As a meditative exercise, I wonder if it is possible to pay attention to a single thought, watch it arise along with all the symphony of the emotions that it arouses and that arouse it, and then watch it fall away into silence.
What usually happens is that there is a core me that adds fuel to the fire and propels thoughts this way and that according to what I find gratifying or painful. This me invites certain strings of memories and tries to project coherent scenarios of the future.
These spinnings of the thought-emotion complex are like a stick with a spark of flame at its end whirled around rapidly. The illusion of continuity is thus born.
Let’s try to observe the blossoming and fading of each thought and emotion, uncaused and empty in the world.
How do we sense the passage of time in daily living? One way of course is to know the physical sense of time: the sun rises and sets, we fall asleep and wake, our fingernails grow longer, we become hungry and full and hungry again.
If we were only left with this physical sense of the passage of time, we would have not many problems in life. But apart from this purely physical sense of time, we have a mental time, or what Krishnamurti would call psychological time.
Psychological time involves yesterday and tomorrow. It involves a sense of me smeared across past, present and future. And because of this, it involves emotions such as fear and regret. Time and emotion both seem to construct each other. I am afraid because I project a future. I feel guilt and regret because I look back at the past.
Time, thought and emotion are all deeply interwoven.
But because the present moment is the only reality we have (and the present moment lacks the dimension of a smeared out time), time itself may be a distortion of reality. Also, if the ego is in a sense out of touch with reality, and the ego is bound up with time-emotion, again this suggests that time is a distortion of reality.
In a logical sense we may see this, but how do we understand deeply the role and limitation of mental time in daily living?
Watching the flow of time and the way the ego is caught in its clutches. Perhaps the sense of watching itself is timeless. This awareness is what we deepen in ourselves.
It was a cloudless morning, so early and time seemed to have stopped. It was four-thirty but time seemed to have lost its entire meaning. It was as though there was no yesterday or tomorrow or the next moment. Time stood still and life without a shadow went on; life without thought and feeling went on. The body was there on the terrace, the high tower with its flashing warning light was there and the countless chimneys; the brain saw all these but it went no further. Time as measure, and time as thought and feeling had stopped. There was no time; every movement had stopped but there was nothing static. On the contrary there was an extraordinary intensity and sensitivity, a fire that was burning, without heat and colour. Overhead were the Pleiades and lower down towards the east was Orion and the morning star was over the top of the roofs. And with this fire there was joy, bliss. It wasn’t that one was joyous but there was ecstasy. There was no identification with it, there couldn’t be for time had ceased. That fire could not identify itself with anything nor be in relationship with anything. It was there for time had stopped. And dawn was coming and Orion and the Pleiades faded away and presently the morning star too went its way. Krishnamurti’s Notebook
The meditative attitude has to sit very deep in our bodies and minds, rooted in our flesh, bones and in the very essence of consciousness.
When we begin this journey, we may think occasionally about awareness, or about impermanence. These thoughts and memories may serve to direct our energies in some meaningful way.
But as our understanding grows, the awareness of emptiness or the sense of being in a world is not just a matter of words and thoughts that we read about. Rather, these become a part of a whole vision, to the extent that they challenge, moment to moment, our very conception of reality.
Then we have a chance to step on a path that pulls us out of our ego-centric minds and into a life lived with clarity, in the breath of reality.
For the longest time, I considered the word freedom to mean my ability to do what I wanted, in all realms of life: vocational, religious, romantic-sexual, social.
But as I grew older I discovered (as I suppose all of us discover) that the need to act in a particular way in fact diminishes my inner freedom. In other words, if I am driven by my desires, compelled to do certain things or be a certain way, then I am most emphatically not free. An upside-down perception that is extremely liberating.
Then the question arises: what constitutes freedom?
My current understanding is that freedom is essentially freedom from inner compulsion. We are, most of our waking lives, slaves to our desires. Meditative philosophies teach us to watch our inner worlds, dissolve them, discover peace and compassion and an other-oriented life.
Freedom, ultimately, might mean freedom from our inner patterns of thought and emotion.
We don’t like to hear that the self we have nourished so carefully over the years and the decades is narrow and limited.
But it is.
When I calculate outcomes of events, it is mainly myself I am thinking about. In fact, I spend most of my day thinking about myself, filtering events through the lens of the me. Even when I am generous, I am very conscious that I am generous, I am selfless: a stunning paradox if there ever was one!
When someone makes a derogatory remark about me, why does it hurt? I have built up a series of emotions and pictures and narratives about myself and I don’t like that picture disturbed. The picture is generally about my abilities, my looks, my personality. I want a good picture for everyone to view. When the picture is punctured, pain ensues, as Krishnamurti often pointed out. But at the end of the day, it is just a picture.
It is in these senses that our sense of self limited.
We cannot now quickly move to a fantasy of selflessness. We cannot paint wonderful pictures of action and being without self. Instead, what we can honestly do is to watch the activities of the self in all the realms of daily living, with the utmost care and integrity. Without hope and without expectation.
Only then, perhaps, in a flash, the activities of the self become painfully clear. In that shock of recognition, of deep awareness, the self winks out of existence.
Only for the mind to grasp at it again. And our work begins anew.
A couple of days ago I read the following news item on the BBC:
Dr Patrick Hill, of the department of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, said the notion of living a life of purpose – setting large goals that direct your day-to-day activities – seemed to be protective on a number of fronts.
“In this study it is mortality, but other studies have shown people report better health,” he told BBC News.
“There is clearly a benefit from feeling a sense of direction or feeling you have these goals directing your day-to-day life.”
The full article can be found here.
The basic point of the news item is that people who live goal-oriented lives seem to be healthier and to live longer than people who don’t.
I was both perplexed and amused by this article.
One of the premises of meditation is that the psychological self, spread over time in the past and the future, is intrinsically insecure.
Contemplative traditions urge us to stay with the present moment in all its complexity and beauty as a way of understanding peace of mind, security and happiness, rather than living a life determined by future-oriented goals. My assumption has therefore been that staying in the present is a “healthier” way to live than being directed by time frames, particularly by looking to the future.
Of course, I may be misunderstanding some broader point in the study. Often reports of medical studies in the popular media tend to be misleading. But this report did give me a useful jolt with regard to examining my own assumptions!