, as we’re paying close attention to whatever we do in the present moment. We become vigilant observers.

Through a better understand of our reactions, the tendency of the mind to cling decreases. Step by step, we’re able to understand and transform our hurts, cravings, anxieties, the pride, the envy and all the attachments which contribute to our self-induced suffering. Over time, our contentment becomes less dependent on external circumstances and we can be more stable even in the midst of difficult situations.

The space which emerges between sensory inputs and our reaction gives us the freedom to cultivate our undivided awareness more effortlessly and bring forth our wholesome qualities. When we can look at the world with an impartial eye, we suddenly have a lot more space to care about others, as our own self-made problems dissolve. We don’t have to somehow magically get rid off our difficult emotions in order to experience inner freedom. We need to change our attitude towards them and try not to identify with them. This possibility is with us, every time we don’t allow our emotions to take control over us. We can learn to understand that we don’t have to identify with our unwholesome mental habits.

Translated into our window analogy: When we are able to see both our reflection and the world at the same time, we are not forced by our compulsions to immediately act on our mental reaction. Every time we can make this shift in perspective in a difficult situation, we can use our awareness as a safe haven in order to react as a free person, not being limited by our compulsions. With practice, the space between sensory input and our reaction grows bigger. When our wholesome qualities are cultivated, understanding may become our default reaction instead of anger. Quite naturally, our responses will become more peaceful and wiser.