On The Illusion of Numbers

It’s so easy to fall for the illusion that outside world circumstances can cause us to feel a certain way. We get tricked so many times; the illusion is designed to look real.

The other day while driving I caught myself groaning in frustration when I saw the gas price at 151.9 c/L. Just as soon as I heard the exasperation leave my mouth, the thought came into my awareness “where do you think your frustration is coming from?”

It’s an excellent question. Where did I think my experience was coming from in that moment?

As much as I initially fell for the trick of the mind, I was reminded immediately of what I know to be true: my experience can only come from thought brought to life through consciousness. That’s always true, across the board, no exceptions.

That little realisation, that tiny insight, woke me up once again to the fact that something in the outside world isn’t the kind of the thing that can cause me to feel anything. Only my thinking has that capability.

In that moment I was reminded of what’s really going on.

I had glanced up and my eyes took in light that was bouncing off of an object in the form of wavelengths. From that my mind created colours, shapes, numbers, conceptualised that the numbers 151.9 in sequence signified a gas price of 151.9c/L, matched that with my opinions and preferences for the gas price, saw that what I was observing didn’t match my expectation of how life should be and I felt the corresponding feeling of frustration.

The entire process was an internally generated experience. It happened only in my mind, even though it looked like it was caused by something in the external world.

It’s just what my thinking did, in that moment, before it went on to do something else.

I can have a completely different psychological experience of those waves of energy in the form of light and colour because they aren’t the cause of my experience.

In fact, I have had a completely different experience of reading the same sign.

When the gas prices hovered around 160 c/L for an entire summer, seeing 151.9 on the sign brought me a huge sigh of relief. Why?

Because that’s what my thinking was bringing me in that moment.

Everytime I see 151.9 on a gas sign I will have a different psychological experience based exclusively on thought in the moment. Will it seem high? Low? Will I be pleased? Stressed? Relieved?

Will I care? Will I notice? Will I see my experience as thought? Will I fall for the trick that numbers can make me feel something?

I don’t know. And to be honest, most of the time I don’t really care.

Our feelings, regardless of how different they feel to each other and our personal preferences, are all made of the same “stuff”: formless energy.

Energy that is always changing, flowing, ebbing, shifting, arising and dissipating. Whatever I’m feeling is just there in the moment until the next feeling replaces it, on and on and on ad infinitum.

It just doesn’t feel that simple because we’re used to believing that our feelings mean things about our lives.

We believe surely we need to do something with how we feel, we need to figure it out, change it, fight it, accept it, become aware of it, label it, categorize it, express it, solve it… right?

Wrong. What frees me is seeing the simple truth: what I’m experiencing is simply transient energy.

Everytime I catch a glimpse behind the curtain, see the truth of our human experience a little deeper, and understand how life works a little better, I realize things are not as they appear, and what a relief that is.