Finding the gaps

Mind the gap, please mind the gap.  If you travel the London underground you will hear it regularly and see numerous signs and placards ‘Mind the gap!’ I like these announcements as they encourage me to practice peace of mind.

 Seeking the gap?

Yes, I enjoy the gaps.  Not the physical gaps between platform and train that the warnings of the London underground caution;  I’m not a lemming.   The gaps I seek are those peaceful gaps in thought.

The gap of thoughts is that moment of tranquility between the self-chatter that our minds produce. The sometimes small pauses between discursive thoughts from our rambling mind. The problem, though, is that the untamed mind – the mind that always talks and thinks about anything and everything – is often far too loud and noisy to allow any gaps.

Meditation

So to find gaps, I meditate, not always conventionally.  And part of my meditation practice involves witnessing the gaps. Let me share my main approaches to finding these gaps in my consciousness and perhaps you would be kind enough to share yours.  My methods include:

1. The gap between breaths

During breath meditation (anapanasati) I often find it difficult to stay concentrated on the feeling of my breath moving in and moving out. The problem is that my mind, like an untrained puppy dog, will not sit still, but instead wanders from thought to thought. However, there is this brief moment when a breath transitions from drawing in to drawing out. In this moment, there is complete stillness. Having the alertness to witness these moments of stillness is a powerful method of bringing the wandering mind back from its thoughts. Furthermore, having the resolve to wait (like a cat watching a mouse hole) brings a sharp alertness to my practice of meditation. It also finds the gap in consciousness.

2. Turning when walking

Walking meditation also offers regular points to bring the focus of a meditation on mindfulness back to the task. In walking meditation, the object of the meditation is to simply walk, concentrating on the feeling of the feet on the floor. The aim is to feel as much as possible the sensations of the foot touching the ground, embracing the ground, then leaving the ground. However, as with breath meditation, my mind behaves like an attention-seeking puppy, so again it is useful to have some regular point to regain attention on the object of meditation. So, to achieve this, I set myself a small walking path; maybe 15 steps. At the end of the 15 steps I turn in a different direction and during that transition I find a gap in thoughts and reassert my attention to my feet.

3. The pause between spoken words

Another technique I sometimes use during meditation involves a simple set of words or a phrase that is repeated (a mantra). The mantra becomes the object of the meditation. With mantra meditation, the object of focus becomes the perception/feelings of the words. I find myself concentrating on the sensation of the sound. However, my mind can use virtually anything as a means for distraction and indulgence, including the words of the mantra. The beginning and end of each word or the mantra offers a small gap, a transition, and I can use this to reassert my focus and to enjoy the peace of the brief moment between things.

What and where are your gaps?

These are my main three techniques for finding gaps in thought during meditation. I would love to hear any techniques readers might have. Please feel most welcome to share your practice in the comments section below and I’ll add them to this post.

Peace and love,

Namaste.

Update: Reader submissions taken from comments

Observing and saying thank-you.  Anna Brzeski

Walking and using beadsVictoria

Pause between the dishes, pause between the laundryMatt

Breathing to the heartJanice

Observing and catching the thoughts without judgement, just noticing ’thinking’, Emily

The gap between the notes in music, Alex Colvin

 

You can’t have the sunset

The sublime

I like watching the sunset, I do it quite often. I am lucky enough to live near Greenwich park and admire its serene glide into the London cityscape.

People gather there, all sorts of people, from all places, young and old, couples and individuals, goths, meditators and prayers, tourists – even the odd urban ‘gansta’ is forced to dismount their bike and acquiesce to the moment.

And there we all stand, together, in peace, watching the sunset and we are all touched.

So what’s beautiful for me?

Beyond the obvious colours, for me the beauty of a sunset runs deep, its something we cannot have – we can only witness.  It brings delight and wonder, just watching as we cannot control it. It changes constantly and the world changes with it. It reveals an ungraspable transience – it passes quickly, we know it is going to end – its has impermanent beauty.  Each moment different.  And every evening original.  It brings out the interconnection of all things, it touches their uniqueness – the clouds, the wind, the temperature, the people, the feeling, they combine to make the scene.  It reveals reality.  So there I stand, often, in awe at the world.

Here is one such witness account from Greenwich park.  I truly hope you can enjoy the pleasure of this place too.

