‘In order to see, you have to stop being in the middle of the picture’

Sri Aurobindo

Our perception of reality is self-centered. This is natural; after all, focusing on yourself–a la self-preservation–is what perpetuates the species.

However, once we get out of survival mode, what’s next?

Take yourself out of the center

I started answering this question in 1994 during my year of college in Helsinki, Finland (a lot of abroad, a modicum of study).

I looked back over the Atlantic to my community in Raleigh, North Carolina and saw my life and community as the rings of a dart board. I was the center and each circle surrounding ‘Bullseye Me’ was a layer of loved ones. The closer the circle, the closer the relationship.

One can learn much when they see their life without them in it. I learned that I was a construct of all those relationships. They formed me. They were me. After all, in the absence of all our relationships, what are we? How do we define ourselves?

This memory came back to me recently as I listened to a speaker discuss Buddhism. He noted that Buddha, upon awakening, stopped seeing himself as separate. Rather, he was all and all was him.

To see that veil drop, to feel that shift occur–even if it is just a glimmer–is quite disturbing.

Think of a time when you stepped away from your life and looked back from a different place. What did you learn when you were no longer in the center of the picture?

Think of a time when you loved someone else so much that you thought of their needs, their happiness, and their safety before your own. Parents know this feeling. Lovers know this feeling.

Now imagine if you felt that way toward everyone and everything… and it never turned off.

Infants don’t know make a distinction between themselves and their surrounding. Is this what we call childlike innocence? Is that then reality? Reality not filtered through the brain? The transcendentalists thought so and I feel they’re on to something.

As the brain develops, so does identity. As identity develops, so does perspective. As perspective develops, so does ‘differentness’. It gets harder and harder to not see yourself perpetually in the middle of the picture. With so much of our life spent in this state, it is no wonder that we gravitate toward this self-preservation, survival mentality. It is no wonder that so many of us are lonely… even in the company of others. It is no wonder there is so much selfishness and ‘me first’ thinking out there.

I used to see this Son Volt quote as quite foreboding…

‘You may be quite sure you know where you’re going, But sooner or later you’re out of the picture’

Son Volt

But what if where you’re going is intentionally out of the picture? What then will you see?


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