If you are like me, you might now have the old ‘how many ears does Captain Kirk have…?’ joke in your head.
But let’s move on….
And let’s instead ask a more useful question:
How far can we go with the exploration of what is real?
And the answer is:
Three. The left ear, the right ear and the final front ear.
Oh sorry. That’s the answer to the first question.
The answer to the second is:
There is no end to how far we can go. The final frontier is that there is no final frontier. From the first realisation that things are not always what they seem, there is infinite dissolving of what appears to be real. No stopping point.
And this dissolving includes that which looks so apparently, rock-solid and actual. Let’s push the boundaries of our understanding back by looking at some of these unquestioned ‘realities’. And let’s do it with a little help from Syd Banks, an ordinary man, who after a moment of profound realisation, articulated so clearly the nature of experience, perception and consciousness.
- Personal mind.
“This inner world, is a spiritual world, it’s a spiritual reality and it actually exists. As a matter of fact, it is the only thing that does exist. And this spiritual reality is found through your own mind, not your personal mind, but your own mind. This own mind is the only mind that exists, this own mind belongs to the “I am”. The only existence that lives is the I am-ness. And it’s found through giving up the little mind, to find the true mind, which is the mind of God, which is all things”. Syd Banks
This mind of ours looks real right? Of course it’s real. Here I am Clare, with my own mind. I have my own thoughts, own experiences, own emotions. I think stuff. I believe stuff.
But is that really what is going on? Thought seems to occur. Experience seems to occur. Beliefs seem to be there. But where? Where is all this appearing? Who is in control of it? Who is making it happen? Certainly not me as I believe myself to be. I have no say over any of it. I can’t point to a place within me where all this happens.
Thought and experience seem to be there but we can’t grasp hold of them, locate or control them. The idea that they are ‘mine’ and taking place within my head becomes less and less believable.
We start to realise the impersonal nature of thought and experience and start to see something profound: that the idea of a personal mind is itself a thought. A thought about a thought. We start to identify less with it and suffering falls away.
This is an enormous shift. Away from unquestioned belief in the idea of a me and my mind and my thoughts to a consideration that none of that exists in the way it appears. The personal mind cannot be who we are.
In the words of Syd again, “We are quite mindless.”
2. Physical body
“We are one with no separation except for the illusion we have of our bodies.” Syd Banks
Again, my body here made of flesh and bones looks rock solidly real. (Maybe even a bit too solid around the middle). I can feel it. If I pinch it I feel pain. If I feed it Green and Black’s chocolate I feel pleasure and get a bit more solid. It is real. It is here. Objective reality.
Except it’s not. How can it be? Every single aspect of that body is experienced via perception. I look in the mirror and what I see before me is what I am not. Because what I see is thought. And thought is a function of the perceiver not of the perceived. Same for every aspect of physical ‘reality’: health, appearance, attractiveness, pain, ability. All of it a creation of the perceiver.
And who is the perceiver? Well we could say it is us and our personal mind but even that, as we have seen above, is up for enquiry.
3. Our self
“Self importance is thinking you are important in this life. You must realize that in reality we are nothing but pure energy playing the game of life with the illusion of the body. One must get away from the body into self.” Syd Banks
So if personal mind is not quite as real as it seems and if the physical body is not quite as real as it seems, who are we? What is this ‘I’ of ours that never seems to change even though personal mind and physical body change beyond all recognition?
The ‘I’ is the space in which all this, including all idea of who we are, appears. It is the space of consciousness. That is who we are and the less identification we have with the idea of an individual separate self, the closer we get to reality, the less we suffer in the illusion of a self that must be defended and secured.
In the words of Syd again, “The sages from the past never spoke in the personal. You go to the impersonal. And the impersonal is a spiritual knowledge before the contamination of human thought. You have to go before time, space and matter.”
4. Free will
“We all have what we call a free will and a free mind. And this free will and free mind, nobody but nobody can take it from you. It is yours. But there’s a little trick to this free will and free mind. Because this free will and free mind is what holds you prisoner. It’s what keeps you in hell. It’s what keeps you in ignorance. Because you have chosen to use your own free will in this game of life, this illusion, instead of submitting this so called free will to the will of God. Because the will of God in actual fact is the only will that exists.” Syd Banks
Our free will seems incontestable. Of course we have choice. We are in control of this body. We make the decisions about our life.
But again, that is another huge area of apparent fixed ‘reality’ to consider.
From the boundaries of an apparent personal mind, experience can only reflect the thoughts and beliefs of that personal mind. The reality that appears is not questioned. The thoughts and beliefs that give rise to the reality are not questioned. Yet the only choices that exist, exist within that frame, within that fixed idea of who we are and of what the world is.
With the realisation that this separate self with its personal mind and body is thought, that frame becomes less believable. The restrictions and limits of personal identity dissolve.
Realising our true nature as consciousness, love or God (as Syd refers to it) is the only way in which freedom revealed.
“Desirelessness is… love, happiness, beauty, contentment, being now.” Syd Banks.
Believing we are a separate individual, desire seems to be our driving force. Desire for more, for less. Desire for something to start or for it to stop. We navigate ourselves towards what we want and away from what we don’t want.
So it looks as though if we did not desire anything we would just sit like a boneless, unmotivated blob in the corner. Kevin the teenager saying ‘Yeah yeah w’ever. Don’t care’.
Well how about the opposite is true? How about it is the belief in what we want and don’t want, what we think we should and should not have that is obscuring the full experience of life?
When it looks like our happiness, well-being and security depend on the having or not having we are trapped. Trapped within the conditioned thinking that tells us we are incomplete. Trapped in the search for something other and the resistance to what is.
The belief that something is necessary for us to be happy can only ever create suffering. Even when we seem to have it because the more necessary it looks, the more the thoughts of losing it crowd in. As Byron Katie said, “All pleasure is pain”.
This points us towards the freedom and peace of experiencing whatever is with no resistance, no change required. And at the same time, we will notice a body navigating a material world, moving to do whatever is there to be done. Resistance and desire are not necessary for action. In fact, they are the only things that get in the way of the unstoppable life energy that we really are.
Without them, there is openness to the entire miracle of who we are. Without desire, there is still a body moving. But now it is moving without suffering, without identification. It is being moved by love, happiness, beauty, contentment. Nothing can stop it.
So there we go five objective ‘realities’ that might not be as real as they seem. With a shift in understanding of any of them, we become a different person in a different space.
Let’s give the final word to Syd Banks, from his last known recording before he passed.
He said, so simply: “Once you get it, you are living in a new world.”