VII. The World Beyond: Autonomy from Thought

Meditation freedom and cooperation

The premise of Vipassana meditation, in one explanation, is that we shrink from discomfort and grasp to the pleasurable in every moment, and in doing so are perpetually, reflexively, at odds with the natural flow of how things are.

You can see this when you try and sit still, eyes closed with just yourself for more than five minutes, where you experience the momentum of our conditioning pulling us away from what should be the most simple thing in the world, our own inner space.

The answers to the question of how we are gives way even as we describe it to an inner state that is continually evolving. To observe that inner terrain, the sensations that come and go, without labels or stories, brings us, over time, away from the reflex to control, which is an expression of resistance to what is, and the basis of most of our suffering.

Peace is the potential result of freeing ourselves from the roller-coaster of each tiny shift in our internal and external environments, by letting it happen, by watching the world from a deeper place than the mind.

To understand meditation, at least intellectually, one has to allow a distinction between the mind and the brain. The brain is the machinery, the mind is the pattern of thought. That it is possible to observe thought proves there is a layer of consciousness deeper than it. This is one of the things that cannot be true until we do it ourselves.

Ordinarily our thought and consciousness are coextensive. What appears in the mind is our perspective. To get into a habit of watching thought however, to achieve a sort of detachment from it, makes it easier to attain some autonomy from the mind’s, at times, destructive tendencies. You can observe what it would do if projected into the world, rather than being a slave to how the coincidence of our conditioning, by default, positions us.

The implications for society are for our flexibility, our objectivity in evaluating the harm or benefit of a course of action. We are surrounded by explanations, strategies which appear later on in the mind and where consciousness goes no deeper they seem to be ours. Pride then leads us to hold on to them.

The potential of humans to adapt collectively to common challenges is then held hostage by each local truth, by the fact that we are never aware of how much of the full picture of an event we are currently unaware of, and we fight to keep that picture from expanding. Who we think we are is established within the world as we see it now and for our stories to breakdown creates a sense of insecurity which is necessary ultimately to find our real foundation.

The point of meditation is not to become passive, but rather not to suffer from inner resistance to things that cannot be changed, things like which thought appears, things like what mélange of emotion is passing through us.

Jealousy is a natural experience but as we are ordinarily controlled by it rather than being able to watch it, we attempt to control other people and a relationship can become like a cage, where people are bound against innocent interactions with others, against what they really feel.

Where action is possible, when some autonomy from the mind has been developed, it becomes easier to evaluate the products of the mind for what they would do when applied rather than for whether they appear to be ours.

Every person has evidence in their experience for cause and effect, for how things work, but without any distance between our consciousness and our thought, the narrow horizons of the ego, what makes me right already, will continue to warp truth around itself, and politics will remain a shoving match rather than a collaboration toward better outcomes.

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