In order that the mind should see light instead of darkness, so the entire soul must be turned away from this changing world, until its eye can learn to contemplate reality and that supreme splendor which we have called the good. Hence there may well be an art whose aim would be to effect this very thing. ~Socrates
Meditation is the art of doing nothing. In today’s hectic, achievement-focused world we are almost always doing something. This “doing” mode is fueled by the belief that if only we did enough of the right things, had enough of the right experiences, earned enough money, or owned enough possessions we would be happy. As a result our minds are seldom, if ever, still. Instead we are busy fretting about what we should have done or said, planning what we should do or not do, say or not say, in the future, and worrying whether or not we will obtain the things and experiences we think we need to be happy.
Ironically this mental agitation deprives of the very thing we seek. In the final analysis we all want to be happy, to be more at peace in ourselves, yet a mind that is worried cannot, by definition, be a mind that is at peace.
This is why spiritual teachings the world over have recommended some or other form of meditationâ€”some way of allowing the mind to become still, and thereby find the peace we seek.
The allowing is important. Meditation is not another mental activity, another form mental “doing.” Most techniques of stilling the mind are exercises in attention rather than exercises in thinking. You do not quiet the mind by changing what you think about, but by changing the direction and quality of your attention. In their own particular ways meditation techniques turn the attention away from the world of the sensesâ€”the world we thought would bring us peace of mindâ€”and inwards towards our inner essence.
As the mind begins to settle down it discovers an inner calm and peace. The habitual mental chatter begins to fade away. Thoughts about what is going on in meditation, what time it is, what you might say or do later, occupy less and less of your attention. Your feelings settle down, and your breath can grow so gentle as to virtually disappear. What thoughts there are became fainter and fainter, until finally the thinking mind falls completely silent.
Indian teachings call this state samadhi, literally “still mind.” This, they claim, is a fundamentally different state of consciousness from the three major states we normally experienceâ€”waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
In waking consciousness we are aware and experience the world perceived by the senses. In dreaming we are aware and experience worlds conjured by the imagination. In deep sleep there is no awareness, either of outer world or inner world. Samadhi they define as a fourth major state. There is awareness, one is wide-awake, but there is no object of the awareness. It is pure consciousnessâ€”pure in the sense of being unmodified by thoughts and imagesâ€”consciousness without content.
In samadhi you know consciousness itself, in its unmanifest state, before it takes on the many forms and qualities of thinking, feeling, and sensory experience.
The Isha Upanishad, an ancient Indian text, says of this fourth state:
It is not outer awareness,
It is not inner awareness,
Nor is it a suspension of awareness.
It is not knowing
It is not unknowing,
Nor is it knowingness itself.
It can neither be seen nor understood,
It cannot be given boundaries.
It is ineffable and beyond thought.
It is indefinable.
It is known only through becoming it.
The Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki referred to it as a “state of Absolute Emptiness:”
There is no time, no space, no becoming, no thingness. Pure experience is the mind seeing itself as reflected in itself.â€¦ This is possible only when the mind is sunyata [emptiness] itself, that is, when the mind is devoid of all its possible contents except itself.
The Essence of Self
When you are in this state you discover a sense of self that is more real and more fundamental than any you have known before. You are no longer an individual person, with individual characteristics. Here, in the complete absence of all normal experience, you find your true identity, an identity with the essence of all beings and all creation.
Usually we derive our sense of self from the various things that mark us out as individualsâ€”our bodies and their appearance, our history, our nationality, the roles we play, our work, our social and financial status, what we own, what others think of us, and so on. We also derive an identity from the thoughts and feelings we have, from our beliefs and values, from our creative and intellectual abilities, from our character and personality. These, and many other aspects of our lives, contribute to our sense of who we are.
Such an identity is, however, forever at the mercy of events, forever vulnerable, and forever in need of protection and support. If anything on which our identity depends changes, or threatens to change, our very sense of self is threatened. If someone criticizes us, for example, we may feel far more upset than the criticism warrants, responding in ways that have more to do with defending or reinforcing our damaged self-image than with addressing the criticism itself.
In addition to deriving an identity from how we experience ourselves in the world, we also derive a sense of self from the very fact that we are experiencing. If there is experience, then there must, we assume, be an experiencer; there must be an “I” who is doing the experiencing. It certainly feels that way. Whatever is going on in my mind, there is this sense that I am the subject of it all.
But what exactly is this sense of “I-ness?” I use the word “I” hundreds of times a day without hesitation. I say that I am thinking or seeing something, that I have a feeling or desire, that I know or remember something. It is the most familiar, most intimate, most obvious aspect of myself. I know exactly what I mean by “I.” Until, that is, I try to describe it or define it. Then I run into trouble.
Looking for the self is rather like being in a dark room with a flashlight, and then shining it around trying to find the source of the light. All one would find are the various objects in the room that the light falls upon. It is the same when I try to look for the subject of all experience. All I find are the various ideas, images and feelings that the attention falls upon. But these are all objects of experience; they cannot therefore be the subject of the experience.
Although the self may never be known as an object of experience, it can be known in another, more intimate and immediate, way. When the mind is silent, when all the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and memories with which we habitually identify have fallen away, then what remains is the essence of self, the pure subject without an object. What we then find is not a sense of “I am this” or “I am that;” but just “I am”.
In this state, you know the essence of self, and you know that essence to be pure consciousness. You know this to be your true identity. You are not a being who is conscious. You are consciousness. Period.
In the words of the great physicist Erwin SchrÃ¶dinger:
What is this “I”?â€¦ You will, on close introspection, find that what you really mean by “I” is the ground-stuff upon which [experiences and memories] are collected.
No single moment of transcendence is likely to enlighten us forever. Our conditioning is so deep that it does not take long before we once again are caught up in our hopes, fears, worries and concerns. Once again start looking for external sources of fulfillment and get trapped in the “doing” mode. But a little taste of the meditative state remains, and our attachment to the world may not be quite as strong as it was before. This is why regular meditation practice is usually recommendedâ€”a daily dose of dehypnosisâ€”a daily remembering of ourselves in our unconditioned state.
© Copyright Peter Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Peter Russell can be seen in the AVAIYA films Leap! & A Quantum Leap! at: www.leapmovie.com
Peter Russell holds degrees in physics, psychology and computer science from the University of Cambridge, England, and is the author of several successful books including The Global Brain Awakens. The Brain Book, and Waking Up in Time.
His primary focus is the exploration and development of human consciousness, integrating eastern and western understandings of the mind, and elucidating their relevance to the world today and to humanity’s future. He was one of the first people to introduce human potential seminars into the corporate field, and for twenty years has been lecturing and consulting to major companies on creativity and personal development.
The above article is adapted from his new book From Science to God: The Mystery of Consciousness and the Meaning of Light. Here he recounts both his own spiritual journey and explores a new worldview in which consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality, leading to a new synthesis of science and spirituality. Full details along with full extracts can be found on his website http://www.peterussell.com.