-What Meditation Is
-How to Meditate
What is the hell is the mind? What the hell is this thing we all seem to have up there in our heads? We don’t quite seem to understand it too much. Even psychologists who claim to understand it rarely exhibit much more control or understanding of their own mind than the rest of us. i don’t claim to fully understand it, but through studying the words of those who have come to understand it, and by taking what i consider to be baby steps towards understanding it (including intensive study and some level of basic practices), i’ve come to some conclusions about it.
So let’s begin with an experiment. Look at your mind. No, not your thoughts, and not your emotions either. i’m referring to the thing over which all the stuff in your head takes place: the mind itself. Look at it. Go on, i’ll wait….
So how’d that go? Not so well i’m guessing. And how crazy is that, to think that you rely on the mind for literally EVERYTHING. i mean, it’s YOU. Yet you have no idea what it is. You can’t even really locate it within yourself. Well let’s see if one little blog post might take you a step or two closer to knowing what it is and how to find it.
Consciousness is really just clarity and awareness, or arising and engaging. Sensory and thought objects arise, and then we engage with them. For them to arise we must be able to clearly recognize them, and then in engaging with them, what we’re really doing is being aware of them. Consciousness is non-conceptual, while all conceptual thought is tied to the 5 senses (see my older note on “the Nature of Transcendence”). The mind is the aggregate of root-consciousness and sensory-consciousness, from which manifests conceptuality, the self, etc. When i say to look at the mind, i’m really saying to look at your root-consciousness. What is root-consciousness? Clarity and awareness. Root-consciousness – accessed through awareness – is the pure non-conceptuality into which one can dissolve all sensory-based conceptual thought. If you can observe it long enough, bliss arises within your mind. Sometimes eastern religions talk about mindfulness, but how is mindfulness different from awareness? The Abrahamic faiths are choc-full of commandments and rules and things to bear in mind; What are these but things to increase your awareness? The soul is measured in awareness, because the soul is awareness. At the most basic level we all have the very same awareness that is pure, spotless, boundless, infinite, and so on. At the conventional level of things, however, some have tapped into this more than others, and these individuals can be thought of as closer to their soul than those who are not so aware. These are usually the great artists, philosophers, passionate scientists, and spiritual masters scattered throughout history.
Consciousness is also the source of existence. Whether you believe in a personal Creator god, or not, consciousness is really the source of reality. At the most obvious level, everything that you know and perceive is seen through the lens of the mind, and so for you and every other individual, reality originates in the mind. Penetrate to less obvious levels and you reach the realm of ontology (the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of being). Many religions describe the process of the creation of the universe involving God or gods or so on. But what’s really happening in these stories? Creation originates in the minds of these deities, who are conscious beings: which is to say, creation began with consciousness. Even if they are completely above and beyond ourselves, if they are conscious, they utilize the same process of at least root-consciousness as we mortal and mundane beings do. No matter how you slice it, if there is a Creator or creators, physical existence originated in consciousness. On the other end of the spectrum of generally accepted ontological opinions, there is science. You might be surprised to learn that modern science says that conscious observers are responsible for reality’s organization as we see it; that is, we create history by observing it, rather than just observing history creating itself and us. Thus, top-down causality has been proven infeasible. Reality is not rigidly defined the way we conventionally consider it to be: it’s a) ever changing, and b) dependent upon our consciousness to determine how it will arrange itself. *
*There are 3 main views of the nature of reality. Creationism, emanationism, and materialism. This paragraph addressed creationism and materialism, but not emanationism for simplicity’s sake. Emanationism is, however, just as much if not more in support of the notion of consciousness being the origin of existence in some way.
Let’s broaden our scope a little further to include the mind as a whole, which includes – in addition to consciousness and the senses – feeling, perception, and mental formations or dispositions. To expand on the previous paragraph’s ontological discussion of the implications of consciousness, let us examine things from a more psychological perspective. Reality (that is to say, a reality) exists, but not in the manner of which we are accustom to talking about. This usual way of speaking about phenomena is an impossible manner of existence. Our mind takes in sensory information and engages with it through consciousness and then we see everything imbued with qualifiers and statements of being. What’s more, positive or negative feelings about what we perceive arise, and then our mind fits what we perceive in with our deeply ingrained mental dispositions (schemas). The positive or negative feelings which arise we tend to mistake as genuine perception of some aspect of the phenomena which we experience, and the influence of our mental dispositions is nearly always ignored or forgotten.
