Martin LeFevre: Unmediated Perception
One of my sitting places is under a great sycamore on the banks of a small stream in the middle of expansive fields, with a view of the canyon and hills beyond town.
With undirected watchfulness, the known (memory and symbolic activity) falls away after half hour or so, and meditation spontaneously begins. The other evening, a little after sunset, I stood up in an intense meditative state to behold an indescribably beautiful violet color rimming the line the Coastal Range, which lies west of here.
A counter-sunset suffused the clouds over the fields behind me, to the east. The pungent-sweet smell of earth and grass was strong, heightened by an uncharacteristic rainstorm the previous evening. You could see for many miles, and for those timeless few minutes, I was completely one with the entire area. In the blessed solitude, it felt like bathing in bottomless beauty and palpable silence.
The multi-sensorial beauty of the entire scene was so intense in that state that I was, to use an old Christian expression, agape. As has happened a number of times before during meditation at this spot, a species of swallow suddenly appeared.
The birds mirrored the joy I was feeling, flying close and hovering overhead, literally encircling me. Of course many people, for whom such an event has perhaps never happened, would have a half dozen explanations that would serve to explain it away. But at the time there could be no doubt.
Can the meditative state be the ‘normal’ state for the human being? Clearly it would require a transmutation in the human brain. Is that possible at this time?
Long before the Agricultural Revolution, and uncounted ages before the Technological Revolution, a Cognitive Revolution occurred that gave humans the capacity for culture, art, and technology, as we know it. But after 100,000 years, ‘modern humans’ have reached the end of the line.
Just what would a transmutation in the human brain mean? Perhaps at the deepest level, it would mean that perception would not be mediated through symbols. Thus, an unconditioned mind/brain would remain fresh and young, having the capacity to see with the eyes of a child until physical death.
Of course there is something a little ludicrous about using words to talk about a wordless state. As Wittgenstein said, “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” However, if we use words to point rather than to capture, perhaps intimations of wordless things can be conveyed, and inner explorations nurtured. (That may be a fairly good definition of poetry.)
As much as I respond to poetry however, we live in an age of science. Therefore, without dissecting heightened states of awareness (and thereby destroying them), meditation needs to be understood and communicated in scientific language.
The momentum of the content of thought usually overshadows the human brain’s capacity for awareness. In simple terms, the past continually eclipses the present. Meditation is initiated by passively watching everything outside and inside without interference. Will and effort are not involved. Attention grows and spontaneously ignites, and at that moment awareness overtakes thought.
Nature is the best mirror for meditation. If one simply sits quietly and observes without a goal, one notices that the instant after a thought or emotion arises there is a reaction of evaluation and judgment. Reaction is the essence of the self. But the self is also thought, and is actually inseparable from the rest of the content of the mind.
So the self is a mechanism that gives the illusion of separateness and control. Meditation breaks the recursive loop of thought and the self. However since the mechanism of separation is wired into the brain, one has to keep relearning the lesson until the vicious circle is broken once and for all. Presumably that’s what’s meant by illumination.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.