Meditation and Mind

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Lata Mani 

Meditation has become foreign territory in this time. Gone are the days when all I had to do was sit before the altar to be dissolved into silent blissfulness. As my brain heals meditation is like sitting at Churchgate Station, Mumbai, in the rush hour. Thoughts speed fleeing the day’s routines; memory trains arrive and depart in a seemingly interminable cycle. Within it all is the pulse of the Om. How I long to take the platforms, the trains, the scurrying, hurrying, worrying thoughts-feelings-sensations into the lap of the Om; to once again experience sound as within silence, not as is now the case, a barely audible silence within the thunder of sound.

As I struggle to hang on to the Om I feel like San Francisco cyclists darting in and out of city traffic.  I am aware that to experience gliding on the Om as weaving between the traffic of mind is to forget to witness; to forget that meditation is not doing. But I seem unable to root myself in witnessing. Healing from the brain injury is as challenging as it is pleasurable.  On the spiritual path one is urged not to stop anywhere. Yet, part of me wishes to stop at the station of stillness, the station through which trains had ceased to run because the injured mind had abandoned all activity. In the silence of the injury I had meditated, aware that somehow I was not facing the usual tribulations of meditators.

For many years there was a certain density to mind. It was difficult to venture beyond the physical experience of the body. What I could count on articulating when I was not fatigued, or in so much pain that the mind had turned blank, was the weather inside my body. The body had become a world unto itself. It had called me to itself and kept me occupied. Doctors would seem surprised, friends, relatives too, that I could be so clear about my moment by moment bodily experience. It seemed a contradiction that a mind so injured could be so expressive. But as I think back from the purview of my painfully slow healing, I can see that the mindfulness of the descriptions was itself an aspect of the injury. Not all synapses had been snapped. But the pathways that functioned could only go as far as the edges of my body.  My mind could travel from fingertip to crown to toes and heel, and in that area could -- but only on a very good day -- express the myriad patterns in which I experienced light dancing. Beyond the physicality of the body, however, the world seemed a confusing and crazy place. To venture beyond the body felt like dangling from a cliff.

In spiritual life the mind becomes the object of contemplation in an entirely new way. Its sovereignty, its self-evident place, is called into question. It is not that the mind is in and of itself the enemy of the heart or a foe to the way of spirit. Rather one discovers that human forgetting of isness and origins has involved a retreat from the heart - in which all things love, breathe, grow, die and are born again. The retreat is from the heart suffused with love when open, to the mind that arrogates to itself all doership, all intelligence, all effort. The mind becomes the instrument through which a certain forgetting, a certain weddedness to self-will are achieved.

Meditation is in part the discovery of mind as a distinct entity; mind as not motor but instrument. Mind is not the panopticon searching, overseeing, disciplining, taming, comprehending, defining, classifying, categorizing, though this is the rationalist’s fantasy about mind. Rather mind can itself be witnessed, as also the heart, as also sensations; indeed life itself as it flows around the constellation we call “a person.” Understanding that the mind can be observed opens us to the joyful possibility of seeing it not as that which governs our life but as an instrument that can be read.

The mind is not coterminous with the brain.  The mind is awareness unfolding; the brain the mechanism by which we comprehend and make sense of an ever-flowing intelligence. If the brain is not available it is not that mind does not exist. Even in the depths of injury, awareness was definitely present. When I was meditating I was aware I was meditating. But a certain kind of witnessing of thoughts did not take place because thoughts were few. If I received the unusual gift of no-thought meditations during the deepest phase of the illness it was because the brain had vacated the scene, leaving only the blissful heart. Recovery makes inevitable the rise and fall of thoughts. This makes for a less peaceful meditation. But it also offers learning about the nature of mind and the nature of meditation.

The brain is an instrument of awareness. In an analogous way I too am an instrument of a shared cosmic intelligence. It is through my physicality that the light of this enfolding intelligence becomes sound. Sound expressed in a particular accent and rhetoric, sharing understandings that are tentative, evolving. My brain is hurting with the effort of this audio journal. I experience yet again the mystery of particularity and transparticularity; the dance between universal intelligence and a given individual expression of it, that which we call “I,” this body, this mind, this life.