Last week the Fly on the Wall made the case for taking to art such as painting or drawing to expand our capacities for learning, to be able to look at your studies from a new vantage point that might bring easier understanding. This week, we explore another method.
Besides expressing ourselves visually through painting or drawing, another possibility appears. Meditation provides the promise that we may look inward and thus attempt to engage with that which is esoteric, exotic, and quixotic while simultaneously simple, rational, and reasonable. From mud to clay and back again seems the possibility implied.
Meditation is presented by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche with the catchphrase: “Easily and without much effort” (Rinpoche, 197). Sounds doable! Zen meditation promises the possibility that we may lower ourselves into the nether regions of our being and discover a solace and oneness we’d not known we had. And hey, during the Holidays a break from the Holidays might be quite a panacea.
Rinpoche’s essay, titled Vivid Awareness, describes a form of meditation called kutsulu; it involves “not examining anything thoroughly, it is not studying; we just simply rest in equipoise…we rest free and easy with nothing to do, very simply” (Rinpoche, 197, 198). “Take a load off, Betty,” Rinpoche seems to say.
Bearing in mind Jacques Derrida’s extensive studies of the connections between our readily human and disturbingly animal sides, we might consider where our minds go (or fear to tread) when permitted to drift untethered. Where does a restful mind lead?
Derrida, particularly, discusses the very human fear of losing control over our consciousness and being sucked into a vortex, as it were, of our essential animal drives and the whims of our environment, our society and our impulses. Chief among these at AU might be our impulse toward procrastination, that death drive of academic success. Derrida says:
“the basic fear from which all other fears are derived and around which everything is organized, is the fear of going to the bottom, precisely, of being ‘swallow’d up alive’…of sinking and being dragged down to the depths…afraid of dying a living death by being swallowed or devoured into the deep belly of the earth or the sea or some living creature, some living animal”. (Derrida, 122)
The animal within us that we face also occurs in our surroundings; maybe it’s okay to just soak that in, wallow-wise. In true Monty Python fashion, we can admit that we’re made of the same material as our surroundings and meditation, like painting, can get us in touch with ways of seeing ourselves anew. This can only bode well for our future studies: the more new synaptic connections and breakthroughs we attempt the stronger our future academic work will be.
Under the churning and anxiety of our learning minds exists an essential abyss, continues Rinpoche. It’s not an awful or terrible void, more of an awe-striking well of potential perspicacity. The goal of meditation is to achieve metaphysical traction and find our mind both clear and sublime, empty and expressionless.
He paradoxically suggests that beneath our thoughts we’re a nothing that is also a something: deep within caverns of our self we are, somehow, not-not alone. How? Well, we are ourselves on the surface while, under the surface, a whole other world exists where we are simultaneously ourselves and not; it may be frightful, but when we open ourselves to this irreducible duality we realize that our inner void that is still our self can be a comforting, if nebulous, nest.
Like switching from writing to painting, meditation switches us from analyzing to, well, meditating. Rinpoche claims that when we analyze we tend to think critically: our best academic muscles actually hinder us from a sort of extra-epistemological reality, a baseline of our being. “It is as if the mind were covered by a sort of membrane” through which we must force ourselves to see if we are to experience new realms of being (Rinpoche, 201). Meditation can be like the lifting of a veil so that our essential selves, prior to disciplinary assumptions and even the best of our critical thinking skills, appears to us in sterling detail. Or so claims Rinpoche; everything’s worth a try, right? As Voltaire famously proclaimed, “once as a philosopher, twice as a pervert” (Voltaire, online). We might not enjoy what we find, but, bearing that in mind, let’s continue to see what is going on with Zen meditation.
Rinpoche says that while sitting calmly and quietly we shall arrive at a placid understanding of a realm between two realms where we are simultaneously aware and unaware:
“When we are distracted, that is mind, and when we are undistracted that is awareness. When we are not distracted it is very easy to know the nature of the mind. But when we are distracted we have many different thoughts that prevent us from knowing the mind-essence” ( Rinpoche, 198).
Heady stuff, and it illustrates that resting is still a form of activity. The Thinker is, after all, one of the most famous sculptures ever for a reason: he’s just sitting there (Zelasko, online). Likewise, ancient Greeks such as Aristotle were known for their peripatetic practice of walking and philosophizing (always on the shady, comfortable, side of the avenue) and it’s a common phrase of the 21st Century (in some circles) that walking is to the moderns is what sitting was to the ancients (Bodhipaksa, online).
Wherever our break from regular studying takes us, we can flourish and rejuvenate if we are open to new experiences as opportunities to grow and to learn. Space in time equates potential in mind; Christmas comes only once a year and its timelessness along with it.
Like Miller’s injunction that painting is about noticing little and large things again for the first time, Rinpoche discourses forth on what me may find through meditation: “The mind is naturally empty of essence, but it is also clear. This is the unity of clarity and emptiness, and the union of wisdom…present in the nature of the mind itself. But we have not really thought about what this means. We direct our attention outward, follow thoughts about all sorts of things, and get distracted. But all we really need to do is know what is present in the mind” (Rinpoche, 199).
Rinpoche then provides to some practical thoughts for a successful meditation experience: “Do not try to make your long breaths into short breaths; do not try to make short breaths into long breaths. Do not hold your breath or do anything else to it. However it is, just let it be. (Rinpoche, 198)
Just let it be. What wondrous advice! Like sleeping on it about an essay or walking a forest path to consider a research topic, new avenues of potential abound when we set down our traditional approaches to our studies. Wherever we are, whomever we are, however we are, let us this Holiday season just breathe calmly and try something new in the time we’d normally reserve for productivity as traditionally defined. We’ll have only our peace of mind and inner sanity and calm to thank. The final word goes to Rinpoche, for all we who stress over our studies and require a break for our mind and spirit: “we do not not need to do anything at all to the essence of the mind itself” (Rinpoche, 200). We’re each of us fine the way we are so let’s creatively wallow a bit!