Qualifiers and statements of being must inherently be derivations of one’s own mind. When something is perceived, it is translated through the lens of sense-based conceptuality. For example, consider a beautiful sunset as i was when this realization dawned upon me. The sunset is not beautiful inherently by it’s own nature, but rather its beauty is inherently from the mind itself that is perceiving the sunset. To phrase it a little less verbosely; you make (or your mind makes) the sunset beautiful. Beauty is not present in the arrangement of photons flying through the atmosphere. The beauty is in your mind. Any statement of being is the mind itself. Another example i often cite when explaining anything about the mind to people is the notion of happiness or contentment, which is something that in everyday life we attribute to objects and individuals around us. We want a candy-bar and the want creates a sort of dis-ease or tension in us that getting a candy-bar removes. We get the candy-bar and feel so happy! But we mistakenly attribute happiness to the candy-bar itself. There is no happiness inside a physical candy-bar. The mind draws happiness from itself and then mistakenly attributes or imbues the happiness upon the candy-bar. This works for all things and people. Happiness, beauty, pain, fear, depression, anxiety, contentment, peace, bliss, all are aspects of the mind itself which the mind brings out of itself. Here is where meditation becomes relevant. And now that we’ve established what consciousness is, as well as its being the source of existence, and that the greater mind as a whole is the source of reality existing in the conventional manner we are used to, let’s examine how to go about knowing/perceiving the mind. Let’s examine meditating on the mind.
What Meditation Is
Meditation at its core is essentially about prolonged concentration or abiding on something unwaveringly. Concentration is essentially awareness, which we saw in preceding paragraphs is able to dissolve conceptual thought and sensation. If you’ve meditated before, it was probably the breath that you meditated upon, non-judgmentally watching it rise and fall. Maybe you’ve done some body-scanning to generate greater awareness of yourself. These are fantastic foundations, but they are just the first few steps! In this meditation i’m about to explain to you, called mahamudra, instead of becoming completely focused on the breath, you focus on the mind itself: you watch your own consciousness. How do you do this? Well thousands of years of philosophies and meditative practices are about to be condensed into a few sentences, so bear with me.
How to Meditate
To begin this meditation, watch the 5 senses. By this i mean, watch yourself seeing as opposed to the sight objects you see. Then focus on your hearing as opposed to sounds. Then focus on your smelling, rather than the smells themselves. Then touch itself as opposed to the physical sensations themselves. Lastly taste itself, rather than the myriad tastes you experience. Now, if you can do this (which i’ll admit, for some people, is not easy), focus on the mind as opposed to the mind objects (thoughts and emotions). Thoughts and feelings are like clouds which take place over the back-drop of the clear, expansive sky. Some days are cloudier than others, but even when you can’t see the sky, you know it’s there. If you can see the sky (mind) underneath the clouds (thoughts and emotions), then focus on it! If a cloud (mind-object) moves in the way of the sky (mind), first recognize that, then either wait for the cloud (mind-object) to move out of your way, look at a different part of the sky (mind), or, my usual method, examine the cloud (mind-object) itself. Look deeply into this thought or emotion’s nature and like a cloud it will simply dissipate! The mind-objects, like clouds in the sky, arise in the mind and dissolve in the mind. Thus, they are really just part of the mind itself. If you maintain awareness of the mind-object it will dissipate into the mind, because awareness is the mind. If you suddenly move from being aware of your awareness, then focus your awareness on the thought and as it’s part of the mind, you’re ultimately bombarding awareness with awareness, and driving it back into awareness!
If you practice doing this enough, eventually observing the mind will become more and more effortless. In time, a sort of peaceful bliss will begin to arise- remember the mind is the source of all happiness. This is only the beginning of mahamudra. i haven’t bothered to go into vipashyana mahamudra, as i haven’t even gotten close to this myself. Nonetheless, i hope this helped you in some way come to understand your mind a little better!