It’s near dusk, and the parkland seems to be full of Cooper’s hawks. At one point on the path, a large, brown, stipple-winged hawk takes off from the path ahead of me with some small animal in its mouth.
Another hawk, perched on a branch overhanging the park road, drops from the limb and screeches continuously as it glides in a straight, level flight path above the road. A few minutes later, a couple walking ahead of me stop and turn around to watch a raptor alight high in a sycamore tree.
For the last 20 minutes during a sitting by the stream, a gray squirrel chatters away in a tree behind me. Consciousness is like that squirrel prattling on. It isn’t concentration, but inclusive, undirected attention that quiets the mind.
A hundred meters up the path I pass two college-age couples talking non-stop as they imbibe at a picnic site adjacent to the footbridge. In the time it takes me to go by, one of the young women changes subjects about shopping three times, without appearing to take a breath.
Meditation cannot truly begin until the mind/brain lets go of everything. No trick or technique can cause it to do so. Only undivided observation loosens the bonds and ends the grooves of thought.
Why is it so difficult to let go? What is it about the human mind that keeps us attached to beliefs, people and problems? It appears as though the brain, using thought, is wired to attach itself to things. Is attachment in the nature of thought itself?
Obviously attachment is a function of the self. As long as there is the emotionally held idea of a separate self—me, my, and I—there will be attachment with all its problems.
Clearly, there is no separate entity that stands apart from anything. Why then is there a seemingly separate self that experiences things as happening to it, rather than simply happening? Why isn’t experience perceived as an unbroken flow of inner and outer movement, but seen instead in terms a fixed center? Is an illusorily separate self that interprets and judges, thereby reacting from conditioning, an unchangeable part of being human?
If there is no image and sense of self, there is no basis for attachment. Therefore attachment, and all the suffering it engenders, is a function of the ‘me,’ the ego at the center of our experience.
The expression, ‘my thoughts’ is not merely redundant—it is existentially and neurologically nonsensical. There is no ‘me’ that has thoughts; there is just thought, with an operating system called ‘me.’ Then why does the ‘me’ have tremendous experiential validity?
Though the separate self doesn’t actually exist, the brain, dominated by thought, fabricates a separate self, and holds onto it for dear life. This deep habit of mind extends to ‘my country’ and ‘my group,’ though such arbitrary divisions are generating increasing conflict and unsustainable fragmentation.
It appears that in the absence of insight into the nature of thought, the mechanism of a separate self is fabricated to bring some semblance of order and stability to the chaos of thought. The brain records experience, and a program called ‘me’ subconsciously selects and screens what one’s conditioning deems important.
Also, as humans evolved conscious thought, the survival mechanism became deeply linked to concepts of identity. Thought is me and the me is thought. But we have the subconscious and emotionally held belief that ‘I am not thought, but a separate entity called me.’
From these psychological roots, the idea of permanence, and the fear of death, are inevitable. So separate selfhood, survival, attachment, permanence and fear of death are intertwined, and form the psychological basis of our eroding humanness. But thought-dominated consciousness has become utterly dysfunctional, both individually and collectively.
Authentic meditation, which has nothing to do with methods, techniques and traditions, awakens another type of consciousness altogether. To ignite meditation, one has to begin with ending division in observation. By watching the watcher, awareness quickens and gathers force, and unwilled and undirected attention, in itself, halts the habit of psychological separation, if only for a few precious, peaceful minutes a day.
Thought is a single stream, which habitually separates us from nature and humanity. When the sense of separateness ends, thought simply falls silent, and there is ‘the peace that passes all understanding.’
By whatever name one gives it, meditation is the single most important and urgently necessary action for the individual and society.