So what does make these incomplete images of ourselves so compelling, to the point we will let ourselves get sucked into the depths of emotional turmoil, not over something that is happening, but we merely imagine happening?
We all do it. We’ve all done it countless times, probably. But, really, why?
The simple answer is that those images are about us, but that can’t quite be the whole story. A photograph is about you, too, but you don’t get twisted up over the fate of a photograph. The difference seems to be that we treat these internally-generated images of ourselves not just as simulations or representations, but as literal proxies for the self.
In fact, it often seems as if we cannot help doing so. Dreams, daydreams, reveries, fantasies, dark imaginings, anxiety trips…it’s like we’ve got a private virtual reality machine in our heads, and we’ll use it any chance we get. It’s almost like the mind is constantly trying to fool itself into taking an image of itself to be the reality, and with even the slightest lapse in attention, it succeeds. It’s only when we exert careful attention and rational control of our imaginations that we can distinguish in the moment between the image and the reality.
In fact, it seems as if this constant effort to drag attention into its own little internal procedurally-generated virtual reality game is most of what the mind does. It does it when we sleep, it does it constantly as we navigate our waking life. It’s trying to hijack us constantly the moment our attention wanders from what is directly in front of us.
In that light, it seems like we could control our mental tension better if we got better at distinguishing images of ourselves from the reality of ourselves. Surely we wouldn’t get hijacked into these branching trees of ambiguity so easily, or so often, if we did.
Problem there is, the part of us that wants to get better at breaking out of our self-mental-hijack, is working at cross purposes to the part of us that is constantly trying to get better and better at doing the hijacking.
Maybe enlightenment isn’t so much about meditation, as mediation.