You might know the analogy of the fish that doesn’t know its swimming in water.
The idea is because the fish only knows what it is to exist in water, having not experienced what it is to be out of the water, it has no concept of its environment. It doesn’t realize its swimming in water because, to the fish, there is nothing else, nothing to contrast its environment against.
In spirituality, this analogy is a popular one because it’s used to illustrate a person who does not realize when they are thinking or that there exists another dimension outside of thought.
To the person knows only thought, he or she is unaware of the water they’re swimming in.
Once the person realizes that they can become aware of their thoughts then the spiritual path begins to open up to them.
I know for me, someone who has spent a lot of time meditating, I often catch myself lost in thought, unaware of the water I’m swimming in.
Thoughts are so powerful, so seductive. And the mind is like a second skin, stretched over our being like a layer of mind-energy. Reaching beyond the mind requires will, courage, and attention; it’s much easier to stay where the water’s warm then it is to exist outside of it, to face yourself and the world head-on.
It’s like playing a video game.
Have you ever become so engrossed in a video game that you completely forgot about yourself? You didn’t exist nearly as much as the character you were playing.
Video games are a highly popular form of escape and hours can go by in minutes. It’s pretty amazing but it also offers us a glimpse into what it is to be completely caught up in the mind, in thought.
When we shut the game off and come back to reality we can almost see the abrupt borderline between the fantasy world of a video game and real-life.
This transition can illustrate how it is that the mind can shift from one reality to another, similar to how we can shift from being unaware of our thoughts to becoming aware of them.
Many of us live in a sort of video game colored by our thoughts. We are the main character of the game and have struggles and problems we must face and try to overcome.
I would suggest that by becoming aware of the water we’re swimming in, we can realize that we don’t need to play that game anymore. We can simply put down the controller and wake up to the fact that we are merely existing in thought.
This won’t be without its own challenges, though, as, for many us, we have a lot invested in our characters and our storylines.
But noticing the thoughts and emotional energy within ourselves causes it to lose power and this, in turn, gives us more autonomy to choose anew, to live not from a story but from a direct interfacing with life now.
Recognizing the water we’re swimming in begins to dissolve the separation between what’s real and what’s not which can bring relief to the playing out of the familiar fantasy.
In noticing the water you’re swimming in, you’re already halfway there.