Jnana Yoga Meditation, Mindfulness & The Nature Of Thought
The Inner-Workings of the Mind
Classical Meditation is, traditionally, the stilling of thought.
Classical Meditation is about being exactly where you are, as you are, in that unique moment.
When my thoughts are quiet, are very still, they generally do not interfere with or cloud my perceptions. I can be fully present to the current moment and all it contains. When my thoughts are still, I can see myself, my internal reality, as I actually am, or it is, rather than as my thoughts or ego — all based on memories of what I WANT to be versus what I do NOT want to be — want me or reality to be.
When the camera lens is unfiltered by ambition or fear, when the Seer himself is clear, then what is observed in the outside world is seen more clearly, without our projections filtering the external reality. It is only here that we can be in a real relationship with another human being, entity, or environment. It opes the door to a higher level of being Response-Able; appropriately and effectively responding to the conditions, circumstances and events of the world.
The degree to which our perceptions of the world are filtered or clouded is the degree to which we cannot see what actually is, and therefore cannot truly experience reality, including another other human being, and deliver an appropriate, effective response.
(This, of course, is only valid if you assess that there is some sort of “reality” “out there,” which some people claim does not exist. That, however, is another problem or issue all together.)
Since the experience of a stilled mind cannot in itself be directly described with words or thought, it might be helpful to talk about what meditation is not. The following, then, is a description of thought and its various forms and nuances helping us see where we are in our meditation or mindfulness.
First, however, let us make a basic distinction between two approaches to meditation:
The use of the mind and willpower to create a specific activity, such as a mantra, a visualization, a sound, a feeling, bright “inner lights”, energy movement, etc.
This mode is actually concentration, or an internal manipulation of the mind, which is the concentrating, the narrowing, of the field of thought. This is not really the “stilling of thought.” This may be a calmer, smoother, or steadier state of mind. However it is still the use and projection, the focusing, not a stilling of thought.
Concentration is a good thing to be able to do. It is reflective of a disciplined mind. Yet it is actually the opposite of classical meditation.
These more focused modes of thought — concentration — are often practiced as “stepping stones” to, supposedly, move us toward actual meditation; however the very use of a stepping stone implies going somewhere else than where you actually are. Real, classical meditation (as described above) contains no goals or ambitions, does not imply being anywhere else but where you are, as you are. You cannot, by its very nature, employ “stepping stones” because they are a way to get somewhere else than where you already are.
The non-use of thought, images and willpower, so as to not attempt to create any specific task or condition or pattern of thought in the mind. It is dealing with or paying attention to “what is,” not what we want to happen or to not happen. There are no goals or attainments in classical, non-directed meditation. There are not “States of Awareness” or “special experiences” to achieve.
This is the opposite of concentration in that meditation is an expanding of Awareness without a center or focal point or even a point-of-view. As we’ll discuss below, “I” do not meditate, there is only “meditation,” which includes what I would otherwise call “me” or the “I.”
Meditation is being in tune with “what is,” even if “what is” appears on its surface to be very “mundane.”
Being where you are may indeed spontaneously take you somewhere else, but that is not the objective of non-directed meditation. This style, the non-directed meditation lives for itself in the moment without goal, desire or ambition.
Classical Meditation Is Being Where You Are.
It Is the Art of Paying Attention to “What Is.”
Caution: As the process of thought is described, I at no time intend it to be assessed that I think that thought is bad or wrong or inferior or some other negative thing. Thought is just as important to being human as any other state of Awareness. In fact, it is higher levels of thought itself, the ability to make higher levels of abstractions, that separates us from other species and gives us our uniqueness as Human Beings.It is thought itself that gives us the ability to appreciate those other states of being which are more “in the moment.” However, thought can be misused, it can be used excessively, it can be utilized to ignore other important states of mind and Being. This does not make thought a bad thing, it only points to possibilities where we can become more competent as to its appropriate usage. Appropriate usage of mind has no rules, it is not a “state to achieve.” It is a moment-to-moment movement, a process, to be determined by our circumstances at any given moment.
Another Hint: Pursuing such conversations is inhibited dramatically when the listener is attempting to agree or disagree with the speaker or writer. Likewise, when the speaker is trying to convince someone of something, the process is equally stifled. Ideally, one would suspend their judgements and agreements and disagreements till a later time, after they have had a chance to try the ideas out in “the real world.” However, the mind being what it is, usually, we will find ourselves getting into agreeing, disagreeing and judging the speaker or at least his words. We might also find ourselves judging ourselves if we put too much value on the authority of the speaker. This is okay, because becoming observant of oneself when one does it, not to try to stop it but to observe it, brings in itself a movement, a change of the very kind we are attempting to discuss here. So it is, when we observe how thought, as in the form of judgements, gets in the way of real listening, when we really See it with Awareness, there is a spontaneous movement, a change or a shift without the use of willpower or ambition. Observing oneself in the process of listening is in itself meditation as we will be speaking of it here.
