Meditation is the willful exercise of our most recent faculty. To meditate is to consciously choose to enter an evolutionarily new internal space. Why? We have evolved to show ourselves a new ocean within. We want to dive in and observe its dream-like corals and currents. We have become aware of turbulence underneath us. It seems that by watching the movement, the movement becomes quiet. And the horizon of consciousness always recedes: there is always farther to swim. However, it would be good to be aware of when our exploration of consciousness becomes circular.Consciousness, built upon the flesh, can spiral stubbornly towards disembodiment. We are easily confused.
I’ve written that consciousness is the youngest child of the flesh, developmentally and anthropologically. And that a kind of forgetfulness amounting to arrogance leads it to believe that it came first, that it is the creator-god. This is the basis of much meta- physical posturing. But we are gifted with a natural constraint upon this presumption. Because the fact is that as we become self- conscious, we develop a more and more refined capacity to observe our phenomenological origins. The poignancy of this is on display in the laboratory as the geneticist peers through a microscope at the strands of her own DNA. She does not forget that she is looking at her origins through the lens of what her origins have evolved. She has many skills and a vast intelligence, but she knows she is looking at the source-code that has produced her very eyes, and, by exten- sion, her microscope. She is humbled by knowing she is just learning to read herself, and will never know the full story. Her continued learning expands the curriculum. As she learns, she expands the promise she can see glowing on the slide. She engages in a sublime feedback loop: each new datum of learning about her DNA expands the horizon of what she knows DNA to be capable of.
This might constitute one strand of meditative pursuit: to use consciousness to look at where you have come from and what you consist of, and how you became and remain conscious. It consists of contemplating this history and function of flesh: the very basis for your being able to contemplate at all. In practice terms, we might say that this strand is covered by the “mindfulness” category in contemporary meditation culture, in which consciousness does nothing active, but merely observes with quiet fascination where it comes from, what it rests upon, and the undercurrent waves of psycho-somatic sensation that ripple through it. This happens most easily through conscious focus on the breath, which is not only microcosmic to our entire livingworld, to how we relate, but also the immediate source of life. To watch the breath is to look at DNA as it rhythmically unfolds its code. And in the midst of watching breath, we feel things rise or pass through or wash over us. What are these things? Instincts, habits, sensations, memories of place and others, the autonomic roots of emotion. And we just watch.
At times, mindfulness meditation feels like gazing at a newborn, except that you are not the parent. You watch the beautiful simplicity of breath, the eyes finding focus, the twitches of digestion and spontaneous muscular expression and development. In time, baby finds your eyes. You look at him with love and tender-ness, and he grows very still, and then the mutual reflection of gazing begins to fill and overflow you both. You are both watching what you came from. He is watching his father. You are watching the root of being alive.
Reprinted by permission of the author from threads of yoga: a remix of patanjali-s sutra-s, with commentary and reverie by matthew remski
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