What do we see when we look? What is our attention latching onto? What are we missing? Ajahn Sumedho, author of The Mind and the Way, wrote this for Tricycle which can give us some insight into answering these questions and practical tools for seeing more clearly.
“Space is always present. It makes it possible for us to be together, contained within a room, in a space that is limited by walls…Noticing the space around people and things provides a different way of looking at them, and developing this spacious view is a way of opening oneself. When one has a spacious mind, there is room for everything. When one has a narrow mind, there is room for only a few things. Everything has to be manipulated and controlled; the rest is just to be pushed out.
“Life with a narrow view is suppressed and constricted; it is a struggle. There is always tension involved in it, because it takes an enormous amount of energy to keep everything in order all the time. If you have a narrow view of life, the disorder of life has to be ordered for you, so you are always busy manipulating the mind and rejecting things or holding on to them.
“The spacious mind has room for everything. It is like the space in a room, which is never harmed by what goes in and out of it. In fact, we say ‘the space in this room,’ but actually, the room is in the space, the whole building is in the space. When the building has gone, the space will still be there. The space surrounds the building, and right now we are containing space in a room. With this view we can develop a new perspective. We can see that there are walls creating the shape of the room, and there is the space. Looking at it one way, the walls limit the space in the room. But looking at it another way, we see that space is limitless.
“We can apply this perspective to the mind, using the ‘I’ consciousness to see space as an object. In the mind, we can see that there are thoughts and emotions—the mental conditions that arise and cease…With meditation, we have the opportunity to contemplate the mind. The silence of the mind is like the space in a room. Take the simple sentence ‘I am’ and begin to notice, contemplate, and reflect on the space around those two words. Rather than looking for something else, sustain attention on the space around the words. Look at thinking itself, really examine and investigate it. Now, you can’t watch yourself habitually thinking, because as soon as you notice that you’re thinking, the thinking stops. You might be going along worrying, ‘I wonder if this will happen. What if that happens? Oh, I’m thinking,’ and it stops…The important thing is not to get rid of thought, but to understand it. And we do this by concentrating on the space in the mind, rather than on the thought.”
What do we see when we look? If we only see objects, then our physical vision narrows. We physically see less; we also mentally see less. Our attention latches onto what is easy to see, to grasp, for how can we grasp space? That’s harder. Yet, if we don’t grasp for space, what are we missing? I’d say, we’re missing a lot. First, seeing space gives us the opportunity to see reality from an opposite perspective. What would the world look like if we looked at it this way? Couldn’t that be helpful to counter any cognitive bias we may have? Wouldn’t it also help us see that it’s the space between objects that connects them and connection reveals a truer reality?
Just as the walls of a room limit space, thoughts limit the mind. What the mind can perceive is limited to what the mind is thinking. If we look from the opposite perspective—walls limit space and thought limits the mind—then we perceive differently. We observe from silence rather than thought, and then we can see thought. We see thought as simply an object within a larger connected reality. Instead of being limited by thought and reacting to it, we have a spacious mind. A spacious mind has room for everything; a spacious mind sees the truer reality of our world.