The comedian Jim Carrey said in an interview that, with his comedy, he has realized what all people want: to be free from concern. Despite the fact people usually don't take him seriously I don't think he said it casually. We tend to believe through thinking we will find understanding of things, solutions to problems and knowledge but - the most likely - often we think to withdraw us from reality, without realizing it, so thinking becomes an addiction especially when we are going through stress.
We don't experience what is going on in our mind with our senses. It is as whatever we think about ceases to exist to our body senses once it's projected in our mind. We experience our thinking through meaning, ceasing to be a somatic experience. Or as Alan Watts used to say, those who think too much have nothing to think about other than their own thoughts. Hannah Arendt explained it in her book The Life of The Mind: "All thoughts arise out of experiences, but no experience yields any meaning or even coherence without undergoing the operation of imagining and thinking. Seen from the perspective of thinking, life in its sheer thereness is meaningless; seen from the perspective of immediacy of life and the world given to the senses, thinking is, as Plato indicated, a living death".
Plato's associating thinking to a living death wasn't his negative point of view though. While we are thinking we are unaware of our own corporeality, which Plato understood as achieving our pure soul quality. Plato's philosophical tradition was perpetuated through Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance by the Catholic church, influencing philosophers as Descartes who concluded "the soul can think without the body". This reflects the belief of a duality. The distinction between body and mind (soul).
Against the occidental philosophical tradition is the belief that we think because we have a body; the mind being a product of our body and not distinct from it. Again, thoughts arise out of experiences - from our body senses. As our experiences turn into thoughts the bodily experienced thing disappears. As Arendt puts it, "in order to appear in my mind only, it must first be de-sensed, and the capacity to transform sensed-objects into images is called imagination". The imagination deals only with what is absent to our senses. The mind deals with nothing other than itself. Perhaps we could say that the opposite of thinking is body experience - perceive with our senses.
On the other hand, as the Greek philosophers believed, only the spectator and never the actor can see and understand the spectacle of life, because the spectator is free from concerns. The spectator is not acting in the spectacle but only contemplating it. Different from the old occidental philosophical belief, something suggests this contemplation is not done through thoughts and imagination but only through somatic experiences.
I personally believe the best meaning we can give to life is leisure. As Aristotle understood it, not the free time we got after a day of work, not a play and not a recreation but the deliberate act of abstaining, of hold oneself back from the ordinary activity determined by our daily wants in order to contemplate it. This contemplation is the act of leisure, "which in turns was the true goal of all others activities, just as peace, for Aristotle, was the true goal of war" - quoting Arendt again.
While for the Greeks the spectator may understand the 'truth' of what the spectacle is about, but with the price of have to pay a withdrawal from participating in it, the oriental wisdom presented by Alan Watts suggests something different; that we can be both the actor and the spectator. As the Taoist story goes, imagine if you were god and knew all without surprises; how boring would it be!? So we play this theater of life for fun - just as children do their play sometimes taking it too serious and forgetting it's just a play - and as we grow older we forget who we are, we forget we are wearing a phony by taking it too serious and thinking it's what we are. The spectator is the one who can see the play and enjoy the spectacle while still playing it, only knowing now that it's all a play and people forgot about it. - Like actors playing in a scene for a movie sometimes taking it too seriously mistaking the playing character as themselves, or living the character but still knowing he is another person behind it.
As I understand it - or from my point of view which is questionable - contemplation is the way we can experience what is around us with our body senses, until the moment we gain the awareness about the spectacle we are in, without our thinking distraction that alienates us from our somatic experiences. This is why I think art is important. The thing that makes us stop and listen, see, feel through our senses. Pay attention to our somatic experience and step aside from the vicious meanings in thinking.
Truth and meaning are not the same thing. Our thinking doesn't bring us the reality truth but meanings, because our verbal language, associated to words, is metaphorical and not analogous to the mental images created from our somatic experiences. "Most people have experienced the odd sensation of estrangement that comes from looking long enough at a single object", says Siri Hustvedt in her book Mysteries Of The Rectangle. She goes on: "for all of us there was a time before we knew what things were called, and then the world looked different. Cézanne's still life is a rigorous effort to return to a vision unburdened by meaning". In other words, Cézanne's attempt was to see in painting what was lost in language.
When we look, listen and feel hard enough, long enough, we contemplate and find a world beyond meaning which tell us something else and which our verbal language is too limiting to comprise.
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