Once upon a time there was a creature endowed with a fine mind, and also with sense receptors that were sweetly attuned to the surrounding world and to its own delightful body. This intelligent and feeling creature could pick up sense impressions and savor them, without seeking to understand or to name or categorize any of what was smelled or heard or seen or touched or tasted. Life was a bounty.
Sometimes the excellent mind would become engaged, processing impressions in a way that was handy. The mind was a curious processor, taking a particular kind of non-physical delight in drawing connections and conclusions. This was one of the pleasures of being a smart animal. The mind would notice similarity between one tall growing thing and another, and pronounce them trees. The sensation in the mouth was pleasing, the tongue and lips and saliva cooperating to produce a new thing, a word. Thus it became possible for one of the creatures to say to another, “Tree,” in the absence of the growing thing itself, and for the two of them to form in their minds a picture in common. This picture felt almost as real as an actual tree, notwithstanding the absence of the feel under the touching fingers, the distance traveled up with the eyes, the sound of the leaves in the wind, the smell of the fallen leaves decomposing at the feet of the tree.
The self and the problems were so compelling that the intelligent creatures came to live not in the real world but in their heads.
It came to pass that the name for a thing, which lived only in the mind and the mouth, took on the appearance of reality itself (which continued to be discernible by the senses only). The word good came into being, and also bad, and they too seemed to name something real (even though what they named existed in the mind, not in the world).
Increasingly attuned to the mind’s version of reality, the intelligent animals created a self, to go with each of their bodies. No one noticed that each evolving self had no independent existence, outside of a mind thinking it into being. No self was discernible by the senses (unless you counted the person’s body, which everybody knew was a very minor portion of a self).
This self appeared to need maintenance and protection. It seemed to have a continuity across experiences, which made time seem like a real thing. The past seemed real because of the mind’s ability to revisit something that had happened, and the future seemed real because of the mind’s ability to fantasize and to worry about something that had not happened.
More and more, the mind’s picture of things was mistaken for reality itself. The mind-made self learned to invent problems to fret over, having usually to do with wishing life were other than it was. The self and the problems were so compelling that the intelligent creatures came to live not in the real world but in their heads.
The problems spread over the earth, taking up much more room than the trees and the rocks, the continents, and even the buildings and cars. Then the smart animals, sinking under the weight of their mind-made problems, used those same minds to try to fix the problems.
Alas, they were unable to see the only real problem. Which was this: if the mind has created the problem, it cannot hope to fix it.
Then somebody said — Why don’t we just stop making the problems? Why don’t we stop living in our heads? And so they did, all on a single day. Profoundly relieved, with bounteous energy freed up, they turned their creativity and love to caring for one another and their dear planet. And they all lived peacefully ever after.