There is no spoon. Or why we don't hold our breath in meditation
I almost didn't post this. In fact the consternation about whether to post it prevented me from posting anything. The reason being that we are warned that those who know don't speak and those who speak don't know. But someone obviously said that, or wrote it down. Writing is a way of exploring consciousness, so in that vein...
Meditation is marketed as a way to enlightenment, peace, harmony, etc. That old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions applies here. Like many people, I often seek answers from an expert, a guru, or more recently, the crowd. As long as I do there will be those who want to sell me snake oil. The eastern rationale is to teach me to figure it out through lived experience. In the west it's often capitalistically motivated. Hot kundalini yoga anyone?
Meditation is a mindfulness practice I have a love-hate relationship with. It tends to make me aware of my place in the grand scheme of things. Make me aware how ultimately insignificant I am when it comes to the universe. That is a very scary thought for me and I assume for most people reading. It’s not in the brochures for meditation courses that Deepak Chopra or any guru tries to sell me.
Where I wound up via meditation is so vastly contrary to the western idea of heaven, it's astounding. The process was hellish. Part of the difficulty is due to the language and cultural differences and part because it's such a paradigmatic shift to approaching life. Concepts imported from the east are often and easily misunderstood. Much of the language, concepts, and practices, get muddled in the transmogrification for a western audience.
If you want to get a good primer by someone who can bridge east and west, give Alan Watts’, “Do You Do It or Does It Do You?: How to Let the Universe Meditate You” a listen.
I borrowed it from my library online. Watts has a pretty radical way of explaining things. The gist of it is that we aren’t separate from the universe. All that “empty” space isn’t really empty, just because we observe it to be so, doesn’t make it so. The more we want to exactingly measure the universe the more layers become revealed. The harder we try to keep up the illusion of total control the more separate we will feel from life itself. We can live our entire life that way and die without knowing anything about life.
The amount of control any of us really has is minimal. The trick, according to Watts, is to keep a hand loosely on the wheel and steer in the general direction of where we want to go. This reminds me of the line from The Matrix, “Do not try and bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth...there is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” Meditation is a way into this state of conscious being.
What I’m writing now is a false thing, a spoon. As long as I recognize it, it becomes a useful tool. Like your ego and mine. Recognize that I’m just trying to understand this thing called life. This is what meditation is, for me, a tool to bring the awareness that separation is illusion into every moment. In order to be part of life I have to surrender to living it. The body learned this skill during the evolution of life. Meditation trains the newer neocortex to let go of attachment to the mental reflex to grasp.
Why, in meditation, do we focus on the breath?
As I sit, in my body, on the Earth, in the Sol Solar System, in Orion Spiral Arm, in the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Local Group, in the Virgo Supercluster, in the Laniakea Supercluster, in the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex, in the Universe, at this moment. I am breathing. That's pretty much the only reliable thing I understand about being alive. I think that’s part of the reason why breath is synonymous with life and spirit in many religions, wisdom traditions, and cultures.
It is one of the few autonomous and voluntary vital operations of the body that we have easy access to. One might say it is a bridge connecting the conscious and unconscious. The dream and waking states. Reality and illusion. A very a fascinating concept but I urge you, don’t hold your breath! Because that’s missing the point entirely, but, if you did, just to see what happens. We go unconscious, and the body goes back to doing what it is designed to do, go on living.
It’s a remarkable vehicle, now if I could only learn how to drive it.