Seeing the Past

by Jeff Martens

We are Made of Stars

For a moment imagine that you are looking into the night sky at a place far away from city lights. Looking up and seeing the Milky Way and all those stars. And as you take in the enormity of this view you come to realize that you are not seeing the stars as they are now, but as they were millions or even hundreds of millions of years ago. The light that is just reaching your eyes now has been traveling for countless eons. In fact, the star that you are looking at might be different now. It might actually be a Red Giant, a White Dwarf, a black hole or maybe even non-existent. So you are actually looking at the past. You are seeing the past as the present. You are seeing the star as it used to be a long, long time ago.

Now look at your hands. As you look at your hands realize that you are not seeing your hands as they are, you are seeing the past. Look at that person you know. Or the clothes hanging in your closet. Or your face in the mirror. Whatever you are looking at, you are looking at your own face, you are not seeing your face you are seeing a past image of your face. Realize that here too you are looking at the past. You are looking at a situation and not seeing things as they actually are, you are seeing a past image of the situation. Just like the light from those stars. You are seeing things from a long, long time ago.

Now the distance between you and your hands is not such that it takes a vast amount of light years for the image to reach you, but you are still seeing the past. The psycho-emotional distance placing time and space between you and what you are seeing is vast. And it is the same with all that you see. The whole situation could be different now, but you will still be seeing the past.

Whatever you are looking at realize that I am not seeing this as it is. I am seeing the past. I am seeing a past projection, a past perception. A past judgment. A past labeling. I’m not really seeing it as it is. Your husband can be the man you married 10 years ago to you, young and virile and full of life even though he may actually be out of motivation, out of shape and out of passion. Your wife can be beautiful and full of mystery to someone even though to you she seems plain and hardly there. That used TV or old jacket could seem like new to someone else. Whatever it is that you are looking at just realize that you are seeing a concept, a construct. You are seeing something from memory. It is very rare to see something as it is.

Become Like a Child and Enter the Kingdom of Heaven

When a baby is born the neural nets representing habitual perception and thought in the infant brain are largely undifferentiated. This is the realm of possibility without identification with past events and experiences. Thought charged with emotion has not sculpted the brain’s neuronal pathways yet into samskaric tracks or grooves of habit which repeat their patterning even when the outer circumstances may have changed.

Living without a past allows the baby to see the full wonder of the present moment unclouded by past perceptions.  The fluttering butterfly, the magic of colored light filtering through a prism of windowpane, the flash of jingling keys on a keychain.  In wide-eyed amazement the baby soaks these tinges up with as many senses as possible, seeing their miraculous reality in the present moment.  Add conscious awareness of the Self and this is samadhi or conscious integration.  In zen this state is ‘beginner’s mind’.  Either way when we have become aware of this innocence as ourselves, this innocence is married to the full intelligence of knowing who is looking.  In the old way of looking we were blind.

Who is Looking?

The seer in you, though pure, sees through the distortions of past concepts. – Yoga Sutra 2.20

What we see is not related to what is on the outside but it is related to who is looking. So in order for us to keep seeing the past we have to be in the past ourselves.

When we look at our bodies we see our past, a past concept of ourselves, we see a history. We also see an expectation of where that history is going. It is very rare to see things as they are. Now imagine how that makes actions difficult, and the results of our actions binding if we keep acting on inaccurate information, affirming it to be true.

The Seer and the seen exist to reveal the true nature of the One who is looking. – Yoga Sutra 2.23

In Sanskrit the word ‘Jai’ means “Oh Yeah!” or ‘Victory’. Buddha said that the greatest victory is victory over one’s self. The victorious action is to be present. It is the simplest thing and yet we make it the most challenging thing: to just be where we are. To be as we are, where we are. What does this mean? It is an allowing. The dropping of contrariness or reaction to what is here that throws into the script of past perception and all of the samskara or habitual behavior that we mistake as choice and living. A victory here would be to know yourself – both the one that is perceiving it all and the one who is reacting and calling this reaction a ‘plan for the future’.

Most planning is done from the place of repeating familiar past karmic patterns because they are made from a place of unconsciousness. The events that you have planned for your day? You are not seeing these correctly either. You are seeing them through the lens of the past. You will not be able to let the day be as it is with its multiple opportunities to step outside of your old self, you will not be able to notice anything new or different or transcendent or transforming if you are unable to see them as they are to begin with. So in your day you will walk by trees that have forty different colors of green, you will walk by sunrises and sunsets, you will walk by people’s eyes and opportunities to touch and to feel and love and you will not notice any of these things because they will not be there, they will be non-existent. Or your expectations will distort them to make sense to who you think you are.

Begin to realize that whatever you are looking at you are seeing things not as they are. Even something as simple as your foot. Just begin to realize this. There is a whole story with that foot, a history. Just as there is with everything else we see. We bring our own meaning to every situation and color it to make sense with our past. And this is how we live.

