Martin LeFevre: A Realm Beyond Sorrow
A Realm Beyond Sorrow
Hawks screech from all directions in the parkland, and birds play raucously and joyfully. Friendliness and joy are also reflected in the faces of many of the people who are using the park for every conceivable activity—walking, running, horseback riding, biking, and rollerblading.
The creek is full, but until observation quiets the mind and cleanses the heart, I hardly notice the roiling green water. Then everything is vivid and new—the stream and sky, the animals and people, and one enters a realm beyond sorrow.
I dislike the term 'mystical experience.' What happens in the brain during the meditative state is neither mystical, nor an experience. To my mind it's an event, a phenomenon that is new each time.
Through passive observation, the brain has the capacity of gathering attention that is quicker than thought. Attention alone then acts on thought to silence it. This can happen within anyone, if they understand how to observe the movement of thought without interference.
Effortlessly watching every mental and emotional reaction, without judging or controlling the memories, feelings, and physical states that arise in the moment, is the only action that is needed to awaken the meditative state.
In terms of mental activity, there are two levels of reaction. There are spontaneous reactions, such as when part of a conversation one had yesterday suddenly replays in the mind when you're having a cup of tea. And there are secondary reactions, such as when we judge and evaluate what we said during that conversation.
We experience both types of reactions as arising from the ‘me,’ a seemingly independent entity that forms the basis of our existence. But the ‘me’ is no more real than the homunculus, the fully formed human being that was once thought to exist inside an egg or spermatozoa.
And yet, the ego and survival are apparently linked at a limbic level in the brain. The limbic system is associated with basic needs and emotions--for example, hunger, pain, pleasure, sex, and instinctive motivation. Is that why self-centered activity so rarely ends in people?
If awareness is quick and energetic enough to see through the habit the mind has of continually dividing itself off from itself, the illusion of the separate observer dissolves in observation. I’ve found, in sitting quietly, that questioning into the mechanism of the observer helps draw attention to the deep habit of separating the thinker from thought. What is the watcher that always seems separate from what it is watching?
There is actually just a single muddy stream of content in consciousness. That IS consciousness, as we usually know it. However without thought continuously splitting off as the watcher, there is just watching.
With the cessation of the divisive and depleting mechanism of the watcher, one's watching grows with the intensity of a hawk. That is the highest action, and it naturally quiets the mind, without one having to 'do' anything. The chattering, noisy brain slows down, and thought may stop altogether. Sensory impressions, no longer mediated by words, images, and memories, are heightened. Color, sound, sight, smell, and touch become vivid again.
There is, in this sensitive awareness, a deepening state of insight and compassion. In awakening the meditative state, the brain is renewed, and remains young. In the completely unforced stillness of attention, the brain is aware of energies and essences that cannot be named. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you return and become like children, you can’t enter the kingdom of God.”
Such states have been called, devotionally or derisively, 'mystical experiences.' But they aren't personal or idiosyncratic. Rather, so-called mystical experience is open to anyone who understands the principles of psychological division and undivided observation.
Using MRI machines, the brains of people in deeper states of attention and stillness exhibit marked changes in brain activity (though vibrant inactivity is a better way to put it). Even so, non-drug-induced altered states of consciousness cannot be measured and quantified, since by definition they are not a function of knowledge and reason, but of awareness and insight.
If one experiments with self-observation, taking both a serious and playful attitude, the “doors of perception” open. Don’t make a goal of it, but simply take the time, in nature whenever possible, to sit quietly and watch everything inclusively, outside and inside.
- 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.