The sun now sets at about quarter to five here, and the parkland is in full shadow before 4. Fall is in full flower, or rather unflower, with a large number of yellow and brown leaves waiting to come down with the first rain of the winter season.
It was nearly 80 degrees in northern California on November 18th, and we haven’t had any rain to speak of for 6 months.
The town of Paradise, which is 15 minutes up the hill from where I live, is being rebuilt. Eighty-five lives were lost, and nearly 20,000 homes and businesses were consumed in a matter of hours in California’s worst wildfire. It will take years to reconstruct the town. A year on, and you still see people living in trailers parked in driveways and fields around Chico.
A surprisingly accurate and moving PBS ‘Frontline’ depicts the harrowing fire and the aftermath of the absurdly named “Camp Fire.” If you have a ventricle beating in your heart, it will bring tears to your eyes and urgency to your worldview.
The moment I arrived at the sitting spot in the parkland, a young deer bounded across the creek and ran by at full speed along the bank, just 2 meters away. An unseen dog was barking at it from across the stream, and the frightened animal was going full throttle through the leaves into the brush.
The deer appeared to be running at about 25 mph. It was like standing two lanes away on a track and watching Usain Bolt sprinting at full tilt. Bolt, the fastest human ever recorded, topped out at nearly 28 miles per hour, which is about top speed for the most common deer species in the U.S.
The close encounter with the deer was an auspicious start to an excellent meditation, during which thought fell silent after passive observation gathered sufficient undirected attention. Just before rising, in a state beyond words, I wrote in my journal: Stillness. Mystery. Reverence. Love.
Love is not personal, but comes with the ending of personal reactions, concerns and action. Does all content in human consciousness come from the personal dimension, accumulated in the brain as residual memory?
I’m not sure, but the psychological movement of thought—the ego, ‘me’—arises from unnecessary and harmful memories stored in the brain.
The self, in whatever form, ineluctably congeals into a center. During methodless meditation the center dissolves in goal-less, unwilled attention, which is a completely different action than concentration.
In short, meditation happens; I don’t make it happen. The self, which is synonymous with the observer, can only prevent it from happening.
There is no center in the universe, and there need be no center within us. However it requires both hard work and a playful attitude with regard to one’s inner life to gain insight and liberation from psychological thought.
Even though the self still reconstitutes within one after a meditation, for a few hours there’s a feeling of completeness. That, I’m sure, is the most important thing a human being can feel.
So is ‘enlightenment’ when the brain does not revert and return to psychological memory, and reconstruct the self?
Be that as it may, why does one meditate? One may as well ask the birds why they swoop into the stream and clean themselves. For me, a period of passive watchfulness in the mirror of nature is simply inner hygiene.
Even so, one might ask, why is this inner action, by whatever name (methodless meditation, secular contemplation, non-analytic introspection) essential?
I’ve come to feel that no one inwardly survives with their heart intact and spirit growing in America, and perhaps this world, without learning and regularly applying the art of negation in meditation.
Awareness is quicker than thought. It’s essential to allow awareness to come to the observer, which is basically thought splitting off from itself in a millisecond.
When passive awareness is sustained, attention grows quicker than the infinite regression of the observer. The observer yields, and then there’s just observing. Meditation begins when the observer ends.
It still feels a little miraculous when the observer, time and thought suddenly and spontaneously cease in the simple act of unwilled attention to what is, within and without. Play with it, work at it and experiment with it in the mirror of nature.
PBS Frontline, “Fire in Paradise”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3OX1PR2SCM
“Simple Gifts” (beautiful version with Yo-Yo Ma, though with romantic and religious pictures): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYi9Vr8bHJY