There are still a lot of common concepts that science cannot properly explain up to this day. “Time” and “consciousness” are perhaps the most intriguing, and i doubt if we’ll ever get to fully explain them. At the same time i also feel that it does not matter that much, because i don’t think an explanation would radically affect our way of living and thinking. The same can be said about the concept of “insight”, something we all have experienced but which is rarely explicitly addressed.
Yet it is extremely important, since it can (re)shape our lives in a more wholesome manner, contrary to all artificial restrictions, traditions and limited views mankind has constructed throughout the centuries.
So the reason i bring on the subject is to point out the possibility of change inside our minds. The better we understand insight, the better we may become at letting it in/making it happen.
What is insight?
There are the famous examples of Archimedes in his bath, Newton and the falling apple and Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Where did their changes in vision come from?
For starters, insight can not be really called a thing. It must be some sort of action, a process, that takes very little to no time to operate. Different interpretations may be given according to the context, such as a divine intervention for example, but that is not the road we want to go. I shall try to keep this meditation as objective as possible.
Is it the energy of truth bringing more coherence to the mind, reshaping reality? Is it the available, total inner and outer intelligence in-forming the mind? Is it simply information acting upon the brain?
In any case, it is my understanding that any insight, as small as it may be, can potentially affect the whole content of the mind. To go even further, it can affect the whole of collective consciousness. I could go into the theories of memes and “active information”, but that is not really relevant here.
Insight is most certainly not an addition of knowledge to memory. It may lead to that, and it may be triggered by pieces of information, but the flash itself appears to be a re-ordering of information, the creation of new connections between existing connections, disposing of all the irrelevance and delusion that was present before.
My first experience of profound insight goes back to when i was 7 or 8 years old. The ingenuity of a diagram depicting the natural cycle of water (sea – evaporation – clouds – rain – …) struck me very deeply, it changed my whole world view. Even to this day i would say it is one of the most important things i have learned as a human being. It may only be a piece of scientific information, but its implications are huge, and the principle can be extended to all ways of nature, including human nature. The diagram shows that there are no closed, separate systems on earth. Each part affects the whole and vice versa, whether we realize and/or like that or not. But i am digressing.
In information science, insight could be seen as nature’s garbage collection of the mind processes, and as the recognition of patterns inside one’s own representation system, which leads to a reconfiguration of the existing brain patterns. From my point of view, only a human biocomputer is capable to get this job done, thanks to its complexity and its plasticity, its flexibility as a living organism.
There is still much mystery surrounding this aspect of life. To my knowing only some neurological research has been done on insight within subjects trying to solve some particular puzzles. I assume that it is extremely difficult to get useful information via brain scans about something that happens in a fraction of a second. That’s a scientist’s concern of course. Anyone with an open mind can explore the nature of insight within him- or herself and discover its significance.
The million dollar question is: what are the best conditions and practices to get insight to happen?
In many traditions, self-knowledge and insight get distorted and even blocked by introducing interpretations and unnecessary imagery, disfiguring the potential of seeing one’s true nature, even in buddhism. However, on the underlying plus side, meditation, contemplation, is the central activity to bring about insight, sometimes aided by forms of questioning such as Zen koans, which force the mind to break free from conventional thinking.
Observation, inquiry and open-mindedness are probably the three key actions to see through things, eventually and most likely leading to the radical “point-of-no-return”, the big psychological insight called enlightenment. However, we human beings are very inefficient at clearing the way to get there, partly because we are still caught in old beliefs and interpretations and cannot and will not ever really “know” what it is, and partly because very few people are sincerely investigating these matters.
If religion has any relevance left today, it should be centered on this question of insight, and not on the interpretation of ancient metaphors, its influence on politics and society or the inevitable corruption of its institutions.
Only by dropping or seriously questioning the existing framework of thinking can the creative process of insight act upon/act within the mind. You cannot actively trigger it. You can create the right circumstances, that’s all.
One may argue that self-deception operates in the exact same way. It is well-known that, despite their important contributions, many scientific and mystic geniuses were attracted to far-out, esoteric nonsense, because of their extraordinary curiosity and open-mindedness, not wanting to lose time by being too skeptical. The same applies to many well-educated people who are not satisfied with the limits and half-truths of traditional medicine, for example. This is a possible downside of open-mindedness.
So how does one recognize true insight from false insight or deception? From my perspective, you can never really be 100% sure, but a mind that is moving towards sanity becomes much more sensitive and healthy, so that it becomes better at discerning true from false. It is the same with the body. Once you drop some bad habit, you will feel the difference. Time is the ultimate judge.
A true insight stays forever, whether it is the simple understanding of a fact or whether it is a deep understanding of life beyond language, of seeing the validity of certain questions and to live the answer instead of desiring certainty.
The path to insight is also a matter of trust in oneself, of connecting with trustworthy, sincere people, and not to be afraid of making mistakes.
Probably some of the people reading this will be distressed by the fear that opening up the mind can lead to the letting in of doubt and insecurity, and of “evil” thoughts, in extremis “to be possessed by demons”. As protection mechanism, most of us have this automatic judge/thought police built in, labeling certain thoughts as bad and others as good, in the belief that this is the only way to remain sane and morally stable. This robotic behavior works for the multitude, but it can become a serious mental problem and it is most definitely a grave limitation of one’s personal growth.
It can indeed be a big step to take to abandon the certainty of second-hand knowledge, especially if you’re an intellectual person, and to confide in one’s own intelligence, openness and potential for insight.
It is clear that highly neurotic and anxious people first have to get themselves straight before plunging into deep questions. Most people who sufficiently know themselves are capable of telling whether they are ready or not to move beyond the intellect.
Rest assured though, insight is a natural process, so there is no need to be afraid. Your mind will flee when the uncertainty gets too much anyway, there are millions of ways to close off and distract yourself.
Insight is the key to the further maturing of intelligence.
We may think that our species has already evolved very far, but psychologically most us know very little about our selves and our relationship with the world. As long as we put all our energy into more knowledge and scientific insight, and as long as we continue to bypass the black box that is our mind, the black box that is doing all these wonderful and dreadful things throughout the world, humanity is doomed to disappear, because we fail to see the self-destruction, pretending the black box is not there and imagining that our thoughts and actions have little to no impact on our surroundings and the planet as a whole.
Serious observation, meditation and openness are three things that are not rewarded by society (in the end, they reward themselves, but rarely can they totally flourish in a person – no (wo)man is an island).
In many places on this earth there is not even the luxury to get into these matters because of famine, poverty, political oppression, …
It is up to us in the “free countries” to decide if we continue the same old games of superficial change or if we are finally going to start to change the whole game from within, to drop all meaningless pursuits and fully engage into healthy living.
The planet can do perfectly without us humans, that is for sure, but how will we explain that to our children? Are we going to keep ourselves blind from our stupidity and continue all the nonsense or are we going to get to the essence and start focusing on insight, not sporadically or casually, but together, here and now, on all levels?
Nothing is impossible, it just hasn’t happened yet.