The unlikely object is your mind. Not your mind from a neuroscientist’s point of view, but your mind from your point of view. There is an ever-present thought-stream running through your head—have you ever considered investigating it? There is an objective nature to the stream: you can observe thoughts as they appear and disappear, like objects which pass into your field of vision and then depart from it. Like a scientist doing an experiment, your job is not to make judgements on this data but to simply observe it with your full attention. That the data happens to come from your thought-stream is not particularly relevant.
Some bits of the data—that is, some thoughts—produce physical reactions, which are emotional thoughts. Again, it is not your job to make judgements or get involved! Notice the thought, notice the reaction, that’s all! If you maintain your role as an observing scientist, the thought remains just what it is—no more, no less. It will soon disappear, passing out of your field of vision.
What I’ve attempted to describe is called Zen practice, or at least one form of it. Those who do it usually just call it sitting. Here is what one person has to say about sitting,
[N]inety percent of the thoughts spinning around in our heads have no essential reality. And we go from birth to death, unless we wake up, wasting most of our life with them. The gruesome part of sitting (and it is gruesome, believe me) is to begin to see what is really going on in our mind. It is a shocker for all of us. We see that we are violent, prejudiced, and selfish. We are all those things because a conditioned life based on false thinking leads to these states. Human beings are basically good, kind, and compassionate, but it takes hard digging to uncover that buried jewel.
That is Charlotte Joko Beck, a Zen teacher who wrote Everyday Zen. Well she didn’t exactly write it—the book is a transcription of some of her talks. In the quote above, she is speaking extemporaneously in response to a question.
Now Zen is a funny subject, one that I wish to avoid for the moment. But there is one thing I wish to say. The “shocker,” as Beck describes it, was deeply humbling for me. It means that I cannot maintain the belief that I am all that different from others, even from those who appear, from my perspective, to be totally deluded. They are like me but in different circumstances.
There is an often-cited quote attributed to Stephen Henry Roberts,
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do.
I rather like this quote! It is a concise summary, in a way. Yet for me it leaves something out, something essential. It is like speaking of the heads side of a coin without mentioning the tails side. So I would add the following: I contend that we are both deluded. I just have one less delusion than you. And I could be deluded about that!