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Martin LeFevre: Negation in Meditation

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Negation in Meditation

It’s late spring in northern California. People cross the iron footbridge on bikes or foot on a hazy, lazy, warm Sunday afternoon. I sit about 75 meters upstream from the bridge, and though I’m in the open, few passersby see me either from the bridge, or the narrow park road across and above the stream.

The water ripples with washboard effect in this section of the stream, masking most of the noises from vehicles passing irregularly on the road adjacent to the park. Occasionally an especially loud car or truck, or the dark, throbbing bass of a boom box, penetrate the stillness, but the noise does not disturb, much less disrupt the inclusive awareness of meditation.

I look up to see a female mallard less than five meters downstream. She is lingering warily along the bank, treading the gentle current. I can feel her awareness of me, and don’t move. She inches closer in the next few minutes. Suddenly she bursts into the air with such explosiveness that some drops rain onto my skin.

Doing nothing--simply intensely and undividedly observing everything that is happening outwardly and inwardly--is the highest action that a human being is capable.

Negation, the unwilled dissolving of patterned thoughts and accumulated emotions, is the path to illumination. But it is also an essential action for health of the mind and body.

Obviously, for the organism to operate optimally, it has to empty out accretions. Mental accumulation is not just a matter of ‘information overload,’ but of absorbing toxic content of which one is unaware.

The process of being fully aware of emotional, mental, and physical accumulations, of allowing them to flow forth into awareness and be released from the mind and body, is the process of negation in meditation.

Unless one is actually in a meditative state of awareness, experience leaves a residue of which we are not entirely aware. For example, we’ve all had experiences where we think we’re having a good conversation with a group of people, but someone makes a cutting remark, perhaps unintentionally, which ‘sticks in our craw.’ We don’t realize it until later, when we feel angry but aren’t sure exactly why.

There are three approaches to such things. One can, as most people do, push the offending remark away and push on, telling ourselves ‘it’s nothing and it doesn’t bother me.’ In this way, one becomes oblivious to what is going on within one, and develops into the kind of person that made the thoughtless remark.

The second approach is to analyze one’s delayed reactions, try to intellectually understand them, and thereby control one’s emotions. This ‘top down’ method works to a point, but ends up strengthening the accumulative, calculating mind.

A third approach is to simply observe the stream of one’s consciousness without trying to alter or explain its flow.

The mind stores experiences that are imprinted on the emotional centers in the brain. If one knows how to observe the movement of oneself, the experiences will spontaneously unfold, and tell their story.

This is the healthiest way of going about things, and remaining young in mind and heart. Of course it requires an understanding of right observation, which is completely undivided and unwilled, as well as taking the time every day to sit and passively, but energetically watch the film run.

Most people, especially in hyper-individualized societies, are not aware of their culture--the sea in which we all swim. It’s like the fish who turns to the awakening fish and says, ‘what water?’ That’s also true in the few remaining communal cultures, in which traditions and assumptions are implicitly shared in a more organic way.

In the past week in California, many animals at the top of the food chain—otters, seals, birds, dolphins, and even whales—have been washing up dead on the Pacific coast. Scientists think this disturbing phenomenon, whose immediate cause appears to be toxic algae growth, is the result of many factors—pollution, warming of the oceans, over-fishing, environmental stress, etc.

That’s both a metaphor and physical expression of the cumulative effects of the buildup of poisons in and from human consciousness. Without regularly igniting the movement of negation, accumulations build up to toxic levels--in the environment, and within us.


- 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: The author welcomes comments.

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