Have you ever touched something when it was dry, and then touched it again when it was wet? Duh, of course, we all have.
How about when it was hot and when it was cold? Sure, we’ve all done that too. Have you ever seen a tree under a clear sky, then a gray one, then at dawn, dusk, night, and so on? Yes indeedly. These are stupid questions, but they lead to a not so stupid question:
Which one’s the actual thing?
I’ve pet my cat when my hands were dry, oily, and damp, and her fur feels different each time. So how does her fur actually feel? I’ve seen the tree in my front yard on sunny morning, cloudy ones, foggy ones, and beneath the moonlight. I’ve seen it dry, damp, and covered in frost and snow. How does is actually look?
Now that our toes are wet, we can turn this around to where it counts: who am I, really?
Am I happy John or the sorrowful one? Am I the young one or the older one? Am I the sober one who’s socially awkward and prefers being alone, or the drunk one who loves chatting up strangers at the pub? Am I the Buddhist one, the nihilistic or materialist one? Am I the son, brother, or the friend?
This is important because everything’s impermanent. One day the tree’s dry, the next it’s wet. If I think that one of those two is the actual tree, then I’m gonna get confused and suffer when it changes because my virtual world is gonna clash with the actual.
My grandma’s mind is going. She has moderate dementia probably caused by Alzheimer’s. Which one is my actual grandma, the one I knew as a kid, the one I took out to lunch once a week as an adult, or the one I’m caring for now who throws tantrums?
The truth I don’t know. How can we know? Saying, “None of them,” or, “All of them,” is a cop-out that takes a leap of faith. Then we have to cling to that faith, even if our faith happens to be in non-clinging.
Can we live with this “Don’t-know mind,” that seems to rest tenuously between nausea and delight? That’s an easy no, because even that mind isn’t actual. But one step further back, and there we are, at what can’t be spoken or conceptualized.