Woodland hawks screech from all directions in the parkland, and birds sing raucously. Friendliness and joy are reflected on the faces of the many people using the park for every conceivable activity—walking, running, horseback riding, biking and rollerblading.
The creek is full, but until observation quiets the mind and cleanses the heart, I don’t really see the roiling green water. Then everything is vivid and new—the stream and sky, the animals and people. Then one enters a realm beyond sorrow.
I dislike the term “mystical experience.” What happens in the brain during the meditative state is neither mystical, nor an experience. It’s an event, a phenomenon that is new each time.
The human brain has the capacity, through passive but intense observation, for awareness that is quicker than thought. Passive awareness in turn gathers undivided, undirected attention, which is totally different than concentration.
It’s attention alone, without effort or will, which acts on thought, quieting the mind. That can happen within anyone, if we understand how to observe the movement of thought without the division and reaction of the observer.
Effortlessly watching mental and emotional reactions, without judging or controlling the memories, feelings and physical states as they arise, is the only action that’s needed to awaken the meditative state. Systems, methods and techniques, being products of thought and effort, prevent meditation.
So there are two levels of reaction. First is the spontaneous kind, such as when part of a conversation one had yesterday suddenly replays in the mind while walking or sitting quietly. Then there are secondary reactions–the judgments and evaluations about what one said during the conversation.
We experience both types of reactions almost instantaneously as arising from the ‘me,’ a seemingly independent entity that forms the basis of our existence. But the ‘me’ is essentially nothing but reaction, no more real than the homunculus, the fully formed human being that was once thought to exist inside an egg or spermatozoa prior to conception.
The limbic system is associated with basic needs and emotions–for example, hunger, pain, pleasure, sex and instinctive motivation. The ego and the survival instinct are apparently linked at a limbic level in the brain. Is that why self-centered activity is so difficult to extinguish?
When passive awareness grows quick enough to catch the ancient habit the mind dividing itself off from itself, the illusion of the separate observer ends. I find gently questioning the mechanism of the observer while sitting quietly draws attention to the primeval duality between the watcher and the watched.
There’s actually just a single muddy stream of content in consciousness–the past as memory, conditioning and experience. That is consciousness, as we usually know it. But when thought ceases splitting off from itself as the observer, there is just observing, which clears, quiets and purifies.
til your mud settles and the water is clear?
With the cessation of the divisive and depleting mechanism of the observer, attention grows to the intensity of a hawk within one. That is the highest action, and it quiets the mind without one doing anything. The chattering, noisy brain slows down, and thought stops altogether.
Sensory input, no longer mediated by words, images and memories, is heightened. Color, sound, sight, smell, and touch become vivid again.
In awakening awareness beyond thought, the brain is renewed and remains young. There is insight and compassion. Only the incorrigibly jaded deride purity of perception and being.
In the completely unforced stillness of attention the brain communes with, indeed is inextricably part of numinous energies that cannot be named.
Such states have been called, devotionally or derisively, “mystical experiences.” But they aren’t personal or idiosyncratic. Rather, unmediated experiencing is open to anyone who does not uphold psychological division and divided observation.
Non-drug-induced altered states of consciousness cannot be measured and quantified. They are not a function of knowledge/reason, which is inherently partial, but of awareness/insight, which is complete.
If one experiments with observation, taking both a serious and playful attitude, the separate observer dissolves and true observing begins. Don’t make a goal of it, but simply take the time, in nature whenever possible, to sit quietly and watch everything inclusively, outside and inside.
Then you’ll see there is no duality in actuality. Indeed, no “inside and outside” at all.