"There was a young man who said, 'Though
it seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see
Is the 'I' that knows 'me'
When I know that I know that I know."
I've seen a quote that says "mindfulness isn't difficult, we just need to remember to do it."
I sense this thought ends too soon, for the real questions then become:
- Why would we ever forget such a thing in the first place?
- Why would it take conscious attention and volition to bring us back into this desired state?
- If this desired state lapses incoherent with our conscious, present mind - then how and why did it ever get separate from us?
- Was this desired mindful state ever one with us in our present in an effortless way? If so, when was that? If not, why not?
- What is it about where or how we live that possibly disjoints us from our mindfulness? Is this incoherence more due from causes within us or without? What's the distinction?
The practice of remembering to be mindfully aware -- this itself can lead to an endless progression. At first we ask "what the heck is this no-thing that is aware" and that begs the question, "what the heck is this no-thing that asks what the heck is this no-thing," which prompts, "what the heck is this no-thing that asks what the heck is this no-thing that asks what the heck is this no-thing..." - and so on ad infinitum. Awareness at another meta-level implies another iteration. If we're honest and thorough with this process, it'll never end. And yet, facing this may ultimately be the point -- it forces us into a state where trying to find the final and optimal mindful state is akin to how Alan Watts described trying to define oneself -- which is like trying to bite one's own teeth.
Reading a friend's blog got me thinking about all of this again. His posts are always intriguing, enlightening, challenging. As he so eloquently stated: "Mindfulness has become the darling of pop psychology. But a teacher in the older traditions once said something, almost as an aside, that is not usually reflected in the contemporary self-improvement approaches. He said it’s not enough to sit and be aware of our thoughts and feelings, we must also be aware that we are doing this."
Read my friend's entire blog entry here: Small-Detail-Great-Importance
I remember listening to lectures on the radio late at night as a kid. A rock FM station in Los Angeles dished up all sorts of funky eclectic content in the after-midnight hours. Headphones in place, I was treated to all sorts of things. One of those were the weekly talks by Alan Watts. Going back over some of what Watts said back then, I found resonance with this mindfulness topic. I thought I'd post a sample of that to add to the discussion. So put on your virtual headphones, turn off all the lights except for the blacklight shining up on your blacklight poster of the Andromeda galaxy, and let's go back to those nights in the early 1970's and tune-in to KMET 94.7 FM (it's not the same station now)... Alan Watts chuckles and begins...
"...most Westerners locate the ego in the head, from which center the rest of us dangles. The ego is somewhere behind the eyes and between the ears. It is as if there sat beneath the dome of the skull a controlling officer who wears earphones wired to the ears, and watches a television screen wired to the eyes. Before him stands a great panel of dials and switches connected with all other parts of the body that yield conscious information or respond to the officer's will. This controlling officer 'sees' sights, 'hears' sounds, 'feels' feelings, and 'has' experiences...All of this can get marvelously complicated when we begin to wonder whether our officer has another officer inside his head, and so ad infinitum!
"If you think you have a lower self or an ego to get rid of then you fight against it so it strengthens the illusion and causes tremendous schizophrenia in human beings from thinking that they are righter in course, so in command of body or will and command of passions, wrestling with them. All that time of split thinking only aggravates the problem and we get more and more split and so we have all sorts of people engaged in material conflict in which they will never resolve because the true self you either know it or you don't. If you do know it, then you know it is the only one, and the other, so called lower self, ceases to be a problem. It becomes something like a mirage and you don't go around hitting mirages with a stick or try to put names on them, you see through them.
"...the Dramatic Myth. The idea that life as we experience it is a big act, and that behind this big act is the player, and the player, or the self, as it's called in Hindu philosophy, the atman, is you. Only you are playing hide and seek, since that is the essential game that is going on. The game of games. The basis of all games, hide and seek. And since you're playing hide & seek, you are deliberately, although you can't admit this--or won't admit it--you are deliberately forgetting who you really are, or what you really are. And the knowledge that your essential self is the foundation of the universe, the 'ground of being' as Tillich calls it, is something you have that the Germans call a hintengedanka. A hintengedanka is a thought way, way, way in the back of your mind. Something that you know deep down but can't admit.
