We learn the same things, over and over again, in different ways. It's not because we're dense. It's because we're alive.
One surprising thing you encounter pretty quickly in Indian philosophy, both Buddhist and Hindu, is that Mind is considered to be a "sense organ" like Touch, Taste, Smell, Sound, and Sight. This struck me as dubious for a long time, until this year I noticed striking differences in how I felt from one day to the next, when no external circumstances had changed, and I realized that Mind is contingent on circumstances. I started thinking about what characterizes our sense organs. Just limit the discussion to our accustomed five senses. What do they have in common?
Our other five senses are contingent on circumstances, too.It's easy enough to demonstrate. You like orange juice, right? Drink some orange juice. Drink some water and wait ten minutes. Now brush your teeth with mint toothpaste, and drink orange juice again as soon as you're done. You see where this is going.
Lie down on a bed or couch with one eye open and the other closed and pressed into the pillow or cushion. Rest a while that way. If you're like me, when you open your closed eye, your two eyes will see colors differently, making it lots of fun to alternate opening and closing each eye (with both eyes open, your brain will merge the images and you may not notice the difference).
Mind is the same way. Right now, I'm quitting my job, I have to move, I have a great job offer in San Francisco with a commute I'm afraid I'll hate, and yesterday I left my work cell phone on the train. And last night, I felt pretty good. This morning I looked at my E*Trade account, and while they've cashed my deposit check, the money's not in the account. Then I thought about being unable to make the job decision, and the fact that I'm on vacation and I've been busy every day and haven't felt able to relax and read as much as I want. And I started to get really cranky. Nothing changed in my life, just like the chemicals in the orange juice didn't change and the colors in the room didn't change; but my perception changed, my feelings changed. How I received the world changed; my mind changed.
But I didn't. That realization, that we are not anything that we think or feel, means we're free: if I feel sad, I can just feel sad, but I can also make choices about how I receive the world, so I don't have to feel sad any more. I can realize, like today, that I'm frustrated because I'm fighting the events of my life--I don't want to move, I don't want to change jobs, I don't want to commute to San Francisco. I don't want, I don't want, I don't want--it's just greed, and a failure to start by accepting what is. "Accept" isn't a good word, because it implies I'm not going to change anything; but I have to allow the world to be as it is, before I can engage and connect in a meaningful way. People or circumstances, we have to meet them where they are.