|Featured Columnist – Meditations
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 continuously 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, but inclusive, undirected attention that quiets the mind.
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.
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 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 it, rather than simply happening? Why isn’t experience perceived as an unbroken flow of inner and outer movement, but seen instead in terms a fixed center? Is an illusorily separate self that interprets, judges, evaluates, 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 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.
Though the separate self doesn’t actually exist, the brain, dominated by thought, fabricates a separate self, and holds onto it for dear life. This habit of mind extends to ‘my country’ and ‘my group,’ though such arbitrary divisions generate so much death and destruction.
It appears that in the absence of insight into the nature of thought, the mechanism of a separate self is fabricated to bring some semblance of order and stability to the chaos of thought. The brain records experience, and a program called ‘me’ subconsciously selects and screens what one’s conditioning deems important.
Also, apparently as humans evolved conscious thought, the survival mechanism became deeply linked to concepts of identity. Instead of realizing that I am thought, there’s the subconscious and emotionally held idea that ‘I am not thought, but a separate entity.’
From this psychological basis, the idea of permanence, and the fear of death, are inevitable. So separate selfhood, survival, attachment, permanence, and fear of death got mixed up together, and formed the psychological basis of our dubious humanness. But thought-dominated consciousness has become utterly dysfunctional, both individually and collectively.
Authentic meditation, which has nothing to do with methods, techniques, and traditions, awakens another type of consciousness altogether. To ignite meditation, one has to begin with division in observation. By watching the watcher, awareness quickens and gathers force; and that unwilled and undirected attention, in itself, halts the habit of psychological separation, if only for a few precious, peaceful minutes a day.
Thought is a single stream, which habitually separates us from nature and humanity. When the sense of separateness ends, thought simply falls silent, and there is “the peace that passes all understanding.”
By whatever name one gives it, that is the single most important, and urgently necessary action for the individual and society.