“man in gray jacket raising his hand” by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

We usually live our lives with the idea that we can touch things, hold things, and own things. There is some sense that we are able to acquire things, but when we take a close look, real ownership cannot be found.

I’m looking at what I call a coffee mug on my desk. What seems to be happening is not really a mug, it’s a visual appearance that I am labeling as a mug. When I reach out to where the mug appears to be, and my fingers apparently touch it, what is clearly happening is that sensation is occurring.

The seeing seems to be happening and what is seen is layered over with concepts about how “I” am over here and the “mug” is over there. There is a concept of separation between “me” and the “mug.” Then I seem to reach out what I call my hand from over here to over there and there is a sensation that seems to be happening over there where what I call my hand appears to be.

This whole process is so thoroughly mediated by concepts such as me, mug, hand, here, there, space, time, and separation that the actual experiencing is never allowed to just be what it is. The concepts are used to stitch together a conceptual reality that includes this apparent thing called “me” and that apparent thing called “mug.” I conclude that the mug is “my” mug. I think I own something, even if only for a few minutes, and I think I can do with it whatever I please.

In fact, all that is happening is completely uncontrolled experiencing: seeing, feeling, moving, and thinking. The experiencing is obviously happening, but the subject and object are completely conceptual and implied. There is just seeing, there is just moving, there is just feeling, and there is just thinking. What’s more, since there is clearly no subject or object, none of this is happening anywhere. It’s just happening.

If for a moment we pretend that I exist, all that I can really have is experiencing. But I cannot hold onto it because it keeps changing uncontrollably. Letting go of the concept of “me” for a moment again reveals that there is no experiencer and nothing beyond the experience (no object); there is only experiencing.

In the end, all we can really hope to own is concepts, concepts that are held onto by the concept of “me.” We spend so much effort trying to reinforce this concept of “me” using all the other concepts that are stacked on top of it. It’s like a house built in the sky.

When it’s seen that there is no real separation, that separation is just a concept, then all of the concepts that have been used to suggest that there is a “me” are also seen through, and what is left is satisfying wholeness. All that is left is heaven. All that actually is, all this experiencing, is happening not over there somewhere, but as timeless, spaceless completeness.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to when he said that it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It’s impossible for someone rich in concepts to allow heaven to be right here.

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com