Another Kind of Consciousness

avatarFeatured Columnist – Meditations
Martin LeFerve

It’s near dusk, and the parkland seems to be full of Cooper’s hawks. At one point on the path, a large, brown, stipple-winged hawk takes off from the path ahead of me with some small animal in its mouth.

Another hawk, perched on a branch overhanging the park road, drops from the limb and screeches incessantly as it glides in a straight, level flight path above the road. A few minutes later, a couple walking ahead of me stop and turn around to watch a raptor alight high in a sycamore tree.

For the last 20 minutes during a sitting by the stream, a gray squirrel chatters away in a tree behind me. Consciousness is like that squirrel prattling on. It isn’t concentration that quiets the mind, but inclusive, undirected attention.

A hundred meters up the path I pass two college-age couples talking non-stop as they imbibe at a picnic site adjacent to the footbridge. In the time it takes me to go by, one of the young women changes subjects about shopping three times, without appearing to take a breath.

Meditation cannot truly begin until the mind/brain lets go of everything. No trick or technique can cause it to do so. Only undivided observation loosens the bonds and erases the grooves of thought.

Why is it so difficult to let go? What is it about the human mind that keeps us attached to beliefs, people, and problems? It appears as though the brain, using thought, is almost wired to attach itself to things. Is attachment in the nature of thought itself?

Obviously attachment is a function of the self. As long as there is the emotionally held idea of a separate self—me, my, and I—there will be attachment with all its problems.

Clearly, there is no separate entity that stands apart from anything. Why then is there a seemingly separate self that experiences things as happening to ‘me,’ rather than events simply happening?

Why isn’t experience perceived as an unbroken flow of inner and outer movement, but seen instead in terms a center that is fixed? Is an illusorily separate self that interprets, judges, and then acts an unchangeable part of being human?

If there is no sense of self, there is no basis for attachment. Therefore attachment, and all the suffering it engenders, is a function of the ‘me,’ the ego, the self at the center of our experience.

The expression, ‘my thoughts’ is not merely redundant—it is existentially and neurologically erroneous. And yet the ‘me’ seems to have tremendous validity. Why does the brain, using thought, fabricate a separate self, and hold onto it for dear life, when a separate self doesn’t actually exist? Why does this habit of mind extend to ‘my country’ and ‘my ethnic group,’ when it so obviously produces so much death and destruction?

There are at least two possibilities. One is that, in the absence of insight into the nature of thought, the mechanism of a separate self is necessary to bring some semblance of order and stability to the chaos of thought. The brain records experience, and a program called ‘me’ subconsciously selects that which one’s conditioning deems important. In short, we see what we want to see.

Another possibility is that as humans evolved conscious thought, the survival mechanism became deeply linked to concepts of identity. Instead of realizing that I am my thoughts, there was the subconscious and emotionally held idea that ‘I am not my thoughts, but a separate, fixed entity, independent of my thoughts.

From this psychological basis, the idea of permanence, and the fear of death, are inevitable. Separate selfhood, survival, attachment, permanence, and fear of death got mixed up together, and formed the psychological basis of our increasingly dubious humanity.

Thought-dominated consciousness has become utterly dysfunctional, both individually and collectively. And yet there seems to be no other mode of living, no other kind of consciousness.

Authentic meditation awakens another type of consciousness altogether. To ignite meditation, one has to begin with division in observation. That is, by watching the watcher, unwilled attention acts on the habit of psychological separation, if only for a few precious, peaceful minutes a day.

Thought habitually separates itself from nature, the world, and itself. When the habit and sense of separateness ends, thought simply falls silent, and there is “the peace that passes all understanding.” That’s the essence of meditation.