If we analyze the way we relate to each other, and with the world around us, several questions may arise: Why are there so many murderers, wars, and acts of terror? Why do we destroy the environment? Why aren’t we capable of establishing sincere relationships with family and friends? Why is it so hard for us to relate to others without creating conflicts, controversies, and tensions?
What are human relations? Human relations are a group of interactions and ties made between different individuals by means of communication and are necessary as long as we live. These relations comprise what we call society. Conflict and chaos reign the world nowadays and have their origins in human conditioning, which is the source of all sorrow, confusion, contradiction, conflict, misery, and suffering. Therefore, humanity is fractured geographically, nationally, linguistically, culturally, politically, ideologically, and religiously.
This incoherence in society is due to the disorderly manner in which we relate to one another, which is, in turn, a reflection of our internal disorganization. In order to attain harmony, it is necessary to develop self-discipline. However, it is not possible to discipline oneself through repression, but only by means of understanding ourselves and our relation to others. Understanding the ways in which we relate to others can be helpful in understanding ourselves because we are reflected in our relationships like in mirrors.
Delving deeper into our way of relating to one another, we discover that every human beings have made an image of themselves and of others. This mental image implies a reference point about oneself. The self-image is the personal vision that we have about ourselves; the mental self-portrait that includes a collection of characteristics such as abilities, talents, attitudes, appearance, virtues, defects, and so on. All these qualities– whether they are real or imaginary – form the image that we believe we are, and constitute our own identity.
By internalizing and storing other people’s judgment about us, we have drawn a mental sketch of ourselves. We build up a self-image based on the opinions of others and our own interpretations of them. Ultimately, the mental image constitutes a scheme made up of opinions that have been recorded about ourselves.
Similarly, starting from our self-image we create images of others. Since we are the point of reference, we see others the same way we perceive ourselves. As long as we conceive ourselves as an image, we conceive would others, and even God and the Truth, as images. In fact, we will be idolaters as long as we live according to our own self-created images. So the complex of images begins and ends in us.
The image we have about ourselves is formed by ideas and opinions of others, which we have acquired when relating to them. The main contributors have been our parents, but also our relatives, teachers, partners, friends, and acquaintances have done their part.
From a very early age, our loved ones have contributed to the formation of our image with which we have identified. Our behavior has created reactions of approval and condemnation: they have made it very clear for us what we have to do in order to gain their appreciation by being good boys and girls. Don’t you remember our parents’ phrases, such as: "This is not the Jose Luis I know!"? However, this Jose Luis was not me but an image, a role that I took in life in order to satisfy them.
According to these opinions, we create a positive or negative image of ourselves. In the course of life, we continue to accumulate perceptions and to evaluate ourselves. In this way, according to the circumstances, we choose a role—a writer, athlete, musician, politician, businessman, husband, son, uncle, and so forth—and we identify with it.
Since the image has been made by the opinions of others about us, it does not contain anything real; it is composed of conjectures, hypotheses, deductions, presumptions, suppositions, fiction, illusions, and expectations. Our image is disconnected from the world of facts. We replace the information about our anatomy and physiology for a mental image of our physical appearance.
This self-image affects our mental, emotional, physical, and social aspects. According to our image, we will choose our friends, clothing, jobs, careers, gestures, vocabulary, and places to visit.
Depending on our needs, we will opt to be doctors, musicians, dancers, sinners, or even religious people. Our triumphs will cause us to create images of winners and our failures, of losers. Thus, we will respond to life the way we believe we are and not as we really are.
The image consists of the stored sensory perceptions of the world around us. Since the sense perceptions are dynamic, the image evolves continuously. For this reason, although the formation of the image takes place particularly in the childhood and adolescence, it is actually a process that covers one’s entire life.
Why do we create images? The incapacity of knowing, categorizing, and completely defining a human being causes the mind to create images. The human being is a mystery, and this enigma threatens the mind that feels out of control when it cannot objectify, and hence, possess. Therefore, the images protect us from our insecurity and make us feel illusively safe. Without them, it would be like living as if we are on our first day of school or a new job all the time; we run away from the danger of moving in the unknown in order to experience the feeling of security and the control of "knowing" the others.
