I’m constantly striving to understand the interplay between the physical body, and the internal self (spiritual being). My book Quantum Man, Material World tries to address the question scientifically, mainly why is the thing inside ourselves not ourselves.
Meditation is, in and of itself, the attempt to operationalize the act of examining the most deeply personal aspects of the interplay between self/Self. As one sits and watches thoughts arise the meditative act is to either gently await the thoughts to pass, note them, or maybe question them, depending on the practice.
As Shinzen Young describes, the power comes during the moment after a thought arises, that silence in which the brain isn’t chattering, and one can experience a less filtered experience of the world.
Incidentally, most people never take the time to experience this existence. Their brains constantly chatter without relief, to the point that it causes sleepless nights (30% to 35% of adults suffer from insomnia).
I typically do self enquiry practice during seated meditation. I watch thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. arise, and ask who’s thoughts are they, who feels them, when am I… you get the point.
But lately I’ve been having a particularly poignant enquiry: who asks these questions?
At first it was jarring, especially because upon asking the questioning would disappear and I’d be left with a deafening silence and had trouble finding that internal voice again.
It would cause a great deal of anxiety.
I was especially confused because this is the point of sitting, right? To experience this vast silence and find peace within it.
But that wasn’t the case, at all. Instead there was a deep sense of loss. Truthfully I really like my thoughts. I consider myself a philosopher, a thinker, etc. I really enjoy pondering concepts, ideas, playing with them, arguing with myself about them.
It’s something I would never want to lose.
But it reminds me of a piece of advice I heard from meditation teacher Ken Wilbur that even though thinking is the act of receiving symbolized ideas from the brain and that meditation can silence them, that doesn’t mean that you should “lose that voice.”
Here’s the thing I keep coming back to – there is a physical body writing this. It is converting ideas I have in my head, and communicating them in a way that others can understand.
I feel very connected to these ideas via the internal voice communicating these ideas to my fingers to type on a keyboard.
Yet, there is something inside that is not quite the physical body, that feels as if it’s communicating thoughts and ideas it’s having.
To make it even more pertinent go back to the example of meditation – when I sit there are thoughts arising, that the “I” questions, notes, or whatever.
So thoughts from brain arise, and thoughts from the spiritual self “question” those physical thoughts.
But that is delusional. All thoughts are mind-wrought, as is declared at the beginning of the Dhammapada. Arising thought and enquiring thought are all from the brain.
See, there’s something odd happening in this process. The brain knows there’s a thing inside of itself that it doesn’t know what it is. We know this because we can witness our thoughts, and because of that witnessing is happening it can be concluded that the observer and the observed cannot be the same.
On the other hand there’s this thing inside us that doesn’t know what it is either, for the same reason – because it is the observer, and the observer and the observed cannot be the same.
That thing, deep inside, is what is experiencing things, and is the thing that can most be known as Self.
But that mysterious Self, which is experiencing reality is only experiencing a reality from inside of a world that is shaped by the brain, thoughts, and mind around it.
All experience that this Self experiences is shaped and molded by the brain, thoughts, and mind; and because the self doesn’t know what it is, it thinks it must be those things presented by the mind.
The twist is that when sitting and meditating it’s not the thoughts arising and the Self enquiring them. But the mind enquiring itself in a way that the Self can witness and feel less attached.
Once the process is put in that perspective, an interesting conclusion can be made: the body is doing what it can to free the Self from the imprisonment of delusion.
Taken another way – meditation brings about liberation, but the thing that does the meditation is not the thing that will reap the benefits of it. What a beautiful gift!