When we look at a field of daisies or study storm clouds in the sky, our minds associate the images with meaning. The associations or thoughts come about from memories of our social education or conditioning. The flowers cause us to think of happy, peaceful mental images; the clouds evoke a twinge of fear of imminent danger. The flowers and the clouds have come to represent symbols in the language of our mental chatter.
Perhaps the pairing of a field of daisies with the emotion of happy contentment was formed by greeting cards that used images of daisies to convey “happy birthday” or “get well soon”. When you see the dark, heavy clouds, maybe you remember a frightening, severe storm that took place in your past. So, in our mental vocabulary we have added the definitions: daisies equal cheerfulness, cumulonimbus clouds equal frightfulness.
As we think about our mental vocabulary, we might contemplate the English language words “daisies” and “clouds”. Do the plants call themselves daisies or even members of the plant family? Do the vaporous formations in the sky call themselves clouds? What about the sky and its label? Certainly, language, itself, is tenuous. Combinations of sounds coming from our mouths are accepted as language. Squiggles of ink or graphite on paper are recognized as letters and words. Whatever humans have seen or experienced, we have given them names or labels.
Somewhere, deep in the past, humans started to mistake words for the actual objects or experiences. In some holy books, there is the sentence, “In the beginning was the word.” In order to communicate these ideas to you, I must utilize a series of squiggly shaped symbols that you can see on your device. Your mind has been conditioned to interpret these peculiar symbols back into conceptual thought.
To get a hint of how specialized our own personalized mental vocabulary is, contemplate the symbols of a language that is not of your own culture or one you do not understand, at all. Not only do the squiggly characters seem to be arbitrary, so do the English names of the squiggly characters. What about the word الاقحوانات in that language? It means daisies. How about السحب? It means clouds. Yet if you look at those two words and you are not fluent in Arabic, they look like gibberish.
Picture in your mind, a field of daisies and the Arabic name for the flowers without analysis or categorization of either the flowers or the Arabic language. Next drop the Arabic name from your mental vision and stay with the remaining visual image. You are on the verge of experiencing “what is”.
Do the same exercise with the cloud. When we just see the objects without names we are close to resolving the conflict between “what should be” and “what is”. I say we are close to resolution, because, at this point, we’re still dealing with mental images and concepts.
Now that we know the relationship of things to mental vocabulary, we can try another experiment. Find a field of daisies or a single daisy or a different variety of flower, not a photograph, drawing or painting, a real one. If you cannot find a real flower, go outdoors and find a real cloud. If there are no clouds, find a patch of the Earth underfoot.
Sit with the flower, cloud, or ground. Just be with it. Without social words or mental vocabulary, contemplate the object. If a concept or thought comes up while viewing the object as to some sort of holiness, or scientific category, just gently let go of the conceptualization and come back to the object you are seeing. Don’t struggle with the exercise. Just let go and observe “what is”.
With only a little practice, you can extend this way of observing to other objects and to people you see. If you dare, you can observe yourself without social or mental vocabulary.
Go ahead, try it.