Applied contemplation of the nature of psyche, and of the implications of that nature.
If not the whole of my vocation, this is at least an important branch of it.
I remember that in my youth, I experienced an insight. My intuition is that it resulted directly from meditation. It’s so important to me, but it’s not so verbal. But I’m still going to try to narrate it.
It didn’t come all at once. For sure it didn’t, since I’m still not done exploring it even decades later. So it still hasn’t finished emerging yet.
It’s easier to describe it by describing what it’s not:
Our mind has something that could be called a normalizing function. It’s not a matter of choice. It’s a biological aspect of the mind, as far as I observe. Our minds, to preserve a sense of stability and coherence, project an artificial sense of normalcy and normality onto our experiences.
It is SANE to exercise this normalizing function. It is also fundamentally irrational (in the sense of being utterly contrived).
Altered states reveal the normalizing function by disrupting it. Sometimes meditation brings about these kinds of states.
When I was younger, I was thinking about the fantasy that humans have long had about being able to fly bodily through the sky. One day, it struck me that if this power were to manifest on a mass level, it would not take very long before people were complaining about it or about conditions related to it.
We would say, ‘Oh, damn it. It’s 12:45 pm, I have to fly back to a work meeting.’. Some of us would be distracted and depressed as we flew on our various errands.
Around the same time, it struck me that we all literally have super-powers that we normalize. I looked at a recently healed cut on my hand, and it struck me that I literally had the power to knit my physical form back together if it was damaged. Someone or something rips or slices it apart, and it just knits back together. All physical movement was telekinesis. Moving your physical body with the power of mental intention. I noticed that the whole thing was basically nuts.
Later, also during a phase of comparatively intense (for me) meditation, I had the experience of waking up and looking out the window of my room and seeing the moon. A white orb of stone just floating. It hit me that ‘this is very strange’. And there was a feeling of awe.
Again, I’m using words to describe physical sensations. It doesn’t really work. But if you’re reading this, you’re imagining whatever these words might evoke in you. Hope it’s nice. I can’t describe the precise cocktail of impressions, sensations, cognitions, and perceptions that were in me at that moment. So, I use these terms.
Gradually, at some point, these sensations and experiences gelled into the realization that there was in fact nothing normal in the Cosmos. Normalcy was a condition that my bodymind had been imposing onto my flow of perceptions in order to establish a sense of stability, coherence, and mastery. Not mastery in the sense of ‘consummate control over all I survey’, but mastery in the sense of ‘my world basically holds together whether I’m particularly impressive or not’. We don’t realize or acknowledge how masterful that is, but it is.
Nothing is normal. Everything is miraculous.
Any perception of sufficient magnitude overwhelms our normalizing function and we experience awe until our poor bodymind can assert normality again.
Recognizing the inherent miraculousness and mysteriousness of existence is not an accomplishment. It’s nothing to brag about. It in itself is also the most normal thing in the world. If mystery and miracle is everywhere, what’s impressive about finally noticing it?
I also realized that so-called enlightenment was also nothing to feel superior about. It’s basically just realizing in a deeply experiential way that everything is miraculous. I have not done that, but I’ve caught a whiff, and that’s been enough to occupy me for a good, long time. Anyway, enlightenment, or a big part of enlightenment, is the apprehension/realization of the intrinsic miraculousness of everything.
So guess what that means? 5 minutes before you were enlightened, how intrinsically miraculous were you? Completely. 5 minutes after? Still completely. All that’s changed is you now see how miraculous you and everything else are. See? Nothing to brag about.
It would be like me bragging to you and saying ‘Hey, look at me? I can see that you’re a miraculous genius, but you can’t see it. I’m so amazing!’ Who cares? You’re still a genius. You’re equally amazing.
The Buddha was basically like a kindergartener who learned how to write his name in print. To the rest of us younger children, this seemed like great magic. Enlightenment seems like magic to those who are trying to get it. (Buddhist scholars would correct my terminology here. It’s more accurate to call it ‘awakening’.)
The practical upshot of all of this was that my sense of importance got simultaneously seriously downgraded and seriously upgraded. I am of Cosmos. Unequivocally so. That’s the meaning of Cosmos, it’s All-That-Is.
At the same time, my customary, constituent processes, narratives, agendas, and views, are tiny. And laughably contingent. I don’t care. They’re mine and I love ‘em. I don’t need the fate of the Universe to be at stake to feel passionately about my passions. I’ll live and die for them, and they’ll blow away. That’s okay.
So, engaged contemplation/禪/Chan/Zen feels like my vocation. And it has for a while now. I call it Experiential Ontology. Exploring the unfolding context and phenomenon of the feeling of existence.
It’s okay. It’s good.
This is my spirituality. It can contain narratives, but is neither born of nor bound to them.
It seems to be ‘in pursuit of’ nothing in particular.
This post comes partially because I’m experimenting in writing directly in a way that feels Real and Natural to me. ‘What if I could just write directly as myself?’