So, in a way, then, in order to bring this to the front, in order to know that is the case, you have to be kidded out of your game...
"You see, the problem is this. We identify in our experience a differentiation between what we do and what happens to us. We have a certain number of actions that we define as voluntary, and we feel in control of those. And then over against that, there is all those things that are involuntary. But the dividing line between these two is very inarbitrary. Because for example, when you move your hand, you feel that you decide whether to open it or to close it. But then ask yourself how do you decide? When you decide to open your hand, do you first decide to decide? You don't, do you? You just decide, and how do you do that? And if you don't know how to do it, is it voluntary or involuntary? Let's consider breathing. You can feel that you breathe deliberately; you don't control your breath. But when you don't think about it, it goes on. Is it voluntary or involuntary? So, we come to have a very arbitrary definition of self.
"Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it's just doing it. You don't have to translate it into language. Supposing that when you got up in the morning, you had to switch your brain on. And you had to think and do as a deliberate process waking up all the circuits that you need for active life during the day. Why, you'd never get done! Because you have to do all those things at once. That's why the Buddhists and Hindus represent their gods as many-armed. How could you use so many arms at once? How could a centipede control a hundred legs at once? Because it doesn't think about it. In the same way, you are unconsciously performing all the various activities of your organism. Only unconsciously isn't a good word, because it sounds sort of dead. Superconsciously would be better. Give it a plus rather than a minus.
"When you put a chicken's beak on a chalk line, it gets stuck; it's hypnotized. So in the same way, when you learn to pay attention, and as children you know how all the teachers were in class: 'Pay attention!!' And all the kids stare at the teacher. And we've got to pay attention. That's putting your nose on the chalk line. And you got stuck with the idea of attention, and you thought attention was Me, the ego, attention. So if you start attending to attention, you realize what the hoax is. That's why in Aldous Huxley's book 'Island,' the Roger had trained the myna birds on the island to say 'Attention! Here and now, boys!' See? Realize who you are. Come to, wake up! Well, here's the problem: if this is the state of affairs which is so, and if the conscious state you're in this moment is the same thing as what we might call the Divine State. If you do anything to make it different, it shows that you don't understand that it's so. So the moment you start practicing yoga, or praying or meditating, or indulging in some sort of spiritual cultivation, you are getting in your own way.
"Now this is the Buddhist trick: the buddha said 'We suffer because we desire. If you can give up desire, you won't suffer.' But he didn't say that as the last word; he said that as the opening step of a dialogue. Because if you say that to someone, they're going to come back after a while and say 'Yes, but now I'm desiring not to desire.' And so the buddha will answer, 'Well at last you're beginning to understand the point.' Because you can't give up desire. Why would you try to do that? It's already desire. So in the same way you say 'You ought to be unselfish' or to give up you ego. Let go, relax. Why do you want to do that? Just because it's another way of beating the game, isn't it? The moment you hypothesize that you are different from the universe, you want to get one up on it. But if you try to get one up on the universe, and you're in competition with it, that means you don't understand you ARE it. You think there's a real difference between 'self' and 'other.' But 'self,' what you call yourself, and what you call 'other' are mutually necessary to each other like back and front. They're really one. But just as a magnet polarizes itself at north and south, but it's all one magnet, so experience polarizes itself as self and other, but it's all one. If you try to make the south pole defeat the north pole, or get the mastery of it, you show you don't know what's going on.
"There's no road to here, because you're already there. If you ask me 'How am I going to get here?' It will be like the famous story of the American tourist in England. The tourist asked some yokel the way to Upper Tuttenham, a little village. And the yokel scratched his head and he said 'Well, sir, I don't know where it is, but if I were you, I wouldn't start from here.'