The Revelation

The binding of the Seer with the seen is lack of awareness. – Yoga Sutra 2.24

Our assumptions and expectations shape the world we experience. When the looker is erroneous, so is perception. Where we see struggle there may actually be benefit. The butterfly struggling to emerge from the cocoon may actually be moving a life-giving fluid into its wings. The illness forcing us to stop the way we do things may actually be saving our life. The storm bending the sapling to nearly breaking is actually strengthening the bark and structure of the wood. Where we see something beneficial there may actually be discord. Finding more money to make that last sure bet. Discovering a pill that makes the pain go away temporarily and allows you to keep living the same way making the same choices which caused the pain to begin with. Getting away with a little lie and preserving your reputation. If we see only our labels of things we will most likely miss a deeper meaning. And beyond all ordinary meaning is the realm of pure awareness without labels. A mystical state that can only be felt and not named.

How many things do we miss each day because we are in the past? How many things do we keep seeing the same over and over because we are reliving the past? How many times do we try to change what we see instead of changing ourselves, the one who is looking?

The Miracle of Living

Whcih center circle is larger?

Whcih center circle is larger?

Many times we may look at something and not really see it. We perceive things in context with the things surrounding them. Much of our context is internal based upon our perception of who we are to begin with. In light of this what should be the simplest thing in the world, to accurately see what you are actually looking at, is quite an accomplishment!

Are the lines in the square bent?

Are the lines in the square bent?

Instead of seeing things as they are (which would be knowledge or direct experience), we see instead a complicated algorithm influenced by our past beliefs, expectations and limitations associated not only with the thing we are perceiving but also with ourselves and who we are in that moment of looking.  Most often associated with our current emotional state or dominant thought pattern, our own identity can be a very shifting and precarious thing.  In fact, our point-of-view might be the biggest assumption we make.

Are the parallel lines straight?

Are the parallel lines straight?

We learn some of our assumptions about the world very early depending upon our parents and the environment in which we were raised.  Other assumptions we cultivate on our own as false strategies of success to get us through our falsely perceived environment.  Re-experiencing the past over and over again, we literally identify with it.  No matter where they come from, all assumptions are based on the past.  When we make decisions based on past associations, guess what we keep repeating?  When we literally are the past making decisions based on a perception of the past, guess what we keep experiencing?

Yoga or union is the stripping away of that which is not real. It is not an adding-to or a getting somewhere else, but a revelation of what is already here. Removing the unreal we are left with what IS, and this IS-ness is far greater than our limited perception can comprehend. The miracle in life is therefore not improving one’s self, which would be but an exercise in polishing up the past. Rather, we are to become more in line with what we already are. It is only by changing the one who is viewing that we can begin to change the world we see. And what exactly might this be?

Worshipping a False self

To worship a false idol means to place your constant attention on something that is unreal or false. What is in the present is real, all else exists only inside your head. In truth miracles and the state of yoga are available all the time. These seeming miraculous states of consciousness can only be perceived in the present moment. So the journey always starts right where you are. Can you feel the pulse in your fingers right now? Can you feel the texture of what your foot is resting on? To feel these things without adding a story or comparison you had to become present. So what? So today I actually saw the ground. Today I actually experienced a yoga pose that I have done a thousand times. I actually felt what it was like to be in the experience. Today I actually experienced falling, without blame, ridicule, guilt or judgment. It was a miracle. I thought falling was a bad thing, it was not what I thought it was. Today I actually felt my yoga mat under my feet. I actually felt what it was like, what my mat felt like. Today I actually felt my two hands joining. I actually began to realize how rich life is. I have only been living 1% of my life. Why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?

Being present is an ongoing practice. You don’t have to do it all in one day. Whatever you are looking at, just be aware of what you are seeing. Then be aware that world can be something more than the idol of your past.

Who is Looking?

The untangling of Seer and seen leads to absolute freedom. – Yoga Sutra 2.25

How can we ever untangle ourselves from suffering if we think we are what we perceive? Another way to look at this is how can we choose anything in life if we cannot feel our own hands? How can we decide anything of any importance if we cannot experience our breath? How can we plan anything that will lead to a different future if we cannot even feel the ground underneath our feet? How can we make complex decisions in life if we can’t even feel the simplest things which point to who we are?

It is important to move into new experiences and new situations even though we see our old projections and assumptions because it gives a chance not to react, to let it all be okay. Then the veil can fall away and life becomes a mirror of our own expanding awareness.

We are made from the atomic ejecta of stars. That is what we are made of. When we look at the stars we are seeing ourselves as we were, the universe is showing us the past because that is where we are looking from. It is your inevitable destiny to shine, and then to be the one who perceives the shining.

Today I died to my old self and was reborn into the present moment.

Start by allowing the possibility that there is another way to see things. Feel the pulse which animates your fingers. Close your eyes. Start being who you already are perceiving without distortion the very simplest element of what is already here. And then watch in amazement as a new action moves through you, as you rediscover life and possibility in this now eternal world.