I enjoyed watching the recent movie version of “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Homes is intelligent, to be sure, yet his greatest asset is his keen sense of perception. His senses are presented as hyper-keen, he is inundated with the sounds, sights, and smells of others. He solves the case by paying attention to small details such as a smudge of chalk, a splash of ink, faint aromas. in other words, he is being mindful of his surroundings. And by doing so, he fulfills Proust’s admonition.
Proust also points to the futility of the “geographic cure.” New landscapes rarely work because we bring our old mind (and eyes) with us. After the sheen of newness wears off, we are back to old habit patterns of mind in the new place.
In Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, metaphor 106,”The Clothes Don’t Make the Man,” turns to Thoreau’s quote, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
We can transform our experience right now without requiring anything from outside of ourselves. We just have to open our eyes and see what is right before us. We don’t need any tricks, gadgets, or conditions. Just pay attention!
The French philosopher and mathematician, Pascal, suggested our greatest downfall was our inability to sit in a quiet room alone (doing mindfulness meditation, of course!)
Of course, to really pay attention we must be free of the encumbering influence of imagination. We must relinquish our preoccupation with anticipating the future and dragging around the past in memory. Then we can be open to what is happening to now without preconception, bias, and anxiety.
Finally, William James cautioned that our intellectual life is comprised almost wholly in substituting a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. The real action is not in thinking about our experience but in experiencing our experience.
Thanks to these old dead philosophers (real and fictional) for their wisdom!