Bridges, Vol. 7, Numbers 1/2, pp. 95-98. 2000.
"The Habit of Being Deluded"
Meditating all day yesterday -- nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. But then, towards the end of the day, during the very last few sitting periods, something interesting started happening. Whether it would be a wandering thought that was arising, or the sound of traffic outside that I was noticing, the thing experienced would "turn" and "change" into something that, in my repose, I noticed was "odd" or "off". It wouldn't be a hallucination. This was something else. "What is it?" I asked myself trying to focus on the strange occurrences as they arose. I was able to discern that what I was perceiving was a piece of the thing. I experienced that thoughts, even perceptions, arise with a structure. They come prestructured, prepackaged. Each thought arising in my mind, I could see, was a conglomerate of component fragments. These strange "bits" I was experiencing, it became obvious to me as I focused my attention on them, were single individual components before they were processed and integrated into one of my habitual formulations. What I was perceiving was the raw stuff of experience itself. It seemed strange.
Likewise, each sound entering my perception came already with an interpretation attached to it. A certain noise outside the window was the bus grinding into motion again at the bus stop on the corner. Another sound was a car going by with its radio blaring. In contrast, these strange and marvelous things I was perceiving were the raw components themselves. They were the unprocessed "bits." They weren't my interpretation of reality but were somewhat closer to reality itself.
These were the "pieces" out of which I habitually construct my "reality." The rules that go into evaluating and judging each of these component pieces as well as the procedures for combining each of them with other pieces similarly processed are acquired procedures that had long ago sunk down into the level of unconscious habit. I was habitually "processing" these "reality fragments" without thinking and coming up with a product congruent with kinds of products I had come up with before. This end result of my own processes I then proceeded to perceive as "out there" or "reality" when actually it was a picture of "in here" or my own learned interpretive process -- the way I combined the pieces to make sense of them.
Seated there in meditation for the last few periods of the day, I focused my awareness on this whole process and took to being watchful for these "pure fragments" as they arose into my relaxed mind. Just as my body was completely relaxed, in that same way my mind also was relaxed. The little fingers and hands of my thinking were at rest, or at least falling into repose. Thus I was able to perceive the raw material of my consciousness, these component pieces of essence. I directed my attention at each as it arose, asking "What is it?" At no time could I answer that question. Always the answer was "I don't know."
And then something unexpected happened. To my surprise, as I lingered in this state, a sense of wonder and joy came over me. The "background glow" of reality got through to me. Its substance was pleasurable, enlivening. I felt a love of life and a love of the immediacy of lived experience. I was overcome with delight for what was all around me. Simple outside things exploded upon me and became delicious, delectable. Strangely enough, I recognized in these outward manifestations my own most deeply inward substance and essence. I was rejoined with some deep core of living I'd so long been estranged from.
None of this was a result of reading the Master's books or the Center's magazine. It didn't come from listening to any dharma lectures or from any interview with a monk. I didn't learn it from a course of instruction offered at the center. It wasn't something I'd studied about and then tried to experience. Rather it came uninvited and arose on its own spontaneously as a result of sitting quietly in meditation with an empty mind and relaxed body for an entire Saturday. The experience explained itself in a way that no dogma or belief system of "correct views" derived from sources external to it ever possibly could. The experience contained within itself all the information necessary to its proper understanding.
The actual nature of reality is not comprehensible to us. Each component piece contains too much information for us to adequately process into systems of intellectual understanding. Thus, any and all of our cognitive models leave out far more information than they include. 99.9% and more is lost. To the extent we come to rely on these products of secondary cognition, we become increasingly estranged from complex reality itself and from our own complex selves. The joy goes out of life because reality itself is being blocked out by the very mechanism we are using to apperceive it. The moment we desist from this behavior pattern, and grow quiescent long enough to actually perceive the fragments themselves as they arise spontaneously, we are suddenly and unexpectedly delivered with the information we need to know ourselves and the world around us in ways that matter. Ask us what it is we know and we cannot say. Ask us why it is we love and we cannot tell. Try to pry out of us the kind of information that has gotten through to us and that is so essential to our return to authenticity. We can tell you nothing. All we have to show is a certain joy and splendor that washes upon us uninvited and that we can share with the world around us by every little action we perform.
There is good reason to place primacy on meditation practice itself rather than upon the doctrinal baggage the tradition comes loaded down with. We can better trust and understand what comes through our own primary process than we can texts edited, translated and modified by individuals who as often as not have not themselves had the primary experiences alluded to by the original authors of the texts. There is a certain experiential superficiality to scholarship of any sort. But it becomes especially pronounced in matters of profound inward experience because it is precisely in this arena that the intellectual type is most limited. The scholar can quote what fifty predecessors think about something much more readily than he can access any immediate personal experience of his own. In the end, the products of his work are all but useless to us. We must repair to our own immediate meditative experiences for an understanding proper to those experiences. The nature of reality isn't accessible to the intellect but sometimes the intuition can somehow catch a fleeting glimpse and we can see for ourselves the extent of our own habitual delusion.