No nouns, only verbs
I guess it was Oscar Wilde who said this
My friend Ginni Stern put a quote of Oscar Wilde on FaceBook. It ran as follows:
If you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it. That is your punishment. But if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing — an actor, a writer — I am a person who does things — I write, I act — and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.
It struck me that somehow 2500 years ago a young man came to the same conclusion under a ficus tree. His name was Siddharta Gautama and he was an Indian prince of the Sakya clan. He was passionate about finding out the truth of the origin of the human condition, in order to alleviate it. After almost killing himself with different mortification techniques he sat down and relaxed while staying acutely present. Watching his body and mind without relapse for 7 days and nights. The first thing he realized was that nothing in his body and mind remained constant. Everything changed immediately when his attention turned to it. He experienced his body as a drop of water in a river. Then he looked deeper into his mind and he experienced that all sensations were immediately associated with a label: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This label was for whom? It was the survival mechanism for the drop of water in the river. It gave birth to the separation of the drop from the rest of the river. Now we know that the amygdala is the source of this label and it is an evolutionary mechanism created to enhance the survival of the individual organism. It normally occurs before the sensation has become conscious in our mind. And it kicks off a cascade of mental formations, aka thoughts and feelings. So before the sensation is conscious a whole set of ideas are preformed to fit the idea in our conscious idea of reality. When the sensations fit the idea, great! When they don’t fit, our mind will do its best to explain away the difference. Only when the difference is too big, are we inclined to adapt our pre-formed idea of what is there. This fits with what neuro-physiologists are finding out when they study the cause of tinnitus, which appears to be a very common and incurable ailment.
What does the previous has to do with verbs and nouns? That, finds its origin in language. If we would understand our reality as something continually changing, we would see everything as a process, i.e. not a thing. But if we would speak to each other in sentences consisting only of verbs, we would become unintelligible to each other. We needed to invent nouns, i.e. make fluid reality into solid things, in order to communicate through language. These handy aides where quite useful for the human species to survive and thus we became the most successful species in the evolution of life on earth. Because we survive through cooperation within our tribes. The only problem is that we have a seriously ingrained believe that the solid things we conjured up for the sake of communication are really real! And so we experience the world and ourselves as real things with a more or less permanent nature. Our mind is able to create this illusion and enforce it through our amygdala. Actually we believe nouns to represent phenomena, while in fact they are noumena. They don’t exist in reality, but they are handy means of communication and support cooperation.
But if that is so, why is it so hard to experience this in our daily life? It needs to destruct our basic noumenon of ‘I, me or mine’. And that is deeply rooted in the process of our mind. I needed the actual experience that my feeling myself as a certain thing, was a very superficial experience. By going deep into watching my own mind I became aware that everything it experiences is based on projections. This is clearly expounded in the Lankvatara Sutra. When the projections stop, reality reveals itself as Franz Kafka tried to say:
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.