I am playing T'ai Chi outside at Harvard Business school yesterday early morning (before teaching a class there - yes, on a Saturday!), and I see a cardinal (bird, not prelate) flying around. Every now and then I see him as I turn, catch him out of the corner of my eye; but also every now and then I would think I see him only to find that my attention has been caught by a red Coke Can that someone has discarded on the lawn.
It is obvious that my mind is projecting a cardinal when I am really looking at a Coke can. The cardinal is in my mind. The not-so-obvious and even profound thing that occurs to me is that I am probably not seeing the cardinal EVEN WHEN I AM ACTUALLY LOOKING AT THE CARDINAL, that I am seeing the SAME projection of a cardinal that my mind furnishes when I look at the red Coke can.
Suddenly everything shifts and I start SEEING what I am looking at, without filter or expectation. The remainder of my T'ai Chi workout is pretty sweet. The lesson is deep and memorable.
It is pretty good indication that whenever I look at something I don't actually see what is there. I usually see what I expect to see from my past experience of the thing - my mind furnishing the image from its' memory banks that most closely corresponds to the thing I think I am seeing. When that thing actually is a cardinal it is almost impossible to notice that I am really seeing a projection rather than the real thing. When the cardinal is a Coke can, the phenomenon is much more obvious - (thank you Coke Can for the lesson!).