The creek is as high and voluminous as I’ve ever seen it, a frothing brown torrent racing from the mountains to the ocean. I sit on the bank above my usual sitting spot, which is completely under water.
For the first time I witness how the tunnel under a large sycamore at the other end of the gravel shore was formed, as water flows with force through the arches of its root system.
Last night the rain and wind beat against the windows with fury, and all the paths still have puddles on them today. So I spread out a sheet of plastic on the grass and place my seating pad over it, to prevent the moisture from seeping up into my joints.
There’s a fury in nature that is completely distinct from the fury in man. Indeed, paradoxically, contact with nature’s fury calms the restless mind and restive heart.
At least in most people it does. I knew a fellow once that the more deeply he went into the wilderness with our group of friends, the more agitated he became. He wasn’t dangerous to others or himself (I don’t think), but it was clear that he didn’t like nature, and even said so.
It was so strange to the rest of us that we talked about it and tried to understand why. Was it a deep need for control, which he realized at some level he couldn’t have the further he went into the mountains? Was it some suppressed emotion, which nature released, and that began to well up in him with volatility? We never did understand why, but came to feel that such reactions aren’t uncommon.
Today, thoughts and emotions flow away with the pulsating, undulating current. Even though I wasn’t employing time and had no goal (just the intent to be present), it takes the better part of an hour for sorrow to lift and conditioning to cease operating.
The first question in the philosophy of mind is: How do we define mind? Without creating another duality I hope, I propose a distinction between mind-as-thought and mind-as-stillness.
Duality is in the nature of the mind, as we usually know it. Duality may seem to provide a clear contrast, but it sets up comparison, contradiction, and conflict between opposing ideas or concepts. That’s the last thing I intend to do, so I have to state up front how a duality can be averted by creating such a distinction.
Duality is precluded by understanding that in order for the mind-as-stillness to be, the mind-as-thought has to be negated in attention to its movement. But it’s difficult even for adept meditators to initiate the movement of negation, and many people don’t even realize such a movement exists.
Consciousness as we usually know it is a symbolically mediated activity of the mind-as-thought. That means words, images, memories, associations, and even recognition form a screen through which we view nature and the world. And though that kind of consciousness is sub-consciously taken as a given, it isn’t. Indeed, living in terms of the mind-as-thought, we aren’t actually seeing and experiencing things as they presently are at all.
Why is it that the simplest truth–that knowledge is discovered and constructed by the human mind, and does not exist a priori–so difficult for most people to grasp? It isn’t a failure of imagination, but something else.
Is it that we take the accretion of wounds and scars that we call ‘growing up’ as inevitable? Most people do, but that just begs the question.
Is it a question of inner strength, which is rare even in healthy cultures, because humans are social creatures (which is to say, herd animals)?
Can we explore the relationship between mental processes and the numinous, if I can use that word without implying any supernatural realm? It’s clear that for the sacred to be experienced, the mind-as-thought has to yield and fall silent. Is that too high a hurdle for most people to clear?
Speaking personally, though I’ve made methodless meditation the centerpiece of my days for many years, one still has to take the time and make the space every day to awaken observing without the observer. But that probably sounds like gobbledygook to most people.
Even so, the numinous (the inexplicable and inexhaustible mystery of life) is available to anyone, however jaded. You just have to stop embracing your jadedness.
To me this whole issue is expressed beautifully by this quote from a great religious philosopher I read recently: “When the brain is silent, the mind operates. That is the intelligence of the universe.”