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The Fire of Attention Cleanses the Brain

With the first step out of the car, the feeling of early spring at about 1000 meters in the mountains is palpable. Despite the drought, the small reservoir is about 80% capacity. We had expected to still see something of the moonscape it became in the fall, with old stumps and brown bathtub ring.

meditationNear the parking area, an old couple fishes for the trout with which the lake is regularly stocked. Some distance away, childrens’ shouts can be heard.

A dirt bike roars menacingly at the water’s edge half mile across the reservoir, but thankfully leaves the area as we begin our walk. A lone kayak heads into an inlet in the distance.

Other than that, no one is on the lake. You can fish, or take a small boat with electric motor out on the water, but you can’t swim because it’s the mountain community’s water supply. And no dogs are allowed, which also limits visitors.

After less than a mile, I drop down off the path to meditate near the water’s edge while my friend returns to walk and sit alone. Sitting in silence for a few minutes with another, or with a group, enhances listening and communicating beyond words. But meditation is intrinsically solitary, and group meditation is an oxymoron.

A breeze makes small, choppy waves on the little lake for the first half hour. Then it dies down and the pines along the ridges and the water become very still. Silence pervades the area, and great beauty.

The mind, as thought, yields to watchfulness and attention, and the earth seems to stand still along with the mind. When thought ceases its continuous movement in passive watchfulness and attention, intelligence and the numinous flow into and through the human brain.

There are two distinct meanings of the word mind. There is the mind as we usually know it, the chattering, remembering, symbol-making thing that forever sees through the glass darkly.

When the machinery of this mind stops, either by being shocked into stillness by seeing grandeur like Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon for the first time, or through unguided awareness and attention to thought’s movement, mind awakens that includes the brain but is infinitely beyond it.

Can one even speak of that mind? We have to, because the mind as we know it is the source of the increasing division, conflict and fragmentation in the world and of nature.

When the deeply self-aware human brain is completely quiet, and the conditioned movement of thought and emotion spontaneously ceases, the sacred is. One cannot define what that essence is, since trying to do so is the action of the grasping, categorizing mind that precludes it.

But there is something beyond words and images, knowledge and knowing. It isn’t projected, invented, or an idea of any kind. Merely an intimation of it on a regular basis gives meaning to life; and without at least conciousnessan intimation of it on a regular basis, life becomes a meaningless trudging over the same old ground.

A mile away, at the other end of the reservoir, a big flock of geese squawks loudly in unison and lands with a great splash, visible even from where I sit. A hush descends over the water and surrounding ridges. Does the cosmos reflect a mind in meditation, as a mind in meditation reflects the cosmos?

The ego is very subtle, and thought is very self-deceptive. How can one be sure that these states aren’t imagined and projected? One can never be absolutely sure, but doubt purges the mind and questioning falls away.

It’s better to have too much doubt than not enough, though doubt too can paralyze, keep one stuck in self and thought. I once heard a religious teacher say that doubt is like having a dog on a leash; one has to know when to let it run and when to put it back on the leash.

Over 2500 years ago, Socrates was criticized for asking questions without giving answers. ‘Where does all your questioning lead?’ people wanted to know. Then as now, the grasping mind demanded evidence and practical application. But proof and results, while essential to science, cannot be the criteria for the inner life, for spiritual growth. Indeed, they deny it.

How important attention is! Ending the observer is a function of awareness, while ending thought and time is a function of attention. Of course, they aren’t two different functions, but different degrees of the same capacity of the brain. Unreactive awareness is like fission, unifying the stream of thought; undirected attention is like fusion, obliterating the psychological movement.

Passive watchfulness quickens awareness, enabling it (not the self) to catch thought in the act of separating itself from itself as the observer. Inclusive, undirected attention gathers unseen through passive watchfulness and shuts down, at least temporarily, the machinery of thought, with its storehouse of memories, associations and old emotions, allowing the new to be.

Intentional, concentrated focusing of the mind, which is what all systems and techniques of meditation stipulate, precludes true meditation and denies authentically meditative states. Techniques can produce some form of trance or hypnosis, but not meditation.

Why does the fire of attention have to be re-lit every day? (Perhaps for a few it doesn’t, but for one it still does.) Why isn’t attention the rule in the human brain? Can it be effortlessly sustained even during sleep?

Martin LeFevre

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