What is the seat of perception?

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

We have not one, but five avenues to enjoy the world — the senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. The brain collects, and the mind interprets these sensory impressions. Once an experience happens in the mind, it creates varying degrees of enjoyment or suffering. When we enjoy or suffer, we do it through the false self or the ‘I.’ We carry this identity throughout our lives, and it is intimately connected with every life experience of ours.

Besides the false self or the ‘I,’ there is a witnessing aspect of our being. When viewed from this witnessing perspective, the perception of the experience goes beyond enjoyment or suffering. We remain neutral to any experience.

The witnessing self does not record experiences, there is no memory involved, and everything is seen as is without any interpretation. The perception through the ‘I’ and as the witnessing self are very different. The ‘I’ tracks and engages with changing experiences, while the witnessing self is changeless.

The ‘I’ is present in everyone. We impart specific qualities to it through associations we make with unique individual life experiences. These qualities that the ‘I’ possess differ from one person to another.

The ‘I’ of a wealthy person identifies with the thought of the money in possession, which gives the ‘I’ the notion of being rich. The ‘I’ of a poor man also forms an association with money. However, this is with thoughts concerning the lack of funds. A poor man’s ‘I’ takes on the flavor of poverty.

The ‘I’ is based on our thoughts, and it encompasses the entirety of our physical and mental being. For example, when we are walking, we say, “I am walking” and not “My legs are walking.” When we think we say “I am thinking” and not, “My thoughts are thinking.” The body and the mind become one unit as far as the ‘I’ is concerned. Pain in the body becomes suffering in the mind, pleasurable sensations in the nerves of the body become happiness in the mind.

The ‘I’ remains the same throughout our lives, but its associations with thoughts and experiences change. The same ‘I’ is happy one moment and unhappy the next. With every unique experience, a new quality may get added, or there are modifications of existing ones. With more and more such associations, the ‘I’ goes from just an idea of individuality to the whole spectrum of our personality.

Our personality bears the colors of all the qualities accumulated over time. Some we display to the world, others we keep private. We maintain the public and a private persona. Managing the various personae we accumulate becomes a full-time occupation.

Every persona of ours has its ambitions, desires, expectations, and projections. We are naked in sleep, and we wear a ‘mask’ when we wake up. We change this mask during various interactions we have with the world. The aggregate of all our covers and personae reflects our personality and character.

Although the perception of the world happens in relation to our personality, it is not the seat of perception. Behind the wall of our character lies the watcher or the inner witness. This inner witness is present in everyone without exception. It is there when we are born, remains with us throughout our lives until our last breath. Whether we acknowledge its presence or not, it is there.

While the ‘I’ interacts with the world through the changing persona, the inner witness remains untouched. Just as we are aware of the mistakes and good deeds of others through first-hand observation, we can also become aware of the ‘I’ and its associations, which form the basis of our personality. In other words, we can witness aspects of our personality without identifying with it as ‘mine.’ The world may not see the naked truth of our personality, but each individual is capable of doing so.

We will have to go beyond the wall of personality to transcend the unceasing pendulum of happiness and misery. The ‘I’ interprets, enjoys, and suffers. It is not possible to become the inner watcher beyond the dualities of joy and suffering as long as we identify with the false self as the seat of perception.

There are many ways or dismantling the wall of our personality. Broadly, there is an inner approach and an outer approach. The internal method concerns the mind and the milieu of thoughts, and the outer one relates to the world.

The outer approach involves acts of selfless service or manifesting unconditional love in our thoughts, words, and actions. Such efforts must not include the ‘I’ even as a passing reference. Gradually the personality associated with the ‘I’ will dissolve just as the snow melts when the sun comes out. The ‘I’ is like the shade which blocks out the sun’s warm rays. However, it is difficult in practice not to involve the ‘I.’

The memory records all our thoughts, words, and actions upon which the ‘I’ may act and claim doership. When this happens, the whole effort of performing selfless acts and unconditional love may be wasted. One moment of identification with the ‘I’ may undo years of selfless service. Our persona exists in our thoughts, and the ‘I’ can recreate it in no time from the seeds of those thoughts. Over time, disidentification with the ‘I’ through selfless service and unconditional love will burn those seeds.

The inner approach involves becoming a hidden watcher. Just as our eyes can see a distant hill, we can watch the mind and all its complexities. When we are the watcher without changing or influencing any of the characteristics of the mind, we begin to move further away from the mind.

Instead of the mind crowding out the space of inner perception, we begin to experience openness that surrounds the mind. The personality stays with the mind, just as rocks are part of a mountain. The watcher is separate from the personality, and this separation of the watcher from the false projection of the personhood becomes apparent.

Whether we pursue the inner or the outer approach, both do the same thing, which is to uncover the witnessing self which does not have a name, age, religion, nationality, or other qualities. It is pure knowing without recording any experience. It is a beautiful combination of innocence and awareness.

How do we know which approach to use?

It depends on how our personality is shaped in the first place. There are three broad categories of humans — the head oriented, the work-oriented, and the heart oriented. The ‘I’ is common to all three. There may be an overlap between these three categories. By studying our inclinations, we can deduce whether we are predominantly the thinking, the working, or the feeling type.

The inner approach may be better suited for those who are head-oriented. The outer approach may be better suited for those who are heart or work-oriented. There is no right or wrong way. Debating methods without putting in the effort that’s needed will ultimately work to strengthen the wall of the personality.

An idle mind will not allow us to deconstruct the personality and uncover the witnessing self. The mind must somehow be kept busy and engaged without growing and fostering the ‘I.’ For any action, including selfless acts, the mind is a useful faculty. In expressing unconditional love, the mind dissolves into the heart and functions through the heart. Along with this, personality and personhood also vanish.

When we become the inner watcher, the mind has no constraints. The mind is free to roam. We are not concerned about where it goes. No matter how busy the mind is, there is no false self that is involved and interacting with the mind.

The mind could just as well be a scene from a bustling marketplace projecting on our TVs. Just as we can turn off the TV, which makes the room quiet, when the witnessing self disconnects from the mind, there is inner silence. We are there as the witnessing self, but the mind is absent.

The inner witness perceives all change, but it does not change and does not identify with change. The mind is a closed space. Perception as the inner witness opens us to realms of our being not accessible to the mind or the senses, the pure subjective state of choiceless awareness. This is the real seat of perception.

Physician I Poet I Transformational Philosophy - Free awareness and its power to transform. www.intoawareness.org. Learn more- amazon.com/author/seshadri

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