|The Chinese artist Liu Bolin|
“Why is the mutual interdependence between ourselves and the external world not the most obvious and dominant fact of consciousness?” Alan Watts asked in his 1960 book This Is It.
“Why do we not see that the world that we try to control, our whole inner and outer natural environment, is precisely that which gives us the power to control anything? It is because we look at things separately instead of simultaneously.
“When we are busy trying to control or change our circumstances, we ignore and are unconscious of the dependence of our consciousness and energy upon the outer world.
“When, on the other hand, we are oppressed by circumstances and feel controlled by the outer world, we forget that our very own consciousness is bringing that world into being.
“For, as I said, the sun is light because there are eyes to see it — noises because there are ears to hear them, hard facts because there is soft skin to feel them.”
“…If, therefore, consciousness ceases to ignore itself and becomes fully self-conscious, it discovers two things: (1) that it controls itself only very slightly, and is thoroughly dependent on other things — father and mother, external nature, biological processes, God, or what you will, and (2) that there is no little man inside, no ‘I’ who owns this consciousness.
“And if that is so, if I do not own my consciousness, and if there is even no ‘me’ to own it, to receive it, or to put up with it, who on earth is there to be either the victim of fate or the master of nature? ‘What is troubling us,’ said Wittgenstein, ‘is the tendency to believe that the mind is like a little man within.’”
I’m reminded of the 1899 poem Antigonish by the American educator and poet William Hughes Mearns:
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish h’'d go away...
I think I know what’s on the landing at the top of those stairs. It’s a mirror.