This Post 6 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
In a previous article (here), I spoke about Plato’s advice that we know the truth by drawing our attention back into an identification with Consciousness (the ‘Plato’s Cave’ allegory). When we exercise this freedom to direct not just the placement of our attention, but the placement of our identification, the initial effect may be undramatic. This shift may at first seem to change nothing in the content of our experience, but as we look deeper we are usually delighted and amazed.
And if we continue to experiment so that we learn to sustain this shift from our egoic preoccupation with the objects of Consciousness, and start to cultivate the habit of resting as Consciousness, everything changes. To be able to recognise Consciousness as ourselves, and know its qualities as our own, even just for short moments, is the ultimate freedom.
The greater our receptivity in meditation, as we allow ourselves to expand into the imperturbable and equanimous quality of the field of Consciousness, the quieter the thinking function of the mind becomes. And the quieter the thinking function of the mind becomes, the deeper is our experience of Being. Also, as we practice this regularly, we begin to break our habitual identification with our thoughts, recognising that they are only points of view, and points of view that inherently lack objectivity. Paradoxically, it is precisely through our recognition that thoughts can only ever be points of view and therefore have an inherent tendency to lack objectivity, that the capacity for objectivity arises.
“I think, therefore I am”
The 17th Century French philosopher, René Descartes, famously stated ‘I think, therefore I am’. His words reflect a Western world that was starting to abandon the certainties of religious belief. While this intellectual process that he was part of (le Siècle des Lumières – ‘the Enlighmentment’) was in many respects necessary, it also left the Western world in a state of moral disorientation, with only the intellect for guidance – and global culture has been dominated by that dangerous moral malaise to this day.
Although Descartes was correct that there is an archetypal connection between thinking and being, he was profoundly misleading in his statement above. If we were to paraphrase and correct Descartes’ statement, it would perhaps be more true to say not “I think, therefore I am”, but “The more I rest as Consciousness and stop thinking, the more I experience Being”. In truth, both our sense of ‘I am’, and our sense of what is right, come from Consciousness – not from thinking.
There is indeed a universal human tendency to derive our sense of identity, to a large degree, from our thoughts – from the points of view that we hold and express. This is very problematic however, when many of the points of view that confirm our identity are judgemental and punishing towards others – or ourselves. Unfortunately Descartes’s original comment was, and remains, true for most of humanity – at least in a very limited sense. In our desperate seeking after identity through thinking, and our seeking for confirmation of our existence through the thinking function, we create endless ideologies and dogmas to judge and torment each other.
Unfortunately for humanity it is inherent in the functioning of ordinary egoic thinking that we make ourselves ‘right’ by making others wrong. And worse still, as we see so clearly in history, it is with our egoic thinking that we justify our inhumanity – denying the humanity of others, while dealing out punishment and exploitation, or even death and destruction.
If we meditate without reference to Consciousness we may actually find ourselves intensifying these egoic aspects of the thinking mind. They are part of the human operating system – an egoic mirror-opposite of the nature of Consciousness. These egoic patterns of conditioning run so deep in us that it is only by resting as Consciousness and starting to integrate the quality of Equanimity that is in inherent in Consciousness, that we can provide a effective counterpoint to these tendencies.
Having started to highlight the problems of thinking, and the possible value of not thinking as a way into meditation and the recognition of Consciousness, I need to balance this by validating clear and objective thinking, without which no creativity or collaboration is possible. It needs to be acknowledged that no high-level or complex communication is possible without thinking – our words are a reflection of our thoughts.
We need clear thinking to build relationships and communities – and a just society. It can be said that objective thinking creates the place where we meet and come together for the greater good. Objective thinking expresses itself socially in honesty, integrity, accuracy, accountability, clarity of communication, commitment to agreements, and common-sense. Objective thinking is the creative process by which we turn a felt need and a vision into a practical and sustainable strategy that meets our needs effectively.
In closing, I need to emphasise that, while I would not advocate that we preference expressions of feeling over expressions of objective thinking, neither would I preference thinking. On the contrary, as I hope to show in future articles, resting as Consciousness leads to a state of balance in regard to the thinking-feeling dichotomy. The form of thinking that arises from resting as Consciousness is relational, respectful, and non-reactive – and inherently ethical because it tends towards true objectivity.
For summaries of the other articles in this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series click here.