In this way, the image is an escape from pain and suffering. For example, lonely people will create an image that will allow them to receive as much attention as possible. Motivated by this need for human warmth, they will develop an image of an artist or public speaker. Their inferiority complexes lead them to develop a self-image of superiority that helps to escape from suffering.
We also create images of others: we know a person—be it our wife, our son or a colleague—and we go on accumulating their words, verbal intonations, movements, attitudes, reactions, and situations that we have passed together, whether annoying or enjoyable. With time, we create an image of that person, made of this collection of memorized perceptions.
Human relationships are, in fact, links between images: people relate with the other from their self-images and address the image that they have created of the other person. In this way, being true idolaters, we perceive neither ourselves nor others.
It is impossible to cultivate and develop true relationships between images. If we form images out of clothes, actions, and words, it will be impossible to truly connect with one another. These ideas and conclusions about our fellow beings prevent us from knowing who they really are.
Therefore, as long as our relationships are based on images they will not be true. Only when a portrait would fall, do shall discover and know who the others are.
In fact, the pronouns – you, he or she – are only piles of memories. For example, when I feel affection for a certain person, I actually become attached to a series of incidents and situations recorded in my mind. Do I really know to whom I say "I love you"? Similarly, who do I reject when I say "I can’t stand you"? Furthermore, do I even know to whom I refer with the word "I" that I use so frequently? The mental function of registering and recording is indispensable for our survival; however, it is an obstacle when connecting to one another.
As a consequence of those symbols, humanity is divided and fractured. How can a Jew really know a Muslim if he maintains the prejudice that all Arabs are bloodthirsty terrorists who cause pain and suffering to innocent victims? In turn, how can an Arab see a Jew as he is, if he thinks that all Jews are criminals? Only when we eradicate the images that we have created of others will we attain true peace, and put an end to racism and xenophobia.
We make up images seeking refuge, but they end up restricting our own freedom. As time goes on, we will only be able to behave according to the image we have created. In this life, anything that gives us a sense of security in its beginning will, sooner or later end up limiting us.
As the years pass by, we will feel ourselves closed and suffocated within the thick walls of the image we built in order to feel protected. Security limits, and the more secure we wish to be, the more isolated and disconnected from life we will be.
In order to protect our image, we create a powerful defense system and reject or ignore anything that is to its detriment. Eventually, we do not live according to what we are, but what we believe we are. What we call moksha, or "liberation," is to be liberated from this image and self-inquiry, or atmavichara, is not to seek a certain image, but to discover “who am I?”
The problem is not thinking but making up images through thinking. The image is "the thinker" who is kept through memory. Since all images are past, they obstruct us from seeing the reality and keep us on an illusory plane made of memories and fantasies.
As long as we live according to images, we will be disconnected from the present, reality, and the world of facts.
In order to establish real relationships, we must destroy the image we have about ourselves and others, which implies our self-destruction as individuals.
That annihilation should also put an end to the mechanism that nourishes the image; otherwise it won’t be long before a new image emerges. The process of elimination is through observing the phenomenon with alert attention.
If we are able to perceive the world without recording, we can move in life without creating illustrations of ourselves or others. Our relations should be based on watchfulness rather than on mental records. When we get old, after a life of recording, we lose the capacity to accumulate more information.
We make up mental images due to lack of attention. Thought itself is a result of a lack of attention and is a product of memory, experience, and limited knowledge. In a conscious state, we do not create images. When we concentrate, the mental activity decreases. If we are watchful, upon being offended and glorified alike, we will be indifferent to insult or flattery.
Many approach a master because he or she, the ashram, yoga, the clothes, the art, the incense, the Sanskrit names and so on, are in harmony with the image they have made up about themselves. Generally, such people quickly draw up an image of the guru.
