Being complete and whole in the moment without crutch or dependency to the past or the future, either recent or distant, has been a goal of several spiritual traditions, perhaps Zen most noticeably. The western popularizer of that tradition, Alan Watts, certainly established it in his many books of the 60’s and 70’s, several of which came my way back then. I also recall Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert) spreading the notion with his popular book Be Here Now in that same decade.
More recently, it has come down to us as the prize of mindfulness meditation, a practice so trendy it has become mainstream, and possibly soon a cliché if the superficiality I see continues. Accessing that space of thought and emotion-free consciousness during a silent meditation can be quite the challenge.
Many find the exalted state nearly impossible to achieve, even after years of devoted practice, and the more they struggle the more exalted it seems. Often it becomes the preserve of teachers, guides and gurus as the students relegate themselves to the status of practitioners rather than achievers.
They convince themselves that the frantic activity of the monkey mind and renegade heart will continue ad infinitum. The truth is: they do and they will. There is no getting away from those brain modulated thoughts and heart filtered emotions. What can be achieved is this: putting them both on a leash, a long leash, and letting them wander in that expansive dog park beyond the meditating posture. While you cruise through the clouds of consciousness you can look down at their sniffing, yipping, and the chase of tails. And in doing so you can see their meandering and barking has little or nothing to do with the “you” that is observing. Initially charmed with the vision, even if it is but a glimpse, one can progress to longer and longer glimpses which reveal the secret of which education, religion and family remains ignorant. Being nothing but a sentient being, free of any attachments is the pearl of great price, perhaps even the reality behind the legend of the holy grail.
Whereas the brain champions the accumulation of knowledge and the heart honors every wave of emotion and desire, the attachment-free sentient being lets go of it all, seeing them as but the athletic exercises of various organs, as are the legs for the runner. Of course they are necessary for the completion of our human education on the planet as it evolves: we shall never be graduates until we willingly embrace it all. Yet the attachment free space encountered in meditation reminds us of who we really are: free beings having fun in creation, free beings employing bodies, thoughts and emotions as vehicles necessary for certain environments.
As we gingerly approach this level the aspirant desires, with some or all of their heart, we envision it as something extra special on the map of consciousness. We have read memoirs and listened to talks by those who have been there and returned to tell the indescribable tale. As we squat in the temple, recline on the couch or sit in front of the screen we are enraptured with the possibilities. At some point there’s a glimpse, a glimpse we can ruin with sudden ecstasy, a thrill that the teacher will tell us to throw away and meditate more. Further practice expands the glimpses and can grow a garden of visions, one in which we can live and have our being, should we so choose. Private nirvanas can be very pleasant, as was the father’s palace before Gautama Buddha left to wander.
For me, that partial being I am now, the last secret to be revealed is that this attachment-free space, this bodiless bliss as wispy and insubstantial as a cloud, is just another place to be, and once one has experienced its comfort zone and enjoyed all its gifts unsullied by the lower vibrations of thought and emotion, one can let it go, and return to the daft chaos of everyday attachments, for they are all just another place to be, – life, death and everything in between.
By all means boost yourself to find that sweet spot of “be here now”, but learn to know it for what it is: a place without all that bothersome birth and death, but still only another piece of the puzzle.