Ivan Aivazovsky, Between the Waves, 1898

Beginning Again … and Again…

It is so difficult to maintain a conscious attention. The incessant activity of everything around me continually steals my attention. How do I find a space inside that can just observe this continual interplay of thought and feelings without reaction and without judgment? Maybe I can try something, like sensing a particular part of my body or going against a small habit to see if I can call a quieter part of myself that is referred to in many traditions as “the observer” or “an influence”.

It is difficult to know where to begin. I feel a little uneasy and uncomfortable and yet there can be a feeling of separation from that. Maybe I can see my poverty or have a strong sense of my lack of relationship with my Self. I try to stay there, no matter how unbearable it is, and in the act of remaining there watching, perhaps something can be called. With a strong unwavering attention on the body I can ask myself what would it mean to be sincere and can I find a wish to be sincere with myself?

Sometimes during meditation when I find I am capable of maintaining an active stillness there is a shift in my centre of gravity from my head down into my lower abdomen. With this effort in attention the mind becomes quieter and I see that this sensation in my abdomen feels organic and instinctual. There may be tensions in the body or in the emotions, but I realize that they are not all of me. With a directed attention on this body here and now, by remaining relaxed and waiting, a larger sense of myself as a whole can come into view. Can I study how the mind, emotions and the body are interconnected? Can I gather attention and make a home for it inside from which I can observe from? William Segal describes this effort when he says that:

There is the ability to be engaged very actively in life, but at the same time to be non-attached. One does what one does with full enthusiasm: I love to drink coffee, to paint, to dig a garden or chop wood. But can I be wholly in the act but not attached to it? And at the same time, be in relation to this “other,” this stillness, which is in me, in you, in everything. This requires discipline, which one reaches through various methods. It’s not only meditation, and it certainly isn’t through scholastic studies or through prayer of the ordinary kind, although prayer can be a cessation of thought, a giving up, a letting go and being here totally. Now, perhaps, to be that way does require a great preliminary doing; I’m not sure about that. As an old man who has been through a lot of that sort of practice, I don’t think it’s really necessary. I don’t see the sense of it now. I think if I were in the hands of a master today, he would simply tell me, “Look, mister, just be still. Watch your breathing. Get your center of gravity down here.” And then this appears. This is in you, it’s always here. All one has to do is open to it. So I don’t see the sense of all these schools and all these disciplines. I do see the sense, because one is unable, one is not capable as one is, in ordinary life.

My inner work begins with the study of sensations in the body. I try to sense my right arm or my left leg. These exercises need to be rediscovered over and over again. I have to begin fresh each time I approach this question of sensing, otherwise it remains just an idea, a dead and empty thing that I try to do. This body or vessel that I inhabit has a life of its own and it need to continually be in question about it to discover it. I can see that sometimes I can have a real sense of my arms, from the inside so to speak and at other times my legs are more easily penetrated. Why can I sense this particular part of my body and not the other at different times? Why can I only sense the upper part of my spine and not the lower?

This beginning work on sensation is elementary, but we must begin from there. Lizelle Reymond referred to the deepening of this question of sensation when she said, “all spiritual experiences are sensations in the body. They are simply a graded series of sensations, beginning with the solidity of a clod of earth and passing gradually, in full consciousness, through liquidness and the emanation of heat to that of a total vibration before reaching the void. The road to be traveled is long.”

There are vast worlds contained in this organism that I am not ordinarily in touch with because, as Segal demonstrates, “the average attention span is too short, and attention is easily diverted; the ability to ’see’ is rarely deep enough.”

This capacity for a deeper attention needs to be developed as Madame de Salzmann once said, “Behind the visible there is much that cannot be seen. Attention is your only chance. Without it you can do nothing.”

A tremendous amount of energy goes into protecting and upholding this illusory image of who I am. If I am sincere with myself I see that I really don’t know and I cannot accept this fact. So in order to calm this state of uneasiness I am continually encouraging these ideas I have of myself in order to feel secure and comfortable. It gives me the illusion that I am one person and that the world is linear and not so chaotic.

Socially it’s appears to operate like a conspiracy. If someone says something that offends this view of myself, I instantly react negatively. I feel uneasy. In a sense I feel that my existence has been threatened and immediately the walls become a little stronger and a little wider. If, on the other hand, someone gives me a compliment, I immediately react with “good” feelings towards myself. I feel more comfortable and a little more secure. So as long as someone is in agreement with my projected image, I respect them and in turn I uphold the image that they have of themselves, although this happens, for the most part, unconsciously.

This repetitive circle in which I protect something that really doesn’t exist is what I call my life. Actually, maybe it would be better to say, it eats up my life. To see this process in myself directly without any coloration or distortion brings a great deal of suffering. Can I remain with this naked impression of myself without running away from it? Can I have the courage to see myself as I really am, without the excuses or justifications that inevitably appear?

I need to have thousands of these direct experiences of myself and I need to suffer them. Something within me is fed by these direct impressions of myself. Seeing is an alchemical process, where over a long period of time and a lot of inner work, something is strengthened and becomes more permanent.

Everything can be seen through the analogy of energy. Situations and circumstances are all energies in movement. Tensions appear when our mind, emotions and our bodies are not operating harmoniously and the energies become blocked. These energies wish to be whole just as the external world is whole and harmonious. So restlessness or agitation, for example, can simply be that the body wishes to move in order to ease muscular tensions and allow energies to move more freely. On an emotional level these tensions could be rooted in fear or in something someone said to you a few hours ago. The real question isn’t about how to get rid of them, but can I try to simply be aware of them? Where do they originate? What is their relationship to all three centers? Often my body and mind are completely at the service of the emotions. I need to see how everything is connected. Can I be aware, for instance, that my emotional state is written in my posture at any given moment. Can I see that I live my life ordinarily through acquired habits and emotional attitudes that have become hardened through repetition?

Pictured: Ivan Aivazovsky, Between the Waves, 1898


1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

May 16, 2009 at 2:14 pm

there it all is.

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