This is somewhere in between to the two aspects descried above. It’s a little closer to directed meditation, but with far less investment of willpower or “directedness.”
DESCRIPTIONS OF THOUGHT:
Knowing some of the characteristics of thought allows us to be more discerning when we observe ourselves in thought; giving us clues as to where we are or where we are not in this whole process. We can learn to recognize the indications of playing in thought by knowing about how it works. As well, as we get more able to recognize and See our movements of thought, thought gets sneakier and trickier, becoming more subtle and elusive. It is the job of the ego to do this, to “protect” us from ourselves, to hold on to the self-identity, the personality, which dissolves under the intense power of Awareness. This dissolution of personality is perceived by the ego as death, and therefore the ego must protect against such occurrences. It is the very nature of the mind to do this. Seeing this is one of the first steps to Seeing ourselves as we really are.
(The following are my descriptions of what has been written or said by the individual mentioned. They are not direct quotes unless so indicated.)
The Response of Memory to the Present
All thought consists of our past conditioning, stored in memory, generating some sort of response or reaction to present circumstances, conditions or events. Therefore all thought is old. In turn, all things that are attempted to be accomplished through thought will of necessity be the product of old conditioning. A new, vital, creative response can never be produced via thought. We can only re-arrange our old realities to make them appear new and different. Using thought to accomplish anything always recirculates the old stuff, often in new guises. Thought, however, is what got us interested in looking into this process in the first place.
Willpower: To Change What is to What Isn’t
Whenever one uses willpower, one is saying that what is so needs to be changed. Willpower is by definition removing ones’ self from out of “what is” in the moment to something else. We are attempting to change what is to what is not. We develop a goal of what needs to be changed by projecting our past conditioning into the future. When you observe movements of willpower, you are in thought. Most insidious are those attempts of willpower to stop the use of willpower. Yet willpower is often necessary to accomplish things that might not ordinarily be done. This is not to say that willpower is a bad thing. If you are “going with the flow” of what is, and you happen to be in a river that is about to take you over Niagra Falls, willpower could be useful to get you out of a dangerous situation. Again, it is how and when willpower is used that causes the trouble.
Thought is often a residue of an incomplete or un-Response-Able action. If you don’t respond to someone adequately, or if you doubt yourself, you will think about it later. The more incomplete or un-Response-Able the action, the more you will dwell in “I should have done this” or “I should have said that.” A residue is left in the mind of doubt, regret or other “noise.” A more mundane example is that if I have something to do, and do not do it, the having of unfinished business lingers on, tying up mental energy, causing conflict. When something comes up to do, it should be done as soon and as completely as possible, so as to keep ones energy and thinking as clear as possible. It may be as simple as writing down a list of what must be done, knowing that you will not forget to do it now that it is written down. That is, of course, if you remember to read the list.
“Only thought, in trying to understand,which means to recognize, separates perception from action. Newness can never be recognized. Only the old, the known, is recognizable.” To recognize something, re-cognize, is to cognize over again. If something is truly new, then you would not know it from the past.
“Philosophically, to abstract means to fail to take account of……It is possible, if we are very careful, very intelligent, to see the limitation of the symbolic-verbal approach. To see this is to get in touch with the nature and limitations of thought, since thought operates with symbols.”
Ambition and Fear
Thought is usually an interplay between my ambitions to have more of what I want and less of what I don’t want, and the fear or apprehension of what will happen if I do not get those things.
Ambition and fear are always past/future phenomena. I am never ambitious for what is, I am never fearful of what is. It is always what I want to have for myself in the future, or what I am afraid will happen in the future. (The future may be as near as the next second.) So I am always involved in time, never the present, when involved in past/future, ambition/fear. Ambition and fear are also two sides of the same coin. You cannot have the front without the back. Fear always binds action and prevents movement. You can achieve results with an ambition/fear orientation, however no real deep fundamental change can come through if this is the only mode of change available to you. Ambition and fear lend themselves very well to manipulation by authoritarian structures.
