Rick and Mary NurrieStearns
Meditation as Knowing
When you know, you simply know. There is no justification, no arguing, no debate. It just is. When we eat food we know if it is delicious to us. We don't think about it, we know it. When we are hungry, we don't think about it, we recognize it. If we are distracted, preoccupied with tasks or talking, we may not be attuned to our body and our hunger may not be apparent. However, once we pay attention, it dawns on us that we are hungry. Our hunger rises up in our consciousness and we become aware of it.
Knowing is recognizing what is true. Truth can be relative and transient. This truth is personal and individual. Bodily functions, sensory preferences, emotions and thoughts are examples of relative truth. Our taste buds change over time and what tastes yummy as a teenager may well not be delicious as an adult. Relative truths such as emotions and undesired memories may be repressed into the deeper layers of our consciousness. However, at our surface level of awareness, relative truths are what we are most aware of.
When we become quiet, the transient sensations and thoughts subside or recede into the background. Then, over time, suppressed thoughts and feelings can rise to the surface. They make themselves known to us. Generally, we do not have to do anything when this occurs. What needs to happen is for them to be seen, to be brought up out of unconsciousness into consciousness. The truth wants itself to be known.
Truth can be essential. This is truth that endures. This truth is impersonal and spiritual. Love, wisdom, peace, compassion, transformation, presence, awareness are examples of essential truth. These are ever present characteristics of life that transcend the individual. They are all pervading and can be recognized, but not manufactured with the mind.
Seeking essential truth is what draws us to meditation. We want to know that there is more than the personal. We sense that there is more. We want to know these spiritual characteristics directly. In meditation, when the mind quiets, we recognize peace. It is a direct knowing. We recognize presence and unity with all of life. It is a direct knowing. We recognize compassion. It is a direct knowing. After some experience with essence, our capacity of discernment develops. We more easily recognize the quiet, the felt sense of presence, the deep inner peace. We know the experience of not seeking. We do not seek when we abide in essence. We are complete and whole as we are.
Developing Witness Consciousness
People watching is a great past time. Enjoyable indeed, sitting watching people go by. So many variations, all different yet similar. People watching is engaging, amusing, even intimate. Like watching people file into an airplane, hands clutching briefcases and purses, eyes scanning for their seat.
This is identical to watching ourselves at a distance. On the plane, we recognize what we see. We entered the plane in like manner. When we merely observe we relax, absorbed in the noticing. We don't feel so distinct from our surroundings, even while witnessing. In the plane, we are all there together.
In the simple act of witnessing, we notice that is all. We notice the passengers file by and take in their appearance, style, energy. Then the next one comes into view and the next. They are distinct yet not reacted to. We don't freeze frame them, study them intently or linger over the more desirable ones. We let them be. They don't need our commentary.
Two qualities noticing and letting be. The combination of the two has a subtle quality of seeing without separating from. When this occurs there is a felt sense of connection yet clear seeing. Witnessing is not a forced movement away from. It's not "I'm way over here and you are way over there." It's "here we are, in a shared environment and I am aware of you."
To not be aware of the passengers searching for their seats is to be "lost in the inner world of thought, sensation and feeling." That is an experience of being distracted. That is okay, however, we are cultivating wakefulness. The Buddha said, "Wake up!" In witness consciousness we are aware of what is going on. Witnessing is not sleepy, there is a gentle alertness.
In the example of passengers, witnessing occurs in relationship to other people. In meditation, witnessing happens in the inner environment of thought and sensation. The principle is the same. We notice, even take them in and let them pass by.
Stillness and Deep Listening
In stillness we discover who we are. Stillness is infinite, with no beginning, no end or containment. A Psalms verse, "Be Still and Know That I Am" tells us that stillness is the abode of God or Consciousness. A Buddhist teaching says the same, "I Am That." In stillness there is no stress, no capacity to hold unto anything unreal. That which is impermanent evaporates. It rises and falls away, back into stillness.
Stillness is all pervasive, it penetrates our very being. Simply spending time in outer silence invokes the awareness that stillness pervades our inner lives as well. The practice of meditation is done in a quiet room. The quiet helps us to recognize that in the absence of activity, there is still life. Out of this absence of sound, called emptiness in Buddhism, arises the sense of spiritual essence. In times of inner stillness, we feel incredible peace and contentment.
