On Meditating, Sort Of: Mary Oliver

On Meditating, Sort Of
Mary Oliver (From Blue Horses)

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?

Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place — half asleep — where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter —
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints —
all that glorious, temporary stuff.

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Highway

Travelling in a crowded bus, the roads busy and packed with cars and bikes. There is a feeling of heavy smoke in the air, and the pedestrians on the road look tired in the sunlight. Yet surprisingly the world, all of the creative energy of it, suddenly seems light and full of peace. ‘I’ am totally surprised by this feeling; I look to nature, trees, birds, flowing water, to evoke this sense of deep mystery, and I certainly don’t expect grace on a highway. It ebbs and flows, and, soon enough, the traffic jam is just a traffic jam once more, and my restless thoughts and emotions wash over everything else.

Striving (re-blog from an earlier piece)

There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now and that it is yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is notworth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self, you are already that. Ramana.

If I think of my daily life, I see it as massively structured by the need to achieve things. Perhaps I need to get a job done. Perhaps I need to get it done better than the last time. Perhaps I need to outperform my colleague. I need to love more, or be loved more, and so on and on and on.

Unconsciously, maybe, this habit of achievement is then transferred onto the so called “spiritual” world. I need to achieve peace or happiness. I need to achieve enlightenment. I need to improve spiritually, become better than my fellow seekers.

The quote from Ramana, so brilliantly counter-intuitive yet so simple, puts to rest these empty tricks of the mind. There is nothing to achieve, nothing to perform, nowhere to go. The anxious mind is just making up these stories. Behind them, reality exists, pure, simple, hugely accepting.

It is easy to mistake this as a facile truth and to lapse into self-satisfaction and lethargy. But this is missing the point. It is very hard work to understand that reality exists without effort. Effort is in the realm of the ego; reality is something quite different, and it points to a different intelligence in daily living.

You are the Self, you are already that.

Impermanence and time

The three states (sleep, waking and dream) come and go, but you are always there.

I find this statement by Ramana philosophically fascinating for several reasons.

I have deeply felt the truth of the Buddhist insight that the Universe is impermanent. Yet the Advaitin sages, whose perceptions I also find so compelling, state with complete clarity that the Self that resides within us (not to be confused with our ego) is beyond time, is ever-present.

If the universe is impermanent, what can be ever present?

On the other hand, the Advaitin masters also state that something must register impermanence. In other words, there must be a permanent screen (all metaphors are limited) against which even impermanence must be recognised. This “permanent” screen, or perhaps, to put it more accurately, the screen that is ever present, is the ultimate reality.

All these are words and therefore conceptual creations, but the truths they point to are nevertheless fascinating, in all their complexity and contradiction.

I will try to trace out these complexities in future posts. The role of memory, both short- and long- term, may be crucial here.

Foundations

You were there then, you are there now, and you are there at all times. The three states (sleep, waking and dream) come and go, but you are always there. It is like a cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the screen, it remains a screen. Similarly, you remain your own Self in all the three states. If you know that, the three states will not trouble you, just as the pictures which appear on the screen do not stick to it.

On the screen, you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves; that disappears. Another time, you see fire spreading all around; that too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during the wakeful, dream and sleep states do not affect you at all; you remain your own Self. Ramana Maharshi

The notion that what we conceive of as reality is actually constructed upon a foundation of pure being is so fascinating, so powerful, that it has the capacity to draw the mind beyond its own frontiers.

The play of the self, the ego must subside for us to understand this foundational reality.

Pure, detached watchfulness in daily life.