Sometimes I’m asked what I do to awaken a meditative state. This is what I do: I sit and watch the movement of thought and emotion in the mirror of nature until I can’t hold a thought in my head, and don’t want to.
“I can’t hold a thought in my head” usually means a state of total non-focus, of being so scattered and overwhelmed that one’s thoughts lose coherence. Why then do I use the phrase in a positive sense, with implications of tremendous attention, focus and wellbeing?
The continuity of thought is not just the ability to think logically, but to operate from the motivations of thought and the sense of a permanent self. But the self is based on twin illusions—the illusion of separateness, and the illusion of permanence.
Normally, conditioned reactions and associations are the basis of our perception, action and sense of being. However the brain can passively observe non-dualistically, until ‘I and my’ have no meaning or continuity. Then psychological time ends, the brain is bathed in newness, and one touches an infinite dimension of creation and love.
The human brain evolved to extract, abstract and store ‘things’ in memory. Upon this adaptive function not only our knowledge and ability to manipulate our environments rests, but also our beleaguered consciousness itself. A core premise of my philosophy of consciousness is that that consciousness as we’ve known it for tens of thousands of years is accumulative, and has accreted to the point of destroying space in the brain.
There are two streams of psychological content— the storehouse of experience, the vast majority of it unnecessary; and the accretion of grudges, hurt and hate. The former is essentially cognitive, while the latter is emotional, though there’s no line between the two, and they merge together into one stream of useless and increasingly destructive content.
Both the individual and humanity as whole seem to have reached a saturation point of the old consciousness. I feel this is a main reason for the depression, meaninglessness and lifelessness so many people feel. The human spirit itself is at peril from the accumulativeness of consciousness as we know it.
Is there another order of consciousness altogether? Undivided observation of the movement of thought and emotion allows unwilled attention to gather; then attention (not ‘I’) quiets the mind-as-thought. Consciousness is no longer synonymous with the content of conditioning and the illusion of a separate self, but begins to mean unmediated perception and insight.
Computers now allow, in fact demand a redefinition of what it means to be a human being. Freed from the need and habit of memory, we can, through right observation and attention, open space in the brain for silence, insight and the numinous. No longer creatures of memory, we grow into beings of awareness.
Brain science has its place, but asserting their hubristic authority, neuroscientists are making absurdly reductionistic statements such as, “the brain samples the world in rhythmic pulses, perhaps even discrete time chunks, much like the individual frames of a movie. From the brain’s perspective, experience is not continuous but quantized.”
Such a statement is deeply misleading and inimical to human potential because it assumes a function of the brain, albeit the dominant function in humans—symbolic thought—is the whole brain. It also reduces the brain to the objects of its study, rendering the brain itself just another object of study, thereby contributing to the fragmentation and deterioration of humanity.
In an example of subconscious scientific obtuseness, consider this hilarious statement, which is meant to reflect how the brain “cycles between better and worse perceptual sensitivity several times a second”: “Imagine trying to see an animal through a thick, swirling fog that varies in density as it drifts.”
You don’t have to imagine it; you can directly observe within yourself that’s exactly what the brain usually does—look through the fog of images, ideas and associations. The fog, or more poetically, “seeing through a glass darkly,” is the psychological content of our experience.
Gregory Hickcok, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine, says that rather than speak of “the stream of consciousness,” we should, because the brain views reality like “individual frames of a movie,” speak instead of “the “rhythm” of thought, of perception, of consciousness.” But by equating all three, he demonstrates his assumption that thought is the immutable basis of consciousness.
Meditation is the process by which the psychological content, which is not only unnecessary but also increasingly destructive to the earth and the human spirit, is emptied through undirected attention to the movement of thought and emotion. Whether one calls that movement a stream or a rhythm doesn’t matter a whit.
The continuity of psychological content is the continuity of psychological time. Freedom is the spontaneous ending of both in intense, undirected attention to thought/emotion. That’s what it means to leave the stream of time.