In meditation practice we focus on the movement of breath. The mind occupies itself with the movement of breath in and out of the body. Given something simple to do, the mind is satisfied and grows quiet. When the mind is absorbed, the stillness becomes apparent. Through meditation we recognize that stillness is fundamental to our being.
. When the mind becomes distracted, gently call it back to attention on the rhythmic flow of breath. Once again, we become aware of the space between thoughts. With practice we acclimate to the rise and fall of thought out of stillness. We pay more attention to the stillness and let the mental activity be. Thoughts no longer occupy center stage, they become distant. Experience becomes focused in stillness.
Stillness then illuminates. It shows us how our entire being appears and disappears into stillness. We are then able to be less reactive to the thoughts, feelings and sensations that manifest and evaporate. We recognize them as transient.
Stillness is eternal. To really, really know thyself, become intimate with stillness.
Transcending the Mind
Where do thoughts come from? Where do they return to? The truth is that they arise from emptiness and return to emptiness. Of course, the mind cannot comprehend this despite its best efforts. We don't come to meditation initially to learn more about our mental activity. We come seeking relief from incessant thinking. We don't care about the origins of thought; we want the precious peace that comes with a quiet mind.
That is why we begin meditating by giving the mind something to concentrate on, usually the breath. In doing so, we discover, to varying degrees, the space between the thoughts. This is the emptiness from which thoughts rise and fall. An incredible sense of wellbeing arises when we are aware of this quietness.
Looking at the meaning of the word transcend suggests why there is relief in being aware of the vast quiet in which the mind lives. Webster's Dictionary says "to go beyond the limits of, to exceed, to be superior to." When we transcend the mind we go beyond the activity of the mind.
Awareness gravitates towards that which stimulates. Therefore, thoughts grab our attention. But once we discover the spacious home of the mind, our attention is forever diverted. The activity of thought is less compelling. Although interesting, we can take it or leave it. We have found home and prefer to be at home. Until our awareness realizes that home is this spacious emptiness, it is a wanderer, searching for where it belongs. We know the comfort of returning home at the end of the day. Likewise, awareness recognizes the "peace that surpasses understanding" that comes from resting in the quiet of home.
In meditation, we focus on the breath. There are moments of no thought. Recognize those moments as home, the place from which we all rise and fall. Become interested in emptiness; explore it like you would a new home. There is much to be discovered there.
Meditation and "Letting Go"
When we let go, we give up control. A widely used phrase in twelve step programs such as AA is "Let go and let God." This is not merely asking God for help, this is total surrender, on your knees, saying, "This is more than I can do, I give it up." When we do so, we admit that our attempts and efforts are insufficient. We acknowledge our limits. We surrender unto a universe more immense than we can know. This vastness that we submit to can be felt but not defined. It is knowable but beyond the bounds of our minds.
We have all met the limit of our capacity to control another person. The other was probably a child, parent or spouse; someone very close to you. Finally, in desperation, having exhausted all efforts to manipulate, seduce or plead, you raised your hands in defeat. You acknowledged what you could not control. You prayed for them, wished them well and let go.
In the same way, we are powerless to stop the mind through the hard work of the mind. In meditation, force is futile. Nothing is gained by tireless mental gymnastics. Sighing and working harder at quieting the mind is doomed to failure. We do not become aware of inner peace through intense effort. We only discover the vast inner peace beneath the mind by "letting go." Let the mind do what the mind does. Rest below the mind. Gently guide the mind back to the breath when you notice it has taken off. Redirect your awareness into the quiet inner spaciousness. Inner peace is a quality of the ever present "all that is."
This vastness is mysterious. Yet it is real in that it is felt. When we are on our knees or our hands are up in defeat, this is what we let go into. When we meditate and sense the silent presence, this is what we let go into. In both cases, nothing has really changed, but our relationship to life has. The relationship has changed whether we are referring to our outer life with others or to the inner life with the mind. When all of our relationships include the silent presence, we indeed feel "the peace beyond understanding."