I sit down to meditate, as I do in the mornings. I look out the window. It’s very early morning, just as the sky barely begins to get light, on the day that marks the midpoint of winter solstice and spring equinox; the first day of February. It feels like the light is indeed returning.
I pull my shawl around me and sit up straight and lightly close my eyes and turn my attention inward. It feels nice to be here again for the zillionth time. I get quiet and . . .
OK. I have to begin getting my taxes together even though April is a ways away, but I do want to get them to my accountant early; and oh yeah, remember to read the latest chapter of my friend Scott’s book that he’s asked me to give him feedback on. I’ve started the chapter and it’s fairly long, oh yeah and I need avocados. I really need avocados. Remember avocados . . .
Ooop! Small smile.
I turn my attention inward. I draw it down into my pelvic area, the hara, two fingers-width below my belly button. William told me this is how he’s been meditating lately — attention on the hara — so let’s try it. I sit and feel my body from the inside, focusing on my lower belly. It feels good. I strongly sense my physical weight, sitting solidly and peacefully on my dense black square pillow cushion.
I recall a meditation instruction I’ve been practicing the past six months, which is to Allow Everything to Be As It Is. As I hear these words in my brain, I immediately feel tension drain away and my body relaxes. I notice that I tense up when I think. Especially my jaw. I can only let go of the tension once I notice I’m thinking. I am never conscious of the moment I start thinking and tense up.
I make a gentle effort to keep my attention at my hara. I notice what it feels like when I intentionally will my attention to stay there. I can do it with the energy of a drill sergeant, or I can try to lighten up a bit and see if my attention will stay without me putting pressure on it . . .
I feel the fuzzy green striped cashmere wool shawl I have wrapped around my shoulders. It is so soft and warm. I love it. I bought it last October in the Kopan monastery shop just outside of Kathmandu. I also bought a book called Buddhist Psychology by Geshe Tashi Tsering. It’s a dense and brilliant treatment of the nature of mind from the Buddhist perspective, laying out a map of how we cognize —an epistemology of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings. I just finished the book last night and for sure need to read it again because I was just barely hanging on by my fingernails. It’s written fairly simply but the concepts it contains stretched my brain — for me it was a somewhat different way to map and organize the functions of consciousness. I especially enjoyed the Buddhist perspective on the mind’s reception of pure perception, and of its meaning-making function of creating concepts — ideas, stories, opinions, judgments, as I’m writing about that right now.
Here I am, sitting in meditation as the light is coming back, thinking about the book I just read and watching my mind go from perception to conception, to perception and back to conception.
* * * *
About Perception: I receive information from my physical senses — information from the physical world coming in from outside of my body as well as from inside my body. At times, I am placing my full attention on these sense perceptions, in the present moment, as they occur. When I perceive raw sensory data (the heaviness of my weight, the touch of the shawl around my shoulders, what my stomach feels like, even the feeling of peace and draining of tension) it is in the present moment. This moment, then this one, then this one, perceiving, perceiving, perceiving. I feel open, attentive, brain humming, expanding.
Both Buddhist psychology and Western science say that my consciousness receives this data just a split second before I name the information, categorize it, and register my opinion about it. In fact, the pure impression of perception only happens so fast that I can’t consciously recognize it. What I’m doing in meditation is noticing and resting in my perceptions with all my attention and doing my best to not jump into making concepts about them by letting them be as they are.
About Conception: I am making sense, making meaning, making stories of everything I perceive: The light is returning. I need avocados. It feels good to feel my hara. My body feels good. I tense up when I think. This shawl reminds me of Nepal. . . and on and on and on. Pretty much all of our conscious thinking is conceptual. Our minds create concepts for a good reason. It’s how we can even function in the world. Our actions and behavior all come from the meanings we make. Yet as we’ve become more technological, more insulated from nature with many of us making a living by thinking all day, we live more and more in a world in our heads; a conceptual reality of our own creation. And miss what’s actually there.
I want to be more aware of just perception, in this moment, because it makes me feel good. I want to be aware of what’s actually there more often and drink it in fully.
So this morning, I am just noticing how my mind wanders from perception to conception. It invariably and invisibly drifts to conceptual thinking like an old comfortable groove, but I have to remember and then will myself gently to focus and re-focus on perception, on this immediate moment. Jaw tensing to waking up to focusing to presence to expansiveness to losing it and jaw tensing and waking up and focusing . . .