The Shadows of our Minds

Isolated in the jungles of Sumatra with plenty of time to think in the sleepless hours the humidity drenched nights and buzzing mosquitoes only too willing to cater for, lost in the jungle noises in the background and relieved by the  sudden downpour the wet season delivered without fail, in swiss clock precision.

The nauseating sweet smell of durian and kretek cigarettes, a shot of gin and tonic water was rumoured to keep malaria away, a folk story I bought without hesitation. In this dreamy world of old, I had plenty of time to fall into my own thoughts and think.

Thinking fuelled by my curiosity and by my brief introduction into unknown worlds. Unknown worlds which have existed for thousands of years and even today remain outside the realms of our modern, sophisticated ‘western’ society.

I stayed in Indonesia for five years, not just in Sumatra, but all over Java (or Jawa to the locals), and Bali, a mystical and spiritual land I came to appreciate. The Shadow puppets or Wayang Kulit adding another sub-layer to the complexity of life (real or spirits). It’s in the shadows that we delve deep.

Seven years later, in Melbourne, I find myself in a lecture, one of the last ones before I graduate, and all these years later, my lecturer presents his thoughts on thinking converge on my own experiences in the jungle.

All too often we live in the “shadow of our mind”, a world based on beliefs which we perceive as real. “What we believe is what we are”.

At first the statement does not make much sense. Some people have great difficulty with it, others are mystified by it or reject it outright, and some people see it immediately.

The implications of “we are what we think and what we think will happen to us” are profound. If a person believes a certain way about himself, he will be that way, and if he does not believe that way, he won’t be that way. It’s like throwing a stone in a pond, the ripples will travel to the bank of the pond, hit the bank and return to the centre of the pond.

Furthermore, what we think radiates in the form of energy and attracts the same energy. Is belief so important, so consequential in our worldly destiny, our careers, our lives? What part do our thoughts play in all this?

People think what they choose to think. The value of a thought is the value we give to it, whether that value is correct or not has little to do with it. The mind will always attend to what it takes to be real. What it takes to be real depends on what it believes in. Through habit, perhaps ages long habit we look upon objects, situations and experiences of our world as real in themselves. What falls outside a person’s experience is not seen at all or judged as irrelevant. It is therefore not part of our thinking. Unfortunately, we can never be what we don’t think.

Our shadows are never far from us, from shadow puppets to the  shadow of our minds, they reveal darkness and courage in human nature; Darkness by the way it defines us and our perceptions, and courage when we realise that shadows are only one dimensional and we venture out and seek change for new and better ways of thinking and doing.

Plato (a student of Socrates and a teacher of Aristotle, three of the greatest philosophers who influenced western thinking), tells us about the shadows in the cave. The shadows cast on the wall of the cave represent a one-dimensional, exaggerated view of three-dimensional objects outside the cave, but the cave dwellers remain in the cave, scared of those shadows, imprisoned by their thoughts and perceptions. The shadows are reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real things outside the cave which they do not see.

When we only see the shadows, we are ignorant of what may be truly around us, of what the real possibilities may be, and our perception and understanding remain in lesser dimensions.

So imagine what the shadows of your mind prevent you from seeing?

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