Meditation is the direct perception of reality
Meditation is the direct perception of reality, which is to say, it is a perception of reality which hasn’t been mediated by the ever-present conceptual mind. If my perception of the world is conceptually mediated then this isn’t meditation – it’s just ‘me believing what my mind is telling me’!
Meditation doesn’t mean that we don’t think any thoughts – it just means that we don’t think about our thoughts! Meditation means we don’t get stressed out by our thoughts. We don’t get into them. We just leave them ‘sitting there’, as they are, without comment, without getting caught up in them, without being controlled by them…
The trouble with ‘thinking about our own thinking’ is that there’s no end to the process! If we want to see a thought for what it is then we just observe it, as it is. We won’t see our thoughts for what they are if we think about them; if we think about our thinking then we have exactly zero perspective on our thinking, and so won’t see it for what it is at all. With zero perspective we can make ‘anything of anything’, but whatever conclusions we reach this way makes no difference because they’re all going to be equally arbitrary. Thinking doesn’t show us reality – it just shows us what we’re thinking about reality and in doing so it confuses what we ‘think of’ reality with the genuine article. To paraphrase what David Bohm says in Thought as a System – thought works by ‘participating in creating the reality that it shows us, and then effectively concealing from us its own participation in this process’.
The trouble with thinking about our own thinking is that all the thoughts link up which each other so as to create a single continuous structure – a ‘logical continuity’. Each thought ‘holds hands’ with every other thought until there’s nothing left but thinking, and all the actual awareness – which is the space between the thoughts – gets driven out. As Alan Watts says:
A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about but thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.
Thought that joins up with itself and promotes itself to the exclusion of everything else is thought that has somehow gone wrong. It has turned into a run-away contagion, it has become a virus. Automatically proliferating thought is like rust which completely covers over the bright shiny metal that lies beneath so that all we can ever see is the rust. When all we see is the rust then the rust gets normalized – we get habituated to it, we get to believe that the rust is ‘all there is’ and so we make do with the rust. If then someone comes along and starts talking about this amazing shining metal that we can’t see (but which we could easily see if only the rust wasn’t allowed to cover up everything as if it were the only thing that mattered) then we would in all probability think that they have taken leave of their senses. We might think that they are delusional, or that they’re making stuff up. Because the rust is all we know, because we’re so saturated with rust, we’ve had to knuckle down to a very dull kind of a life and so any talk of anything ‘amazing’ (that isn’t our dull life) simply annoys us. We don’t want to hear it.
In the same way, when thinking is all we know, any suggestion that there is something else other than the activity of thought (something that is profound and wonderful which we could experience easily for ourselves if only thinking wasn’t allowed to cover everything over as if it were the only thing that matters) will be seen as being foolishly fanciful. We’re too hard-headed to believe in stuff like that. If you come along and tell me that there’s a lot more in the stillness between my thoughts then there is in the actual thoughts themselves, then the chances are that I will tell you that you need to keep taking the medication! If you say to me that there is a quality to the space between our thoughts that far exceeds any quality that is to be found in the thoughts themselves, and that this quality is ‘infinitely expansive’ rather than being ‘claustrophically cramped’ then I am almost certainly going to take you for some kind of cracked joker!
Culturally, we take it for granted that the ‘good stuff’ is in our thoughts, rather than in the space between them. We continually produce vast amounts of thoughts, vast numbers of words, and whilst we might be prepared to admit that most of them are of a pretty poor quality (being nothing more than mere empty babble that’s just there to ‘fill a space’) we still believe fervently that there’s gold in there somewhere, if only we can find it. With this hope in mind, therefore, we keep on looking – we keep on producing industrial quantities of thoughts and words as if this were the only thing that matters. It’s as if we have this unconscious conviction that sooner or later we’re going to come across a lump of pure gold, just as a prospector pan-handing for gold back during the gold-rush era might have dreamed of making his fortune with one tremendous find!
Meditation, then, is taking an interest in the space between our thoughts, instead of obsessively thinking, obsessively thinking, obsessively thinking, as if the only place the ‘good stuff’ could be is in the thinking. This doesn’t mean declaring war on thinking – that would simply be aggression. Declaring war on thinking would be an aggressive, ‘space-destroying’ act and meditation is not aggressive, is not ‘space-destroying’! Meditation is not a forceful ‘action’ that we deliberately carry out, it is simply paying attention.
The only reason we would try to ‘fight against our thinking’ would be because we have now got the idea that the good stuff is somewhere else and not in our thinking; because we now think (!) that ‘thinking is wrong’ and ‘not-thinking is right’. Our prejudice is thus reversed, but it’s just as much a prejudice as ever – it’s a reversed prejudice! The idea that mediation is about stopping thinking (i.e. that it involves struggling against our thinking) is just another thought, and so obviously this change of tactics isn’t going to get us anywhere! Whatever we do, generally speaking, is because our thinking tells us to do it, because it ‘seems like a good idea to do it’, because we ‘think’ that there’s an advantage to be had in doing it…
Meditation isn’t like this however – meditation isn’t something we do in order to obtain an advantage. We don’t meditate in order to reach a goal because goals only exist in our thinking. We can’t meditate because we ‘want to’, because we have made ‘an intention’ of it. In Krishnamurti’s words, the meditative state ‘cannot be purchased at the alter of demand’.
All thoughts are by their very nature aggressive and prejudiced. Thoughts are aggressive because they’re about trying to change something, and they’re prejudiced because they are based on the assumption that ‘one way is better than another way’. Meditation isn’t an act of aggression. It isn’t an attempt to change anything. It isn’t any sort of deliberate or purposeful ‘act’ at all, as we’ve already said. Meditation isn’t a specialized form of ‘trying’!
Meditation is taking an interest in what is. It’s being equally interested in both ‘our thinking’, and ‘the space between the thoughts’, therefore. It might seem from what we have been saying that normally we are interested in our thinking, which would mean that we would have some interest in the world, at least! This however is not true – we aren’t interested in our own thinking at all, we just react mechanically to it, in a purely passive sort of a way! We react to our thinking with yet more thinking, and activity that is based on thinking. We’re not interested in our thinking, we’re simply reactive, either in a positive or a negative way, to whatever it is either promising us or threatening us with. We’re not interested in the thinking – we’re just interested in what the thinking is telling us!
But even saying this isn’t right – we’re not so much ‘interested’ as we’re ‘passively influenced’ (i.e. controlled) by our thinking, which is a very different thing. When we’re interested in something then we’re awake – we’re curious, alert, alive, questioning. Our normal relationship to our thoughts isn’t like this at all. Our normal relationship to our thoughts is that we’re passively accepting of them – whatever they tell us, we believe, in other words. Saying that our normal modality is where we’re ‘passively accepting of whatever our thoughts are telling us’ is really just another way of saying that we are asleep!
Meditation is not buying in automatically to whatever our thinking is telling us. Meditation is waking up to what is going on around us…
By Nick Williams | TNP