You don't really see anything. You see only your own thoughts, projected outward. If your thoughts are obsessed with the past, then, that's all you'll see. He uses the word "preoccupied," which means worried, anxious, lost in thought, excessively concerned, engrossed. It's not as innocent as "I am just stacking up life experience so I can navigate in this world—that's why I reference the past." Rather, our obsession with the past is rendering us blind to the present, and if you think about it, the present is the only thing that exists. So it's rendering us blind, period.
This idea that when you are thinking about the past your mind is blank is a hard one to accept. The theory seems to be that if you are thinking about something that is unreal, then the thoughts themselves are unreal. It's as if your thoughts draw their reality from what they are about. Only when your thoughts draw directly from reality do they themselves become real.
Think about the familiar phrase: I am not thinking about anything. We know what this means: it means your mind is blank. Jesus has taken this same phrase—you are not thinking about anything—and given it a new meaning—you are thinking about something, but that something is not actually there. So you are still not thinking about anything. So your mind is blank.
Purpose of lesson: to train your mind to realize when it's empty. "While thoughtless [past-based] ideas preoccupy [there's that word again] your mind, the truth is blocked." Realizing that your mind is actually empty, that is what opens the way to real vision, real seeing.
Eyes closed (first reference to this): it's easier to realize that you're not really seeing when you are looking with eyes closed, just looking on your own thoughts. Search your mind without investment, merely noting: this will crop up later. This detached stance embodies the very idea you are practicing, that these thoughts have no ultimate importance.
I find it helpful to add:
I'm not really thinking about anything.
I'm not really thinking.
My mind has actually been blank.
The thoughts that came to my mind in doing the practice were: I've been wasting a lot of time. Letting go of what's in my mind is no big deal—it's not really there anyway. I want something real to fill my mind.
4-5 times—this is an increase from 3-4. If you get irritated at the practice, include your irritation in practice period. That's terrific advice.
Purpose: to teach you that your mind spends all of its time empty, because it is always contemplating what is not there (the past). While it thinks about the empty, it itself is empty. Recognizing this emptiness makes way for something new to come in: real thoughts which will produce real vision.
Exercise: 4 or 5 times (3 or 4 if you find the practice irritating), for 1 minute or so
- Close your eyes and search your mind for a minute or so without investment, noting the thoughts you find and naming them by the central figure or theme of each one. Say, "I seem to be thinking about (name of person), about (name of an object), about (name of an emotion)…."
- Conclude with, "But my mind is preoccupied with past thoughts."
Remarks: If you find the exercise arousing feelings in you—for instance, irritation—you may want to apply the idea to those feelings just as you would to anything else. This is a helpful tip for many of the lessons.