"Most people think when they open their eyes and look around, that what they're seeing is outside. It seems, doesn't it, that you are behind your eyes, and that behind the eyes there is a blank you can't see at all. You turn around and there's something else in front of you. But behind the eyes there seems to be something that has no color. It isn't dark, is isn't light. It is there from a tactile standpoint; you can feel it with your fingers, but you can't get inside it. But what is that behind your eyes? Well actually, when you look out there and see all these people and things sitting around, that's how it feels inside your head. The color of this room is back here in the nervous system, where the optical nerves are at the back of the head. It's in there. It's what you're experiencing. What you see out here is a neurological experience. Now if that hits you, and you feel sensuously that that's so, you may feel therefore that the external world is all inside my skull. You've got to correct that, with the thought that your skull is also in the external world. So you suddenly begin to feel 'Wow, what kind of situation is this? It's inside me, and I'm inside it, and it's inside me, and I'm inside it.' But that's the way it is.
"What I think an awakening really involves is a re-examination of our common sense. We've got all sorts of ideas built into us which seem unquestioned, obvious. And our speech reflects them; its commonest phrases. 'Face the facts.' As if they were outside you. As if life were something they simply encountered as a foreigner. 'Face the facts.' Our common sense has been rigged, you see? So that we feel strangers and aliens in this world, and this is terribly plausible, simply because this is what we are used to. That's the only reason. But when you really start questioning this, say 'Is that the way I have to assume life is? I know everybody does, but does that make it true?' It doesn't necessarily. It ain't necessarily so. So then as you question this basic assumption that underlies our culture, you find you get a new kind of common sense. It becomes absolutely obvious to you that you are continuous with the universe.
"If you awaken from this illusion, and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death — or shall I say, death implies life — you can conceive yourself. Not conceive, but feel yourself, not as a stranger in the world, not as someone here on sufferance, on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke, but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental. What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself. So, say in Hindu mythology, they say that the world is the drama of God. God is not something in Hindu mythology with a white beard that sits on a throne, that has royal perogatives. God in Indian mythology is the self, Satcitananda. Which means sat, that which is, chit, that which is consciousness; that which is ananda is bliss. In other words, what exists, reality itself is gorgeous, it is the fullness of total joy.
"Listen intently to a voice singing without words. It may charm you into crying, force you to dance, fill you with rage, or make you jump for joy. You can't tell where the music ends and the emotions begin, for the whole thing is a kind of music—the voice playing on your nerves as the breath plays on a flute. All experience is just that, except that its music has many more dimensions than sound. It vibrates in the dimensions of sight, touch, taste, and smell, and in the intellectual dimension of symbols and words—all evoking and playing upon each other.
"The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.
"We accepted a definition of ourselves which confined the self to the source and to the limitations of conscious attention. This definition is miserably insufficient, for in fact we know how to grow brains and eyes, ears and fingers, hearts and bones, in just the same way that we know how to walk and breathe, talk and think—only we can't put it into words. Words are too slow and too clumsy for describing such things, and conscious attention is too narrow for keeping track of all their details.
"A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.
"The transformation of human consciousness through meditation is frustrated, as long as we think of it in terms as something that I, my self can bring about. Because it leads to endless games of spiritual one-up-manship, and Guru competitions.
"Most philosophical problems are to be solved by getting rid of them, by coming to the point where you see that such questions as “Why this universe?” are a kind of intellectual neurosis, a misuse of words in that the question sounds sensible but is actually as meaningless as asking “Where is this universe?” when the only things that are anywhere must be somewhere inside the universe. The task of philosophy is to cure people of such nonsense. . . . Nevertheless, wonder is not a disease. Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.
"We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”
"Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.
