When my boys were small we used to go for long meandering walks that often took us around a pond with a wooden foot bridge at one end that crossed over a dam to the other side. Sometimes we would stop, and I would lie on the high grassy slope overlooking the pond while the boys played by the water's edge. One fine spring day, with no breeze blowing and not a thought stirring in my mind, I looked out and saw the sky mirrored in the still water below. My field of vision was almost entirely encompassed by luminous blue sky and high puffy clouds reflected in the glassy surface of the water. So perfect was the image before me that I could briefly sustain the illusion of being suspended between the sky above and the sky below. The mind is a mirror of the world, I thought, just as one of the boys lobbed a rock into the water, shattering clouds and sky and sending ripples to the far shores of the pond.
It was as if my thought had instantly congealed into stone. And there below, spreading out in silent circles on the surface of the water, was the reason it is so hard to see the world as it really is. Every thought is another stone cast into the still pool of the mind. The world that ebbs and swirls around us isn't the world at all but an image in a funhouse mirror. How do we see straight when our perceptions bend to every thought? Our thoughts are not, as we might suppose, a mere gloss on reality. We don't just think about what we see; we see what we think.
Where do these thoughts come from, anyway? They arrive unbidden, and although they appear to alight in my brain and no one else's, I'm not sure I can truly call them mine. Sometimes I wonder whether I really think them up myself, any more than I think up the words I hear on the radio. (At least I can shut off the radio.) The voice in my head certainly sounds familiar, but for all I know it could have been piped in from somewhere else. I realize madmen and poets entertain similar notions. But maybe they know something we don't, which would account for the wild look in their eye.
We think of the mind as a container. Where did that thought come from? Most of the time, of course, we splash around in the shallows, but if we venture out very far, we quickly find ourselves in much deeper waters, with tides and currents that suggest something vastly larger. This is no pond; it is an ocean. And it doesn't just contain my thoughts; it is the source of all thought, an entire universe under my hat.