Monday of Lent – Week 3


There must be a little screw in the brain which controls our self-awareness. Is it what we call the mind? It is the source both of our greatest human dignity, our potential for higher consciousness and transcendence but also for our worst misery, our self-encapsulation. Self-awareness shows us how we are different. But it can also subtly deceive us into believing that we are ultimately separate.

Some people have very little self-awareness. As a result, they may be living in a rather vegetative state. Or they may be too externally busy and frantically goal-oriented to have space to be aware. A young woman student told me once that meditation had surprised her most and changed her most permanently by showing her that she had an inner life. She formed the words ‘inner life’ very carefully. The first time we sit to meditate we will find out if we are vegetables or madmen. Anyway, the journey of self-knowledge, more important than the ability to work miracles, has begun. The screw of self-awareness is turning.

For some people, very few I think, there may be, in their first meditations, a sudden illumination. Because they didn’t know even what to hope for, quite unexpectedly, they see it and the kingdom displays itself to them like the clouds sitting on top of Mount Fuji calmly clearing. The effect of this may be to confirm why they had approached meditation at all. Even when the clouds settle back and the view is lost they have an awareness that has forever changed them. Self-knowledge never leaves us unchanged. We never completely forget it.

But whatever happens, there is now the daily work of the second level of silence. Like a musician, a parent, a gardener, a poet, we have found a work we must learn to love because it is an expression of who we most truly are. It is almost as if the work loves us. Anyway we will find love in the work.

As soon as we see that meditation is simple but not easy, we discover how noisy and unstable the mind is. The failure, as it feels, to say the mantra teaches us humility (equals self-awareness). The discipline of continuously laying aside our thoughts, like any serious learning, will teach us discipline which is the narrow path to interior freedom. Over time the level of distractions will reduce and, before that, we will give them less importance even when they do absorb and hijack us. They become like background noise, incoherent loud conversation from the adjoining room.

However, silence of the mind does not come only by letting go of thoughts, words and the images from which they derive. It comes through the faithful act of attention, repeated like an act of love, returning the mind to a single point. That point is not a thought word or image. As soon as it forms into one of these we have become complicated again. Dropping the thought-word-image, that is like a crystallisation of the mind, restores simplicity. Silence of mind deepens each time we do this. Self-awareness further clarifies. Self-knowledge changes us more. And the single-pointedness now appears in our speech, activity and relationships. It is beginning to be known not only as a mental phenomenon but as a spiritual portal. The smaller the point, the greater the immensity it opens to.

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