"All your five senses are differing forms of one basic sense—something like touch. Seeing is highly sensitive touching. The eyes touch, or feel, light waves and so enable us to touch things out of reach of our hands. Similarly, the ears touch sound waves in the air, and the nose tiny particles of dust and gas. But the complex patterns and chains of neurons which constitute these senses are composed of neuron units which are capable of changing between just two states: on or off. To the central brain the individual neuron signals either yes or no — that’s all. But, as we know from computers which employ binary arithmetic in which the only figures are 0 and 1, these simple elements can be formed into the most complex and marvelous patterns. In this respect our nervous system and 0/1 computers are much like everything else, for the physical world is basically vibration. Whether we think of this vibration in terms of waves or of particles, or perhaps wavicles, we never find the crest of a wave without a trough or a particle without an interval, or space, between itself and others. In other words, there is no such thing as a half wave, or a particle all by itself without any space around it. There is no on without off, no up without down. While eyes and ears actually register and respond to both the up-beat and the down-beat of these vibrations, the mind, that is to say our conscious attention, notices only the up-beat. The dark, silent, or “off” interval is ignored. It is almost a general principle that consciousness ignores intervals, and yet cannot notice any pulse of energy without them. If you put your hand on an attractive girl’s knee and just leave it there, she may cease to notice it. But if you keep patting her knee, she will know you are very much there and interested. But she notices and, you hope, values the on more than the off. Nevertheless, the very things that we believe to exist are always on/offs. Ons alone and offs alone do not exist.
"The person, from the Latin persona, was originally the megaphone-mouthed mask used by actors in the open-air theaters of ancient Greece and Rome, the mask through (per) which the sound (sonus) came.
"The self-conscious feedback mechanism of the cortex allows us the hallucination that we are two souls in one body — a rational soul and an animal soul, a rider and a horse, a good guy with better instincts and finer feelings and a rascal with rapacious lusts and unruly passions. Hence the marvelously involved hypocrisies of guilt and penitence, and the frightful cruelties of punishment, warfare, and even self-torment in the name of taking the side of the good soul against the evil. The more it sides with itself, the more the good soul reveals its inseparable shadow, and the more it disowns its shadow, the more it becomes it. Thus for thousands of years human history has been a magnificently futile conflict, a wonderfully staged panorama of triumphs and tragedies based on the resolute taboo against admitting that black goes with white.
"The hallucination of separateness prevents one from seeing that to cherish the ego is to cherish misery. We do not realize that our so-called love and concern for the individual is simply the other face of our own fear of death or rejection. In his exaggerated valuation of separate identity, the personal ego is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting, and then getting more and more anxious about the coming crash!
"An experience of this kind cannot be forced or made to happen by any act of your fictitious “will,” except insofar as repeated efforts to be one-up on the universe may eventually reveal their futility. Don’t try to get rid of the ego-sensation. Take it, so long as it lasts, as a feature or play of the total process — like a cloud or wave, or like feeling warm or cold, or anything else that happens of itself. Getting rid of one’s ego is the last resort of invincible egoism! It simply confirms and strengthens the reality of the feeling. But when this feeling of separateness is approached and accepted like any other sensation, it evaporates like the mirage that it is.
"This is why I am not overly enthusiastic about the various “spiritual exercises” in meditation or yoga which some consider essential for release from the ego. For when practiced in order to “get” some kind of spiritual illumination or awakening, they strengthen the fallacy that the ego can toss itself away by a tug at its own bootstraps.
"There is no fate unless there is someone or something to be fated. There is no trap without someone to be caught. There is, indeed, no compulsion unless there is also freedom of choice, for the sensation of behaving involuntarily is known only by contrast with that of behaving voluntarily. Thus when the line between myself and what happens to me is dissolved and there is no stronghold left for an ego even as a passive witness, I find myself not in a world but as a world which is neither compulsive nor capricious. What happens is neither automatic nor arbitrary: it just happens, and all happenings are mutually interdependent in a way that seems unbelievably harmonious. Every this goes with every that. Without others there is no self, and without somewhere else there is no here, so that — in this sense — self is other and here is there.
"Once you have seen this you can return to the world of practical affairs with a new spirit. You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real “you” is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For “you” is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new."
-- Alan Watts
"This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That"
-- James Broughton