Creation and Manipulation of Images/Symbols
“I have the image or the images, and I look for an image-maker. I see thought and I begin to look for the creator of thought, the something behind the thought – the thinker. It’s very similar to the hunt in the unconscious for the real me, the pure and the pristine entity that’s not subject to the fluctuations of living…..So many of us are always searching to get in touch with ourselves, looking for the real behind the illusion. If I look very carefully at the split between the image and the image-maker, between the thinker and the thoughts, I find that the whole idea of the thinker is just another product of thought. There is no thinker; there is just thought. There is no image-maker; there are just images. If I want to learn about myself, actually learn about what I am and how I work, then I must look at the images, the thoughts, and see how they work. To look for something behind this because what I see appalls me or dismays me, then I am involved again in thought. I am asking for something to be other than what is. If I say that I’m going to do away with images or thought, it simply becomes another thought or image, so I’m trapped again in the paradox, in the bind of mind which is always wrapping round me. To see this, to see how mind fragments, how I’m always looking for the thinker, for the maker of the images, and how it is thought doing this, is to get in touch with the nature of mind and oneself.”
“What in-sanity actually is, is operating toward symbols as if they are real. It is interesting to see how much of what is called society is just this.”
This or That, Either/Or, Thinking
“Either/or thinking is essentially binary or two valued (yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad), and its mode is to categorize and understand the world through mutually exclusive polarities. Binary thought is an aspect of the workings of the human brain, but only one aspect. One reason we have been conditioned to use binary thought almost exclusively is that this way of thinking and processing experience lends itself admirably to authoritarian structures.”
The use of binary thought, either/or, this or that thinking, inhibits or prevents our minds from containing and dealing with paradox. Rather than see polarities as complementary, as in a dialectical process, we are trained to see polarities as in conflict, one or the other of them being unacceptable. (Karl Marx, in a probable distortion of Hegel’s philosophical works, is an extraordinary example of turning the dialectical process from a complementary process to one of conflict, leading, eventually, in Marx’s dialectical materialism, to aggression and violence.)
Psychological Time: Past / Future Orientation
The perception of time is a creation of psychological time, which is to be distinguished from chronological time. Although there is a movement of space-time-matter, our perceptions of it are created and conditioned by our thoughts, memories, fears and ambitions. “Not enough time” only exists in thought. Inadequate or incomplete actions live in reality.
“Dreams are complex. There are times when they could be called leakages from the unconscious. There are times when they are working over memory. Sometimes they just involve a stimulus cue….Dreams may express forbidden desires. They are creations of mind; most dreams are expressions of what ordinarily we don’t look at. It’s not that we can’t; it’s just that we don’t ordinarily, because they involve an uncomfortableness. To dream is also a way to hold onto personality even in sleep. Dreaming insures that I do not die, that the me is still around…… Why do you analyze your dreams? Isn’t it true that you’re not analyzing the dream, but the memory of the dream?…..You’re dealing with memory, which is always different. When you’re doing that, the very act of doing it can remove you. The dream itself may be a release or an expression of something. To get involved with the dream is to be involved in memory. The memory may not be at all like the dream. When you are involved in this you are involved in sand — shifting — you can never get a hold of it because nothing is there. It’s all memory – mind.”
The Conscious/Un-Conscious Split
There are two reasons for the unconscious. One is that we cannot hold all incoming input in our conscious mind; it would be a tremendous overload. So we filter out what is not relevant or important to what is going on. The other reason, which has tremendous overlap with the first, is to hide from ourselves what it is that we do not want to see. We invest tremendous energy in protecting ourselves from ourselves, hopefully, as far as the ego is concerned, without us knowing that we are doing that. Ego can conveniently use the first excuse in order to block out, ignore, those things which challenge the structure of our personality.
Psychotherapies that involve themselves in the “uncovering” of the unconscious are actually, in some ways, adding energy to the fragmentation of the mind, which can compound the problem. Linguistically, the very saying of the word “unconscious” adds to the strength of the unconscious, making it that much more inaccessible. One of the great contributions of this type of psycho-analysis is that you might, through observing the problems of it, get a deeper insight into how analysis works and then how you yourself work. Then you can go onto more direct approaches to handling the problems of life.
“Real meditation is the key that unlocks the door to the unknown. Real meditation is the key to a whole new process of evolution: an evolution of the very mechanism of evolution. The old mechanism was based on unconscious processes,which by their very unconscious nature control us and keep us children. A movement in the mechanism from unconscious to conscious is a movement into adulthood, and the real question is whether we as a species are going to grow up.”
