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REFLECTING ON MEDITATION

 

On a calm, quiet day the surface of the pond is perfectly still and it reflects the world faithfully. Once the pond is disturbed, it reflects nothing but fleeting and shimmering patterns of shadow and light.

 

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Reality, as revealed by human consciousness, consists of the following:

 

Visual input within the field of sight;

Auditory input reaching the ears;

Olfactory input reaching the nose;

Apart from any symbolic significance these may carry, they are generally neutral, except at the extreme levels of intensity, when they impact the body. 

 

Various somatic sensations on the surface of the body and from within the body.  These may be intrinsically pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral - regardless of their possible symbolic significance.

 

At any given instance, human reality is defined as a unique, additive composite of these internal and external inputs.  Tracking them with detachment moment by moment represents being in touch with reality.

However, instead of seeking a full and balanced contact with reality, the human mind is ordinarily preoccupied with the more mundane, specific tasks, such as optimizing survival.   

We do not wish to observe the default flow of reality, but instead concern ourselves with practical matters, which help us change the course of events, so the taste of reality is more to our liking.

Rather than spreading our attention uniformly and impartially throughout the entire spectrum of the experiential field, we pay attention selectively to its various parts, depending on the importance we assign to them in light of our goals.

Since attainment of our goals depends on interaction with the environment, we give preference to external condition, and generally ignore large areas of our internal experience.

We also tend to focus on certain parts of the external condition to the exclusion of other parts. We acknowledge some aspects of the external world by naming them and thus assigning to them the quality of  existence.  Whatever we fail to so differentiate, constitutes the unacknowledged background.

What is not given conscious attention becomes the realm of the subconscious.  Whatever becomes relegated to the subconscious is not in our control.  Thus, our responses to all that which we do not consciously monitor are automatic, unintelligent, and often counterproductive.

 

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Humans also keep a continuous memory track of  how reality manifests.  This track is accessible at all times, although accuracy and completeness of recall are far from prefect.  Since at any time it is possible to return to the past experiences, the continuity of time is broken on any such occasion. When attention searches memory banks, it is not fully attending to the present.

It gets worse. Past becomes a reference in which terms the present is evaluated.  Now, instead of being experienced for its absolute value, each moment in time is judged in relation to what preceded it in a more or less distant past. This is how expectations originate. And expectations are just a small step away from impulsiveness, craving and disillusionment.

Attention leaps randomly between elements of the present experience and the memory contents, generating a whole web of judgments, preferences associations and projections. It is here, in the realm of thought, that emotions and interpretations of reality are born.

All questions, speculations and predictions originate here, as do the hypothetical and imagined scenarios such as plans for future action. Past, present, and future are all wrapped into one field, where attention focus can make wild, instantaneous jumps.

It is also here that duality and uncertainty enter the equation, as this is no longer reality proper, but mere interpretations of reality.

The self-generated field of thought exists in its own time and space. It itself becomes the source of the secondary input, as it forms a permanent feedback loop, constantly detracting from our attention to the present.

The result is a very dynamic, erratic flow of consciousness which may be well suited for manipulating our surroundings here and now, but is not at all helpful for ascertaining what are the essential and lasting characteristics of reality.

 

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Of course, it is not desirable for humans to eradicate the field of thought. Thought, as far as we know, is our most valuable and uniquely human characteristic. It would be desirable, however, to have means of suspending thought at will, and being able to monitor reality without its interference.

To see the reality properly, it is necessary to equalize attention given to all its manifestations, while eliminating all secondary, self-generated distractions. The practice of meditation makes this possible.

 

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While sitting, one first learns to monitor one’s breath. The natural breathing rhythm is something we normally take for granted. It happens on its own, without any special effort on our part, so we can afford not to pay conscious attention to it. It is therefore quite a surprise to finally discover one’s own breath. It turns out that breathing actually produces a constant, two phase sensation.

As a result of observing one’s breathing, one develops a mental concept for the process, so the sensation associated with breathing becomes a distinct entity in the mind. From this point on, one is in possession of a tool, which allows for an immediate focus on the present, as breathing is continuous and always current.

This base line is just the starting point in expanding the conscious awareness of one’s body and the associated bodily sensations - a category of input which until now has been receiving almost no attention.

It turns out, that our bodies generate a constant barrage of subtle sensations, to which we remain quite oblivious. It is only the most bold and prominent of sensations that we ordinarily detect.

To see a balanced view of reality it is first necessary to become cognizant of our bodily sensations.

 

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During meditation, a constant effort must be made to avoid getting lost in the world of thought and imagination. Attention focus must be repeatedly brought back to the present and attuned with the body, no matter how many times it drifts away. While initially it seems a formidable task, it does get better with practice. After a while, longer and longer intervals of uninterrupted focus become possible.

After training the mind not to indulge in a flood of the usual, random associations, we discover that when we do in fact behold an object mentally, that object persists and appears fuller, more substantial, and vivid as opposed to the everyday fleeting images. This is the quality vs. quantity trade-off, which meditation can produce.

 

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One’s own bodily sensations are a very interesting target of attention for another reason as well. While objects in the external world allow us to know only an objective form of their being, our body is the only object that gives rise to a simultaneous objective and subjective experience. Feeling a sensation in one’s body while also having an image of that body in mind makes for a uniquely complete experience.

The subjective and the objective components are superimposed and synchronized – they act as if in resonance, mutually reinforcing, two coinciding phases of one conscious stream. Such reinforced mode of experiencing may be at some point transferred to the external world, allowing for a greater sense of connectedness and empathy with other beings.

 

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Previously, the majority of bodily sensations remained beneath our conscious threshold. Thus, unbeknownst to us, it was the subconscious that dictated certain automated reactions with respect to them. Some of our most inexplicable, irrational, and often self-defeating responses to life situations originate as such automated reactions.

As in the course of meditation more bodily sensations come into conscious awareness, our attention can monitor them and our dysfunctional reactions may be resisted and withheld. Thus, the subconscious may be retrained not to generate irrational responses any more. In this manner old, seemingly unalterable habits may be changed. This is yet another benefit of focusing conscious attention on the body sensations.

 

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Additionally, the emphasis on the body sensations makes it clear that the human experience is very central to reality. It counters the prevailing dogma that reality is somehow out there, separate and apart from us, conscious subjects. With the human mind and body complex firmly at the center of the stage, humans beings no longer need to feel negated, defined out of existence, or in a perpetual state of limbo.

Reality becomes manifest through consciousness. The nature of consciousness determines the type of reality that may become apparent. Reality outside of consciousness is inconceivable.



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