However, very few approach the master aspiring to see, searching for the help of someone who sees and whose finger is capable of pointing out those remote wounds that they opted to ignore. Masters will not nourish the image or satisfy its desires, quite the contrary. They will bring attention to those painful places of the past, to watch the loneliness.
If we approach masters with the hidden purpose of nourishing and fattening our image, we will not be able to stand his presence and eventually, we will leave them. On the other hand, if we want to see, surely we will be blessed with the grace of awareness.
Psychology offers valuable instruments in order to improve our self-esteem and reinforce our own image. The psychologist can help us improve the way we conceptualize ourselves and direct us to normality in order to function within society. However, the master’s labor is to lead us to the supernormal, to transcend the image completely, to go beyond and liberate ourselves from it totally. Creating and maintaining our image makes us subject to injury and offense, whereas living without it allows us to experience freedom and peace.
Living without images means to experience the world without registering, accumulating, or storing our experiences; to observe reality without memorizing our perceptions.
If we wish to observe a tree, any thought, interpretation or idea about the tree will prevent us from watching it directly. Living without images means to live meditatively, to watch without reacting or memorizing.
Clear perception of reality requires complete internal silence and a total cleaning of thoughts. Our memory’s superimposition on the observed takes away our clarity. We cannot watch with the filter of our memories of situations, moments, discussions, offenses and so forth. Attention implies looking without trying to alter what we see.
Being present, completely attentive and watchful of the moment’s reality implies the disappearance of the image we have made up about ourselves. Our death as images only consists in situating ourselves in the present. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:
There was never a time in which I, or you, or all of these kings did not exist. And in the future, none of us will cease to exist. (Bhagavad Gita, 2.12)
Krishna refers to both his own individual existence and that of others within the context of past and future, without mentioning the present. What we are now is not definable. Both here and now constitute the acid that melts any image.
When we talk about the present moment, we think it is a time related to the past and future. However, if we analyze it more carefully we will see that what we call now is not really clear to us.
We perceive the now as the transition from the past to the future. But how can we define the present itself, without being related to yesterday and tomorrow?
For example, if we take the present as a unit of time, we can refer to the current year. But if it is March now, then January and February are already past, despite being within the current year, and the following months are in the future. Therefore a shorter period of time is needed in order to designate the present.
Let us take the present month. But in the current month, some days belong to the past and others are part of the future. Then, let us take a day. If we refer to a day as the present time unit, we shall see that the same thing happens with hours. Then, let us take this hour, but the same happens with minutes; however, if we take the time unit called "minute" as the present moment, we will see that the minute also consists of seconds that are past and others that are future. The same thing occurs with the present second and so we enter into an infinite regression.
We can call a time unit "pure past" or "pure future". For instance, last year belongs wholly to the past; next year, to the future. But, what can we call "pure present"? Any unit we choose as present can be, in turn, divided. It would seem that a unit of time that is completely devoid or past of future, which we may call "now," does not exist.
If we seek the present as a time unit devoid of past and future, we will reach a dimensionless unit of time. A “now” that could be subdivided into past and future would not be pure present. That is, the present time is a time that cannot be subdivided.
We could think that nothing can exist without time. However, within the indivisible moment we find the one consciousness that transcends the concepts of time and space. The present is awareness, and being completely aware implies situating ourselves in the now.
Attention is possible only in the present. We cannot be attentive to the past or future, because they are made of memories and imaginations, which lack consciousness. When we reach the indivisible unit we will rest in consciousness. The essential nature of the present is awareness. To live in the present is to be aware.
Just as with "now," the same happens with "here" – it is found everywhere: both are dimensionless. In the same way that searching for the "now" shows us the absence of the present as a unit of time, pursuing the "here" makes us aware that every "there" is illusory. For example, when we move a pitcher, it seems that the space contained inside it moves too. This “here”, which is the inner space of the jar made of our physical, mental, and emotional periphery, is in fact no different from the space found outside of that jar. That space within the jar constitutes its oceanic aspect and each of us has it. This "here" constitutes that inner space or the center of our existence. The "here" and the "now" are other ways to refer to awareness.
