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Observing Without the Mediation of Symbols

A reader asks, “Can the people who have a natural talent to quiet their thoughts and clean their mind, not by effort and struggling, but only through insight, point the way for others?”

meditation 1I feel they can, or I wouldn’t be writing this column, though each person has to awaken meditation, or whatever name one gives it, within oneself. Meditation, as I’m using the word, is the highest action of which the human being is capable.

But isn’t sitting quietly and observing one’s thoughts and emotions a form of navel staring? It can be, and ironically, group meditation often is.

Another reader clearly states a pressing truth: “Without clearing the human mind of all limiting beliefs, the modern age’s epidemic of self-righteousness will prevail.”

What would happen if even one tenth of one percent of the people in the world took the time every day to end the observer, by sitting quietly and passively observing the movement of thoughts and emotions as they arise? Most of the divisions of humankind would fall away, and our relationship to nature would be restored.

The first reader insists, “as soon as you try to put this experience into words, your actual experience and insight start fading away and thought invades back into the mind.”

That’s true is words are put first. But words aren’t the problem. One can indeed lose insight by writing or speaking, but only if one makes the words more important than the thing, out of a desire to make a name for oneself or some other motivation. As long as one is enquiring, asking questions within oneself, insight is not lost, it’s nurtured.

Is there really an observation in which there is no observer? The brain can and must simply to observe, not from and through the thought-made entity ‘I.’ Observing the observer, the deep habit of thought splitting off from itself ends, at least temporarily.

Then there is just observing—that is, meditation, which is an effortless state of awareness that comes into being when the observer is negated.

For tens of thousands of years, the human brain has lived in terms of symbols – words, images, concepts, etc. That’s why it’s so hard for us to see that the word is not the thing and the map is not the territory.

Don’t accept the irreducible premise of the self. If we start from self we will end with self. ‘My self’ is not only an illusion; it’s a redundancy. The ‘me’ is an emotionally held construct, a deep habit of separation made by thought, which seems to have permanence. For most people, the feeling of ‘me’ lasts a lifetime. But for people who actually meditate, the continuity of self ceases, at least for some timeless moments or minutes.

But isn’t it the ‘I’ that has the desire to meditate? The urge doesn’t come from the ‘me,’ but from the feeling of imbalance and disharmony, and the body’s innate drive to move in a healthy direction. The body, if one listens, tells one when to meditate, which allows the brain to rest more deeply than sleep.

When I was a young man, I noticed that the mind was always separating itself from its own content. Over a few weeks, I unwittingly asked the right question: What is this observer that always seems to be separate from what it is observing?

One day, having forgotten my question while watching a robin on the grass, there was an explosive insight. The observer and the observed are the same movement!

At that moment all separation instantly evaporated, and one truly saw a bird and everything else for the first time. One’s senses were awakened, and the brain ceased mediating experience. One was fully present, without the mediation of words, memories, knowledge and experience. That formed the foundation for meditation ever since.

It isn’t a matter of avoiding judgments, evaluations or reactions. One simply sets aside analysis, and observes everything as it arises, with the understanding that judgments are part of the entire field of thought/emotion.

After all, judgments and evaluations are secondary, self-perpetuating reactions, and when one observes them as such (as part of the whole movement of thought/emotion), they fall away without one doing anything.

When the observer spontaneously ends, there’s just the movement of thoughts and emotions as they arise. Observing without the observer, the whole mind/brain falls silent, and there is simply seeing and experiencing.

Martin LeFevre

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