Part IV – Chapter 28
In meditation, thinking appears as a product of unconsciousness, because it takes an extra effort of consciousness to be aware of one’s thoughts in the way of an observer – as events embedded in the mind field, coming and going without our entire participation. During meditation, I look behind me and see a long trail of scattered thoughts and bodily movements, all of which upon reflection seem rather pointless wastes of time and energy, mere restlessness and agitation.
Meditation is a very important instrument of spiritual development. Meditating consists in getting the soul to mindfully stop reacting to the body’s and mind’s usual drama and noise, so that the way things really are (whatever that happen to be), within and outside us, is allowed to shine through. Meditation is aimed, to begin with, at developing immunity to external and internal distractions.
Meditation is thus not inner chatter or manipulation, which would compound the problem to be solved. It is not artifice; it is nature. It is not a method for producing visualizations or extraordinary sounds for entertainment purposes, or for religious excitement. On the contrary, we seek inner stillness and silence through it. Even attempting to reproduce past meditative experiences, however interesting they seemed, is counterproductive.
It is essentially, as one Zen description has it, “sitting quietly, doing nothing”.
A simple, direct method of meditation is known as: “sitting forgetting”. The name of it aptly describes it – by doing this, we quiet and calm the body and mind. Sensations and thoughts are like stirred dust – let that dust settle and avoid stirring up more dust. Keep in mind that you cannot settle dust by force – that just stirs up more dust. The volition involved here, then, is that of non-action and self-restraint (against all physical and mental activity).
Our thoughts are composed of sensations (through all the senses), mental perceptions (the mental equivalents of sensory perceptions), memories, visual and auditory imaginations, anticipations and expectations, and theoretical discourse, including discourse about the current meditation, which means: abstractions, conceptualizations, formulating propositions, developing arguments and counterarguments, and ordering knowledge.
Apart from the initial stages of sensing and perceiving in the present tense – i.e. cognition of the here and now – all subsequent stages of thought rely on memory. Therefore, if we wish to intensify our cognitive contact with the here and now, which is the first intention of meditation, we must learn to put memory aside for a while, i.e. to forget everything.
Forget the place and time in the world that you are in. What the apartment you are sitting in looks like, what its address is, in what city and country, what planet; what time of day it is, what day of the week, what month and year. All that is memory. If you are fully concentrated on the here and now directly in front of you, you ought to be able to ignore all other places and times.
Forget, even, your own identity. Who you are, your name, what you look like, your family relations and friends, past episodes of your life, your present context, your financial worries and future plans – all such details require memory, and so must be forgotten during the meditation session. Remembering is allowing the brain to contribute mental images and intentions that are not immediately relevant to present experience.
Memory could be viewed as stored “karma”: it reflects and echoes previously lived experience, extending the sensory (material) domain into the mind. Our fantasies and theoretical thoughts, being based on memories reprocessed in various ways, may likewise be viewed as bundles of “karma” – carrying and perpetuating past experiences beyond their natural existence. The word karma is appropriate here, because this storage of experience has eventual consequences on our inner and outer life.
Memories are of course part of the whole present experience when they occur; but in this context, they are to be viewed as extraneous parts, which distract us from the more direct experiences. At first, of course, memories are unavoidable, and have to be treated just like pure experiences; but gradually, they are to be weeded out, by repeatedly preferring to turn one’s attention to the here and now.
Sitting forgetting is not an attempt to permanently abolish or destroy all memories, but is a way to eventually control the delivery of memory items to conscious attention. Instead of an involuntary and anarchic delivery, which distracts and confuses thought, we develop a more poised and appropriate delivery. It is an exercise that strengthens the memory faculty, rather than damaging it. We forget and stop thinking during meditation – but later, when we need them, our powers of memory and clear thinking are increased.
Of course, it is impossible to make oneself forget something – for the moment one thinks of it in order to forget it, one brings it to mind. So, the word forgetting is here meant in a retrospective sense, not as an action to be done. Sitting forgetting is also called “just sitting”.
Sitting in meditation, I at first observe my attention wandering away from my chosen here-and-now object of meditation. My mind is scattered, unable to hold onto its intended object for more than a moment or two; my control over my own mind is feeble. Remembering irrelevant things is failing to remember that I am supposed to be meditating; it is forgetting the here-and-now, in favor of the not here-and-now!
The antidote is persistent focus and attention. Generating more awareness; increasing concentration. Gradually locking onto a chosen object; returning to it again and again every time the mind strays. Collecting one’s mind; striving for one-pointed mind, for one-mind. Eventually, one attains a degree of contemplation that may be characterized as no-mind, because mental interference has disappeared. At the end, I may even forget myself, forget that I am sitting there meditating and just experience the object.
Just sit comfortably, check your posture often, eyes open without staring (occasionally eyes closed if need be), watching breath naturally go in and especially out of nostrils (counting breath for awhile, only if you cannot follow breath without doing so), keep returning to breath come what may (without discussing why your attention strayed away), watching thoughts run through your mind without getting caught up in any of them, letting them wind down (if necessary, use mantra for awhile to help them do so), watching them gradually disappear, experience the resulting inner tranquility, quiet and light, don’t push it or lose it….
If perchance you have some special meditative experience, such as an extraordinary clarity, peace or joy, do not lose your composure – remain steady in it, neither trying to perpetuate it or intensify it, nor trying to escape it or attenuate it. These are, paradoxically, two opposite tendencies common in such circumstances: an impulse to hold on to what seems nice (attachment), on the one hand, and an impulse to get away from what seems unusual (fear of enlightenment), on the other hand.