Self as rainbow 2

We see a rainbow, but what we have is drops of rain and light—a process. Similarly, what we ‘see’ is a self; but what we actually have is a whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. Against the backdrop of consciousness we are projecting a self, rather than a rainbow. If you walk toward the rainbow you will never get there.

David Bohm, Thought as a System

I had posted this wonderful quote from Bohm several years ago; I now feel I have understood something new about it.

A whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. To this, Bohm would probably add, there are a whole lot of feelings floating around too. On top of which there is a subtle sense of self fleetingly dancing in there somewhere; and it is this sense of self, which is in essence a thought/feeling, that somehow seems to anchor all the other stuff that floats around in consciousness.

Try as we might, we cannot pin it down; the rainbow simply cannot be found, for it is ultimately an optical illusion. For this reason, probably, Ramana insisted that we try to find out the “I” thought. Seek and ye shall not find, for it is fundamentally illusory.

I absolutely love this metaphor: drops of rain and light posing as a solid self. Drops of thoughts and emotions. Can we merely see them as drops of light, sun, rain? Nothing else is required.

Did we build our brains?

None of us would argue that “we” were responsible for the structure of our skeletal system. “We” are not pumping blood around our body and “we” are not digesting the food in our system.

Similarly, as “we” are not responsible for the chemical composition of our blood and for the neural states of our brain, “we” cannot be held responsible for the nature of our thoughts and emotions.

Consider a huge thunderstorm bearing down on a city. Our neural networks are analogous to that storm. There is no entity inside the storm pattern that is guiding the storm, and yet it obeys rather complex laws that produce quite unpredictable behaviour. There is an analogy here to human behaviour.

If “I” decide to kill someone and I am sentenced to life imprisonment, the jury that sentences me has no more free will than “I” do.

The argument against free will is not an argument for immorality. “We”must still move to wards states of being, both individual and collective, that are oriented to empathy and compassion, simply because these states make complete, ultimate sense.

Free will

Sam Harris’ book Free Will is the most clear and cogent piece of writing on the subject of free will that I have come across.

If we follow the assumption that our mind states, our thoughts and feelings, are the product of the neurochemistry of our brain, then we must agree that as none of us have sculpted our brains, we are not in control of our minds.

Even if we believe that we have souls, then the same argument applies. We did not create our souls, therefore we are not “responsible” for them.

These summaries above are crude approximations to the elegance and power of the book, which I urge you to read now. Especially in the light of non-dual traditions, it makes for powerful reading.

The Bell, by Iris Murdoch

the bell murdoch

They came quite suddenly out of the wood onto the wide expanse of grass near the drive. The great scene, the familiar scene, was there again before them, lit by a very yellow and almost vanished sun, the sky fading to a greenish blue. From here they looked a little down upon the lake and could see, intensely tinted and very still, the reflection in it of the farther slope and the house, clear and pearly grey in the revealing light, its detail sharply defined, starting into nearness. Beyond it on the pastureland, against a pallid line at the horizon, the trees took the declining sun, and one oak tree, its leaves already turning yellow, seemed to be on fire…

This gorgeous novel does not treat meditation explicitly. But it does address many spiritual questions: what constitutes goodness and virtue and beauty, how is one to live and love in the world without causing harm, what are compassionate states of mind. As such, it ranks as one of the most thoughtful and deep novels I have ever read, written with crystal clarity.

The novel concerns a lay religious Anglican community in England. It treats the private lives of several individuals there: en erring wife, afraid of her bullying husband; the head of the community, who grapples with his past and his homosexuality; a young boy who comes there to find himself before joining university. All are drawn together through a series of bizarre events on the estate.

The richness of the themes, the sense of mystery and, almost, sacredness that pervades everyday life, the portrayal of the depth of human minds: these are hallmarks of Murdoch’s novels. I envy those who are yet to read this work.

Listening meditation while sitting at my computer

 

The ticking of the clock is truly mysterious; as I listen, it fades in and out of my attention. When it is gone, it’s disappeared. But when it returns and falls upon my ears, it has the pressing mysterious immediacy of all time itself. Outside my window, a quiet miracle. The long drawn shrill whistle of a night insect, punctuated by a throbbing powerful insistent rhythm. The window frames creak ever so faintly, releasing the heat of the day. No wind, nothing stirring. Far away, the muted roar of a truck on the highway, so difficult to listen to, yet so complex in its nuanced expression. Layered on top of that is a gecko’s call, like purple light projected on yellow. A human cry floats through the window, a call from another universe.

We hardly listen to anything. Our minds are so busy. We label a sound and move away from it, seeking a new sensation. But in deep listening, our minds are revealed to us in all their noise and confusion. In refusing to move away from this moment, with all its joy and suffering, we can perhaps find freedom and peace.

 

A fresh, living thing

To understand anything you must live with it, you must observe it, you must know all its content, its nature, its structure, its movement. Have you ever tried living with yourself? If so, you will begin to see that yourself is not a static state, it is a fresh living thing. And to live with a living thing your mind must also be alive. And it cannot be alive if it is caught in opinions, judgements and values.

Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known

Most gurus, or spiritual “authorities,” want to give their followers instructions on what to do in order to be happy, or to attain enlightenment. Krishnamurti is very different. He insists that there is no such thing as spiritual authority, because all spiritual discovery must be made by the individual herself; all discovery must be fresh, genuine and authentic.

If the individual cannot learn from a guru (because all such learned knowledge is, ultimately, imitative), then who or what can she learn from? Krishnamurti’s very deep and ultimately very optimistic message is that she can learn from watching herself in daily life: her reactions, emotional patterns and responses.

This learning is not just collecting facts about oneself (for example, “I get angry when people disagree with me”). Rather, it is much subtler. Learning means watching, non-verbally, the content of our consciousness, being aware of all our responses to life.

This is Krishnamurti’s understanding of the word “meditation.” It means, I think, to become directly, immediately aware of all of the movements of our mind and body, without judging or trying to control them. Meditation means living with oneself, watching oneself with a free, alive mind.

What a world of opportunities this presents to us.

 

The Basics: Nisargadatta (contd)

“You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function, watch the motives and results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself, by inadvertence. By knowing what you are not, you come to know yourself.”  I Am That, p4, Ch2

I return often to the quote above, even though I am very familiar with it. It structures so much of what I define as “meditation,” or awareness of inner and outer worlds.

Your mind is all with things, people and ideas. I am humbled by the day by day, hour by hour, indeed minute to minute processes of identification that take place in our minds and bodies.  Our consciousness seems to be spread out, like a drop of water on fine paper, over vastness in space and time. I can identify with my coffee cup, and insist that I drink only from that favourite cup because it gives me some intangible, fleeting comfort. I can pass by a landscape, a road, a house, and find my consciousness imprinted upon it because this particular spot arouses such a wealth of complex feelings in my mind and body: peace, desire, regret, shame. I can look at the moon, 360,000 kilometers away, and feel attached to its beauty and the memories it arouses. And so on all the way, I presume, to the edge of the known universe! Creation seems soaked with my identity; both penetrate and mingle with each other.

And it is this exact process of deep deep identification that the mystics are challenging. Focus on the “I” that identifies, they say, rather than the thing that it is identified with. Strip away all identification so that only the “I” remains. And then see what happens. Impossible, we exclaim. And the masters calmly reply: Who is this who proclaims that it is impossible? And the cycle begins again. . .