Sunday, January 25, 2015

The missing mind, part III—self remembering vs. mindfulness

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Self remembering and mindfulness may seem to share the same turf. In fact, it's tempting to conflate them, if we want to validate self-remembering. Of the two, it's the decidedly lesser-known, even inferior, practice—and conflation implies validation.

Yet they are quite different, I think: and in order to understand this one must understand that self-remembering is founded on a quite different principle than mindfulness.

Buddhists may beg to differ, by encompassing all mindful practices under one super-mindful umbrella—awareness of the mind, awareness of the body, awareness of the intellect...

awareness of the awareness—

But this is not enough. Because we speak of an awareness that is unknown; and these awarenesses, these mindfulness practices, do not come from the same ground of understanding that the unknown comes from. Indeed, mindfulness is a knowing; and more than knowing must exist in a human being if they want to understand God personally, instead of the idea of God.

The Presence of God is entirely and perfectly useful to a person in their inner Being; whereas the idea of God is a very limited value, and often leads to destructive results.

Meister Eckhart grapples with these questions in sermon one:

Now observe the use and the fruit of this secret Word and this darkness… For all the truth learned by all the masters by their own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned till Doomsday, they never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground. 

Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and under­standing without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well. 

  This passage is, I think, of considerable interest. It touches on that which surpasses intellect and understanding; an inner quality that lives within a secret place and within a darkness. The territory he describes, in other words, lies beyond mindfulness in the conventional sense: it is not an outward quality. And, in addition, it is not even an inward quality, because it surpasses qualities. It surpasses all things; It surpasses that which is created and moves into an uncreated territory that consists of Being alone.

 Self remembering is the remembering of this Being alone. Before one comes to that understanding, which takes at least one entire lifetime — no more than that being guaranteed to any of us, as far as we know – a great deal of effort is needed, and one encounters — and ultimately discards — a succession of different ideas about what self remembering means, each one technical and each one formulated. Yet, in what is perhaps the supreme irony, the practice of self remembering as it is understood by Gurdjieff and de Salzmann begins from its very first step with the ground in which Being is so firmly rooted: sensation.

 The reason that the masters Meister Eckhart refers to  never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground is because they did not understand the roots of sensation, from which Being naturally arises as easily as a plant grows.

 Last night, one of my best friends, a man with enormous physical presence and a genius at the receiving of energy in the body, asked me how we work to come to Presence, to come to Being. My wife shared in the urgency of his question.

 It is so difficult to explain this to people. Everyone thinks we can work to come to Presence and to Being. And, in truth, there is so much preparation necessary, all of which turns out to have been useless in the end if Presence and Being arrive. They are already here, within us; that is the difficult part, because we are so close to what is already real that we cannot see it. It is ourselves we have to discard:

This is what Christ meant when he said, "Whoever will not deny himself and will not leave his father and mother, and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37), as though he were to say, he who does not abandon creaturely externals can be neither conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of yourself and of everything external does truly give it to you. 

ME,  ibid, P. 36

 I need to digress for a moment here and note that Meister Eckhart follows this passage with a final comment in sermon one that indicates how this uncovers and discovers the good within us:

And in very truth I be­lieve, nay, I am sure, that the man who is established in this cannot in any way ever be separated from God. I say he can in no way lapse into mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death, as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of mortal sins. I say such people cannot willingly commit or consent to even a venial sin in themselves or in others if they can stop it. So strongly are they lured and drawn and accustomed to that, that they can never turn to any other way; to this way are directed all their senses, all their powers.

ME,  ibid, P. 36-37

The good, in other words, is rooted in us, just as corruption is rooted in material reality; and that good is rooted in us directly to the divine influence of the Lord, which flows into us to establish presence and being through our sensation of the Lord.

The difficulty with the idea of mindfulness, like the idea of self remembering, is that both are ideas — and the entire exchange on them is a theoretical one. We manage to make everything in our lives theoretical in one way or another.  As of today, a Google search on the word mindfulness produces over 25 million hits. This shows you how much theorizing is going on. If one sensed one's self and one's Being 25 million times, very different results would take place.

 One must move past the ideas, and even (perhaps especially) the idea that one can work, that one can do anything, into the direct understanding that one has Being... said understanding inherently derived from sensation. If one does not develop the roots of this active sensation, everything else remains theoretical. This is what distinguishes self remembering — which begins with this sensation — from modern mindfulness, which doesn't discuss sensation in this way.


1 comment:

  1. What a terrific article. The stark difference between ideas and direct or pure experience is visible in all traditions, east and west. One can study theology and church writings for an entire career and never actually experience what they are actually pointing to.

    There is in Buddhism the true nature (Buddha nature), that is obscured and covered by ideas and ego and lost in Samsara, that one works to uncover what has always been there. I find some parallels here with self-remembering.


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