This is Post 3 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
The title of this article ‘The Content of the Mind is Not Important’ is intentionally somewhat provocative and paradoxical, especially for most meditators because, of course, most meditation practitioners have the explicit or implicit primary goal of becoming more mentally clear, or more emotionally positive, or more focused, or more effective in some way.
While I could guarantee that those results will naturally flow from this approach to meditation, I want to emphasise from the start that these results are not the primary focus of the practice. This is because the practice does not aim merely to change the contents of the mind by a sustained effort of will – but is focused instead on Consciousness itself. When, through self-enquiry, we become deeply familiar with Consciousness and start to fully recognise it, and familiarise ourselves with its nature, the wished for changes to the personal content of the mind will inevitably follow.
Meditation on Consciousness – the Ultimate Nature of Mind
This way of thinking about the mind is grounded in the spiritual reality of the ultimate nature of mind, but has enormous practical value, not only in meditation, but in daily life. It means that rather than wrestling with our thoughts and moods endlessly, in the face of life’s inevitable challenges, we instead just allow the ever changing personal mind to ‘be as it is’, and give our attention instead, to that which is unchanging. That which is unchanging is the observing Consciousness.
This disengagement from all concern about, or preoccupation with, the movement of thought and feeling, paradoxically has a profoundly positive effect on our experience of thought and feeling. When we turn our attention towards Consciousness in meditative self-enquiry, we have an opportunity to notice that one of its qualities is a profound stillness that may be described as Equanimity or imperturbability. While the neurological dimension of thought obviously has its own momentum due to the wiring of neurons, the more we notice these qualities of stillness, equanimity and imperturbability, and notice the way in which all thought arises from this entirely non-reactive background, the more we bring these peaceful qualities to the personal thinking function of the mind.
Equanimity and Objectivity from Recognition of Consciousness
Even when we learn to rest ‘as’ Consciousness, it is possible that our thoughts are still characterised by anxiety, or judgement, or a sense of victimisation – at least at first. These thoughts however, are felt to be arising inseparably within, or in relationship with, the Equanimity of the field of Consciousness. By recognising Consciousness in the midst of such thoughts and simultaneously with such thoughts, we have the possibility of finding ourselves no longer identified with those thoughts, and no longer giving them energy.
Our effort in meditation practice is therefore the gentle effort of directing our attention toward Consciousness and integrating its qualities. The changes to the content of the mind then occur effortlessly, being inevitable results of our realignment. By first acknowledging the field of Consciousness as if it were outside of ourselves, and then recognising that the ‘I’ who we identify with rests inseparably in, and in effect ‘is’, that Consciousness, we are profoundly realigned. Recognising Consciousness gives us a place of objectivity, from which we can start to recognise the conditions from which our thoughts arise, and can recognise that our thoughts are not in any way essential to who we are, and need not be the taken as part of our identity.
The Natural Growth of Wisdom
This integration of the quality of objectivity by allowing ourselves to rest as Consciousness is a profound mystery, and is of enormous value for high-level functioning in daily life. Given that meditation, because of its engagement with Consciousness, develops our capacity for objectivity and high-level reasoning, it is indeed very paradoxical that from the point of view of meditation, the only thoughts that have any importance in the course of our self-enquiry practice are those that point us to Consciousness and its qualities, and provide the guiding framework for our self-enquiry process.
If we practice meditation in this spirit – opening our mind to the purifying power of Consciousness – our experience is that a whole new category of thoughts arise in the meditative enquiry as the process deepens. These thoughts may be called insights, and to the extent that these thoughts are deeply rooted we can see them as signs of the growth of wisdom – intellectual knowing only becomes true wisdom when body, feeling, and will are also transformed and brought into alignment with the nature of Consciousness. The mandala-wisdom teaches us that true wisdom has four roots or dimensions, and we shall be exploring all four of these in this series of article.
For summaries of the other articles in this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series click here.