“The thoughts men hold on to wind up in the nervous system. If the beliefs are scrambled so will the nerve function be.“ — The Manhood of Humanity
“Beliefs men hold onto, wind up in the nervous system. If the beliefs are scrambled, so will the nerve function be. And if the vocabulary is scrambled [i.e. degraded] the scrambling of beliefs is bound to follow.”
“…all we know and may know are abstractions of different orders – the word “abstraction” meaning ‘not all.'”
“I firmly believe that the consciousness of the differences between these levels of abstractions; i.e., the silent and the verbal levels, is the key and perhaps the first step for the solution of human problems.… We need not blind ourselves with the old dogma that ‘human nature cannot be changed,’ for we find that it can be changed [if we know how]. We must begin to realize our potentialities as humans, then we may approach the future with some hope.”
“Whenever we use a word we are never on the level of the object but always on the level of the label; to reach the level of the object we must point to it with our finger and be silent… It is important to remember constantly that it is the feeling of the described processes which matters most.”
Harry L. Weinberg
“This object I label pen – what is it really? It is the mass of sensations aroused in me by the goings-on on the atomic level. This sentence is the right answer and it is completely false to fact, because the sentence is verbal and the sensations are not. In response to the question, I should just stick the pen in my mouth, sniff it, look at it, feel it, and not say a word. What my senses ‘tell’ me, that’s what it ‘is.'”
“In other words, categorizing and naming an object tend to call attention to similarities between the object and the class to which it is assigned, and to neglect individual differences. And the differences are often more important than the similarities, especially when dealing with people. This tendency is carried to an extreme in prejudiced behavior where the label we applied to a person almost completely replaces looking at him as a unique individual who is not a Catholic or Jew or Negro or anything else we may call him. What is he ‘really?’ Look at him, listen to him, and stop labeling him! Theories about the influence of his race, culture or religion on his character may help you to understand why he acts as you think he does, or it may not, but whatever you say he is, he is not. Your saying is words and most certainly those words, though they help determine how you perceive him, are not the man.”
Any Process of Separation
“I consider that in a state determined nervous system, the neurophysiological processes that consists in its interacting with some of its own internal states as if these were independent entities corresponds to what we call thinking.”
“Such internal states of nervous activity, otherwise similar to other states of nervous activity that participate in the specification of behaviour, as in reflex mechanisms, cause conduct by determining specific changes of state in the nervous system. Thinking thus conceived, and reflex mechanisms, are both neurophysiological processes through which behaviour emerges in a deterministic manner; they differ, however, in that in a reflex action we can, in our description, trace a chain of nervous interactions that begins with a specific state of activity at the sensory surfaces; while in thinking, the chain of nervous interactions that leads to a given conduct (change in the effector surfaces) begins with a distinguishable state of activity of the nervous system itself, whichever way it may have originated…..”
Product of Past Conditioning
“A living system, due to its circular organization, is an inductive system and functions always in a predictive manner: what happened once will occur again. Its organization, (genetic and otherwise) is conservative and repeats only that which works. For the same reason living systems are historical systems; the relevance of a given conduct or mode of behavior is always determined in the past…..”
“Accordingly, thinking is a mode of operation of the nervous system that reflects functionally its internal anatomical projection (possibly multiply) onto itself.”
Distinct from Language
“The process of thinking as characterized above is necessarily independent of language….The difficulty arises from our considering thinking through our description of it in terms or concepts as if it were something peculiar to man, and in some way isomorphic with the notions embodied in the descriptions, instead of attending to the functional process that makes these descriptions possible.”
Ego: Supporting and Protecting the Self — DSL
From The Dictionary of Philosophy: “ego… The experienced ‘I’ not coextensive with either mind or body, but the center of organization of attitudes towards the body, the physical and social world, and all experience that determines identity and individuality. It is the personal point of reference, providing continuity and consistency in thinking, perceiving, planning, actions, and relating past, present and future experiences through memory, imagination, and anticipation.”
Ego is the source of self-centeredness. (Remember, being self-centered is not bad, it just becomes inappropriate when not held in balance with other-centeredness and no-centeredness. Meditation has no center.)
The job of the ego is to accumulate thought and habit patterns that will protect and support the image of who I think I am throughout my life. Ego builds a structure out of past experience and ideas that is relatively impervious to dismantling unless the Awareness of the self is accessed in a way that the ego “shuts down” for a moment. This is because ego re-creates, moment-to- moment, the “This is Me” structure through the mechanism of thought.