We live deeply rooted in the past; we live in the present but out of some past. The reality is the present; nevertheless, the image that we have made up is stale. We are situated in the present, but we are memory; we move in "what is" but from "what was."
As images, we only see the past and future; we consider the now to be only an imaginary point between the past and the future. The past seems real to us because it resides in our memory, and the future comes to fruition with our hopes. Nonetheless, it is impossible to catch the reality of the present. Unlike the past that we store in our memory, or the future that we hold in our imagination, the present slips between the fingers and can be neither possessed nor retained. When we wish to perceive the now, it is still future, and if we manage to catch it, it is already past. When we aspire to experience the now, it belongs to tomorrow, and when we notice that we experienced it, it already forms part of our past.
The image is thought, and therefore, it is time. On the other hand, our reality is attention that implies awareness. The image does not know the now, because the present is awareness.
For an ordinary person, the present is illusory and only the past and future are real. However, for the enlightened one, the now is all there is. Along with the realization of our true nature, the past and the future lose their reality and the present becomes real.
We live with the image that we have created about ourselves, and through it. That image is memory, a pile of memories. It is a corpse made of what we wanted to do and what we could not; it contains our frustrations, past ambitions, and unfulfilled dreams. The image is dead, and therefore, it does not allow us to contact life itself. It constitutes the distancing from reality that isolates us from existence.
As the image is composed of the past, it clings to it, retains it and imprisons the known. By protecting the past, the image actually protects itself. The future is nothing but a projection of the old times, a yesterday with some small corrections and modifications. Life is unpredictable, but the image escapes to what was and seeks its repetition.
Bound by the image, we react subject to behavioral patterns. Facing certain situations, we become irritated or offended. However, it is not us who react. These attitudes arise from our memory. We believe we are the origin of our ways to act, so we try to rationalize them. In our attempts, we blame others for our anger, tension or sadness. In fact, we do not react because of anybody else, but rather, it is only an excuse to rationalize our behavior.
Spiritual maturity means to stop blaming others for our emotions and behaviors. Searching for excuses is to take the wrong direction that will keep us on the surface. If instead of pursuing those who we believe are guilty of causing our sorrow, misery, rage, bitterness, jealousy, or anger, we would internalize ourselves, we would manage to find the origin of pain.
Our reactions stem from the past, from the image we have created. Only by focusing our attention in the past will we be able to become aware of the causes of suffering. These wounds can be healed if we observe them attentively, as they are mere products of unconsciousness, illusions, and dreams.
Becoming aware of those dark corners in our unconsciousness purifies the causes of the reactions. When we observe those corners, the awareness acts like a healing power. In fact, the only thing that can liberate us from the past is awareness: to be witnesses of our unconsciousness until we liberate ourselves from the captivity of the past. Living from the image we have created is to let the past live instead of us; it is to accept that we are oppressed by what is old. Only by liberating ourselves from the past’s captivity will we be able to discover the present. Our self-image is only a trunk filled with the past
and future that stores what happened and what hasn’t yet occurred. Therefore, as long as we continue to live hidden by masks, it is impossible to get closer to the present.
When you experience sorrow, pain, jealousy, violence or depression, watch within yourself. Inasmuch as you penetrate your image, you go back in time. Do not do anything; only observe attentively, without reacting. If you judge, you will not be able to observe because these corners escape into the unconscious when accused. If your image feels condemned, it will hide again. Assume the position of a witness and only watch, with compassionately and without interfering.
Our evaporation as an image can only happen upon situating ourselves in the present and perceiving reality, free from reactions and interpretations. To meditate is to contemplate ourselves without objectivizing ourselves, and experiencing the presence of what we really are, here and now.
Meditation is to watch ourselves in silence. For this purpose, it is not necessary to do anything since any action or effort comes from our image of being "doers." Situating ourselves in the present moment and watching, entails deep internal alchemy. Choose observation of the world instead of a reaction to it.
This is the great change: the transformation from "doer" to "witness."