In the midst of an ugly illness a friend of mine, a thinking man, found himself with nothing going on in his mind. For twenty hours. Since he had never experienced an empty mind he introduced this experience tentatively to a small group of us fearing that we might think him a bit crazy. He never said whether he enjoyed the twenty hours or not, but then the reason he was stuck in that room was that he was really sick.
Since everybody just listened and then we moved on to other things, without approval but at least without disapproval, I thought to ease his mind by catching him afterward and saying, “For some people this is not abnormal. It is the destination place for several spiritual disciplines: Zen, vipassana, Scientology, and Quakerism for instance but under different names.”
I decided that my friend might find useful my description of the phenomenon of the empty or clear mind. I went home and began writing it up and now I pass it on to you.
- The benefit of an empty mind: It is possible and desirable to have a clear or empty mind. All of the stuff can be out of the way, emotions, arguments, opinions, memories, hopes that often occupy the mind and when in deference to some important task you focus on the task, buzz around in the next mind room to the one you are working in. When you take your mind off the screw and reach for the screwdriver, you find yourself arguing with the specter of Emma Mae about that utterly stupid thing she said last week. And then as you go back to work you continue your battle with Emma Mae on a side channel. Just think how easy it would be to live and how beautifully and gracefully you would flow through life if you did not live with a built-in distraction.
- You can have an empty mind. Here is what you do. Practice! Sit down in a fairly quiet spot and turn your attention to your mind. Within seconds some thought will come to your attention. Do not try to make it go away. Just pay attention to it. Maybe name it. “Emma Mae.” It will then go away. Do not get engaged with it, just look at it. Do not wrestle with it. Just a steady gaze. Do that with everything that comes. In a while, if you do this consistently and from a half hour to one hour a day, from time to time you will find yourself with an empty mind. Not exactly empty because you find yourself with a mind observing the immediate. That which is in front of It might be the room. It might be your aches and pains, it might be Paradise, (another name for a room viewed by a empty mind.) And as what is before you leaves focus, behind the brain you may experience your own quiet mind, a mass of primal fecundity, rich in potential. The Hindus think that mass is shared with God .
- There is an advantage to this in life outside the time of practice. These side conversations with yourself obscure your view of what is going on right in front of you. The Hindu’s call it maya. A foggy world. You are bending reality to suit your inclinations. Life is simpler when you take it straight. Reality benders are things like anger, tribal loyalty, expectations, pride, resentments, daydreams, a puffed up view of yourself. The Zen people say that when these are ushered out of the mind you will be able to see the ten thousand things. (Meaning everything but clearly.) The veil lifts, the fog parts. George Fox experienced this emptiness and said that he felt like Adam in the innocence of Paradise. Things even smell different. Truth is clearer. Confidence abounds. He lived in the power of clear vision. Or Paradise, if you prefer.
- There is another use for the benders and distractors. Look at them for a reason beyond embarrassing them out of your mind. Look at them to avoid, or reduce, or eliminate the negative in your life, that which you wish were not true. Nothing further is needed than gazing at them. What is negative will disappear. Over time. This is just the way it works. No need to struggle. Isaac Pennington said that the light which revealed them, is the light which will remove them. At the same time that which we wish to foster will be fostered. Same process. Same result. In the quiet and out of the noise the will of God may be heard. To put it another way, your organic destiny, at least for that moment, may become evident. (This last for those of us who hold to a natural god that while creating is also part of nature.)
- A rule of thumb is to stay in the here and now. Stay in the room. Allow your attention to move from anything you cannot see, feel, or hear. Remove your attention simply by recognizing that what you are attending to is not present now. Your attention will move. (In some cases it might take a few passes.) This rule is useful in normal life. “Normal” life is warm and beautiful when seen in a quiet mind.
- You will know: “I AM.”
You think that you know you exist, but there is the probability that when you notice yourself with a quiet mind, the hullabaloo dissolved, you will understand in a direct and startling way that you do indeed exist. You will as the subject experience what you knew before as the object of your thinking mind. The experience of the reality supplants the idea of the reality. You feel yourself being.
- This is our central purpose in life. A world of clear minds is the next step in evolution. There are signs we may get there. You are one among an infinite number of projects and the project manager of your project is you. As you chug away in the trench be aware that you are engaged in a magnificent enterprise.
- Where in all this is God? It is God’s enterprise! I did not use God language to describe it. Many of the actors do not believe in God. For example “Mindfulness” a term used by religious people is also the term for what many are doing with no reference or belief in anything . And for many purposes. (To improve the golf swing. I kid you not.) Makes no difference. They are involved in God’s enterprise. God love them. Consciousness is breaking out all over no matter what the method. (Quakers call it the light of God) I think it unstoppable. What a day when nearly everyone knows that they are.