In fact, the ego structure IS thought, they are not separate things. So the thoughts must be silent for real change to happen, because that is the only time the walls of the self-image are open enough to allow anything new in, and anything old out. The self-image is, by definition, always constructed of old stuff, that is why life gets dull as it goes on; we are constantly re-creating our lives out of old stuff, rather than creating it anew. The habitual patterns, which by definition, are putting us more and more onto “automatic,” shift us into a dullness, an unresponsiveness, that cuts us off continually from the flow of life and its renewing energy.
Visualization — DSL
To visualize anything is to create an image — which can be in the form of a word, a picture or a feeling — in the mind and focus on that image. By their very nature, images are products of memory, from our past, and therefore old. They may look “new,” but they are only old images reconstructed to look different and better — or worse if you’re in a negative mood. The playing in images, which is playing in memory and the past, means that we are not in the present. We are to some degree cut off from “what is;” what is being displaced by the image(s) we’re holding in mind. Indeed, then, we are recirculating old stuff. We also lose the opportunity to become Aware of truly new opportunities to create fundamental change because we are involved with our old thoughts instead of the newness of what is.
Take then, the idea of “Visualizing World Peace.” To do this, since no one has ever seen it in reality, one must take old pictures and ideas and reconstruct them in a fashion that looks like something that we might like if we were to attain it, which, of course, is ambition, which of course, has its opposite, fear. The fear comes through in the realization of the consequences of what will happen if we do not achieve world peace. The fear binds action, inhibits full energy flow. Our Awareness, clouded by this image that we have been holding in our minds, blocks the manifold opportunities we have on a day-to-day basis to open up new possibilities, new opportunities.
And, since our ego is responsible for the construction of this new image, and its achievement is seen (to varying degrees) as useful, important or critical to our survival, it will be more difficult for the ego to accept new possibilities that do not look or feel similar to its own preconceived images about the situation. Finally, our images of world peace, coming out of our past unconscious conditioning, will necessarily bring with them our old negative conditionings as well, unconsciously re-circulating those conditionings just as surely as they have been in the past.
The answer to “world peace” is not to visualize a pre-conceived reality, but to become aware of and dissolve those conditionings and characteristics that do not work, and to become more effective and Response-Able in my interactions with other human beings, which is what world peace is all about anyway. In this way, we will move toward a better way of operating, a better reality. There is not enough time to afford the luxury of sitting around investing energy in images in the mind, which are just that, images in the mind. It is only effective action with Awareness of the moment, that will produce the results we need.
For myself, the proper use of memory is to study, understand and integrate the trends in history and what has occurred and led to this condition we all or I live in, and then focus our attention toward how those trends manifest right in front of me in my day-to-day life. The results will emerge before your eyes. Considering and speculating on new possibilities is useful and necessary, as long as we don’t get hung up on our “good ideas” about what is, what is not, and what should or should not be.
“Doing” Meditation — DSL
In releasing muscle tension through Yoga or BodyWork, we begin to learn that the perception of the condition called muscle tension brings about, or actually is, the act of releasing or relaxing tension. So to, we might learn that the perception of a mental or emotional “tension” or habit pattern will dissolve or transform by the very act of perceiving its nature, by perceiving the “feel” of it.
It easier to get one’s attention on to a muscle because it is much more dense and material in nature, it cannot “get away” from us as easily. The mind, however, is much more elusive. You cannot “get ahold” of it. It is like sand, always slipping through the fingers. Consequently, one must be far more tenacious and attentive to “catch the mind” in those moments when it has left itself exposed to your conscious viewing. When it has, the power of Awareness only needs — in many cases — an instant of time to bring about the changes, the transformations, the dissolutions that lead to a freer, more Response-Able mind.
The trick to catching the mind is that it cannot be done out of ambition or willpower. It must happen in its own moment, for its own sake, without the mechanism of thought driving it. Unfortunately, what we will see most often is the mind trying to change itself, or create some image to make it look like we do not have any images. But it is the Seeing of this that brings about the movements of Awareness, which reveals itself in action, in change.
The hardest thing to do is to catch one’s self in the act of doing something without trying to change the fact that I do that; to just see it, to just “be” that which is happening. Of course, one of the things I’ll find is that I am busily trying to change the fact that I am trying to change. I will try to stop myself from changing myself, which compounds the problem.
Meditation is about not changing what I see about myself. That includes not changing the fact that I am trying to change myself. Seeing one’s self trying to change one’s self is in itself an Awareness, a movement, a change at the deeper structures of the nervous system and Being.