Memory doesn’t just permeate our consciousness; it is our consciousness. And when the movement of psychological memory stops, consciousness has a completely different quality.
A philosopher who has ‘mystical experiences’ wants to understand what is taking place in rational terms. He or she is therefore like a scientist that questions his own experiences (much less accepts things on faith), relying only on what is directly observable in the laboratory of one’s own re-experiencing.
For me, replicability without repetition is at the heart of the issue. But can one replicate so-called mystical experiencing? After all, the urge for the repetition of a so-called mystical experience is a great impediment to experiencing the numinous anew, and therefore to spiritual growth.
Techniques, methods and systems are antithetical to awakening a true meditative state. So it’s very difficult to speak about it at all. Of course, a lot of people have been making a lot of money fooling the gullible, the needy, the many people who want to follow some teacher or guru.
I think the right question is: What allows meditation to occur?
Passive, undivided watchfulness of what is actually happening within one in the moment is the key. I still require the mirror of nature. Attention gathers and acts, without volition or effort, on the structure of the self and content of the mind and heart. Then, always unexpectedly, the entire structure and content of thought naturally falls silent.
Drop all this breath-watching, mantra-repeating nonsense. Play with it, experiment with it, but make no effort to achieve any goal or idea of meditation. Never compare, to others, or even to one’s own previous experiences.
It’s been some years, but I used to take occasional trips alone backpacking in the woods of northern Michigan and the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. The first night would invariably bring an emotional and cognitive storm, as memories, associations and feelings were thrown forth in consciousness.
Compounded by primal fears of being alone in the wilderness, those first nights were usually very difficult. But remaining with what is, and hiking mindfully the next day, the mind, heart and brain would settle down as one grew increasing attuned to one’s surroundings.
Usually by the next day, psychological memory—the past—would completely cease in a deepening awareness and attention. Only the memory essential for survival operated. I recall setting up the tent, lighting fires and making meals without a single thought except the task at hand. As the silence deepened, time itself ended, and the awareness of something ineffable, which can only be called sacred, intensified.
The word is not the thing; the map is not the territory. When words are used properly, they point toward something, without trying to capture the actuality conceptually. That is the perennial error of texts, scriptures, dogmas and doctrines.
But when people lose the feeling of the actuality behind the word sacred, they substitute words, beliefs and theologies for it. Then, mistaking those things of thought for experiencing the actuality of the numinous, they are willing to kill and be killed for their ideas about it.
The creek at the edge of town is a frothing gray force nearly overtopping its banks. Masses of magnificent white and gray clouds fill half of the huge sky, but it’s completely clear to the west, where a brilliant sun slides slowly towards the horizon.
Over the sound of the wild water, the joyful voices of children can be heard on the paved path 100 meters behind me. Towards the hills, in the direction I face, model planes wheel and dive, specks at the terminus of the clouds. When the enthusiasts are out on a weekend afternoon and the water is lower, the little planes sound like huge mosquitoes. Thankfully they can be seen but not heard over the surging water.
Against the vast spaces and incredible splendor all around, human technology appears as insignificant as the model planes, toys in the infinite beauty of the earth and cosmos. Just then, a mile away on one of the main roads into town, the deep bass of some fool’s speakers are heard over the roar of the stream, as if to remind one of man’s destructive domination on the earth.
The undulating horizon swallows the sun. Then the purest line of golden light rims the low-lying section of the coastal hills that marks the setting point. In a meditative state, that thin luminous line viscerally strikes one as the liminal embodiment of the sacred.
A pair of Canadian geese flies in low, honking loudly. Swerving along the line of the creek, their fat bodies and elongated necks reflect the yellow light.
With complete negation of thought and self-centered activity, the numinous is. Not the God of religions or of belief; nor ‘God the Father’ or God as ‘Supreme Being.’ It’s an impersonal essence and presence that cannot be named or known, but only felt in the experiencing, never as experience.