Sunset over Greenwich park - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.comSunset over Greenwich park - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

HERE FAIR ELIZA, VIRGIN QUEEN FROM BUSINESS FREE,
ENJOY’D THE SCENE HEREOFT IN PENSIVE MOOD SHE STOOD
AND KINDLY PLAN’D FOR BRITAIN’S GOOD:
SO RECORD TELLS AND THIS BESIDE,
SUNG DITTIES TO THE SILVERTIDE
FULL WORTH SUCH HONOURS ART THOU STILL,
BELOV’D OF THOUSANDS, ONE TREE HILL
T.N. ONE TREE HILL, THE LONDON CHRONICLE MAY 25-27TH, 1784

HERE FAIR ELIZA, VIRGIN QUEEN FROM BUSINESS FREE, ENJOY'D THE SCENE HEREOFT IN PENSIVE MOOD SHE STOOD AND KINDLY PLAN'D FOR BRITAIN'S GOOD: SO RECORD TELLS AND THIS BESIDE, SUNG DITTIES TO THE SILVERTIDE FULL WORTH SUCH HONOURS ART THOU STILL, BELOV'D OF THOUSANDS, ONE TREE HILL T.N. ONE TREE HILL, THE LONDON CHRONICLE MAY 25-27TH, 1784

The coin

Do we really have free will? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So, I was reading something today that got me thinking about determinism and the question of free will, ‘do we really have it?’ It’s a fairly big debate with strong arguments from both the deterministic position and also those in favor of  indeterminism.  Where it has got interesting is the conflict between an indeterministic quantum world and the strictly deterministic large scale physical reality that we as human beings perceive.   Reductionist might argue that quantum  world governs all, which may well be true,  and would lead to an indeterministic view – but as human beings in this world we don’t perceive that and our lives appear well grounded in classical physics.   The classic physical reductionist heads towards determinism.   Interesting musing, but, reductionism not the aim of this post.

Now, my keen interest is Buddhism and psychology – they appear to assert that we are deterministic.  We are conditioned beings, our actions, beliefs, behaviour are the result of our history.  There is a kind of inevitability about living, we see our ‘supposed’ life choices through the channel of our narrow conditioning.  Even the choice to break a conditioning is in itself merely the manifestation of a series of conditions.   We might think we are choosing but really we just following an inevitable set of causality.  The Buddhist path embraces this, Buddhism is fundamentally pragmatic in its search towards liberation and freedom.  The forth noble truth, the path, is itself an attempt at reconditioning oneself to become freer.  The idea that if we think right, act right, we become right.  We become what we are doing.

However, individual conditioning gets a bit complex in the world as other individuals interact, enter the idea of non-duality.  Our conditioned subjective experience exists in the entangled set of other conditioned subjective experiences – other beings.  What others do in the world conditions me, what I do in the world conditions others, so we are not really separate but instead we exchange our mutual conditioning and so further mutually condition each other – we become what we are doing.

Our being then is perhaps a bit like one facet of the cohesive world of being, one super consciousness of determinism.  This takes another twist when we considered the historical input of conditioning.  We are conditioned by our parents, by past belief, theories, ontology, events and so forth and this spans all past time.  So perhaps any global super conciseness is in fact a super consciousness of conditioning that spans all of human existence.

So what has all this to do with anarchy?  I have a proposal.  It’s something I used to do when backpacking to determine whether to move on or stay put.  All you need is a coin.  My idea is to introduce some anarchy into your world by choosing two different actions, perhaps even conflicting and then tossing the coin and then acting on the result.

Say, you feel inclined to say ‘yes’ to a question?  Toss the coin, maybe you then say ‘No’.  Alright, this appears to be unconditioned randomness.  But, of course the outcome of the coin could have been predetermined conditions, the wind, the temperature, my energy levels, my conditioning in tossing coins, but for all practical purposes relevant to me, the outcome certainly appears random.  The fact I am tossing the coin is a result of my past conditions too.

What about the choice itself? Where does that come from, conditions.  Are we really choosing? Where do these decisions come from anyway?  If you try this throughout your day, I bet you don’t choose something that is inherently irrational to you well being, like jumping in front of a car, kissing your boss good morning on the lips or sticking your tongue into their ear.  The creation of the choice is conditioned, so sadly the experiment won’t generate unconditioned events per se, but nonetheless could prove a really interesting way to break the habituation of life.

So sadly, I think true indeterminism is largely impossible to manifest, randomness only gets us so far.  I don’t expect miracles, sure I might stick a pin into a country map to randomly determine where to travel? Well, most of its shitty and dull – so why do that?  Nonetheless its an interesting way to step out of habituation and to expand ones experience.  It might even help to break unproductive patterns in your life.

In a difficult spot? Try doing something random!  Take away the rational a bit and see what happens, it might explode your universe.

Do we really have free will? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com