The Childlike Mind and the Aging Mind

Question: I assume the purpose of meditation is to gain a more clear perspective on the world and life? I noticed that when I think of people who meditate I normally think of older people. Never children. I am 31 and personally have found that meditation helps me unclutter my thoughts and gain a level of efficiency of thought that I haven’t had consistantly since I was a child. Do adults have the most to gain from meditation? Perhaps it is like an extra nights sleep everyday to help tolerate this whole aging thing and decline of brain functionality that comes with age?

Jay: Hi. I’m reading your interesting note. I’m trying to get a sense of what your main question may be. You are talking about noticing a difference between the child-like mind and the mind that has come to be your adult mind. Is that accurate?

So maybe let’s consider first what this adult mind is that seems more cluttered and less efficient, as you said, than the child-like mind. It’s certainly true that daily life as an adult usually requires a lot of high-powered mental activity that leaves the mind tired. Probably for most of us this mental activity is out of our control. In other words the demands on us come from our life situation, including work, and so we can’t just turn them off when the brain has had enough. As a result, humanity walks around with exhausted brains.

How does the brain recharge? For some people it may rarely recharge. Sleep offers a chance for recharging but an extremely overworked brain may not even have the ability to recharge through sleep any more. Vacations often are not particularly refreshing. Maybe some people have worked out ways to feel a little fresher after a vacation. Leisure time is often spent in activities that numb the brain – television, reading, etc., though I’m not putting those activities down per se – and often leave the mind even more overburdened.

The alternative is to sit quietly, without overbearing sensory input (music, voices, etc) and without consciously trying to do anything about the state of body and mind. This allows the entire body/mind (one undivided nervous system/organism)to “unwind”, to go through its own healing process – unimpeded by our usual efforts to control the activities of the mind and body. This is different from sleep in that, first of all, the body is upright and is receiving simple sensory information and secondly, the mind is awake. There is a kind of healing that happens in this quiet but alert sitting that does not necessarily happen in sleep.

Our poor minds probably have an almost bottomless need for this kind of quiet “unfolding” that heals the overworked nervous system. If enough time is allowed for this kind of sitting, the mind may become fresher than we are used to. It may take on a different quality that only a refreshed and energized nervous system can. Maybe this is what you are referring to with the uncluttered and efficient mind.

Is it inevitable that most of our life is spent in mental and physical exhaustion? We might start questioning this by looking at the external elements of our life – work and personal demands. Maybe there is a way to rearrange things so that there is more healing time. I personally get to three 7 day retreats every year and may try to increase that to more.

In many unseen ways, though, there is something in us that keeps us locked into mental exhaustion. No amount of external change can deal with that. It requires becoming aware of the internal scenery (do you get a sense of what I might mean by this?) with sensitivity, which requires a quiet and sensitive mind.

What keeps us locked into mental exhaustion? This is an important question that each of us needs to find out about for ourselves. In sitting quietly, the activity of the mind becomes noticeable – the kind of things that the mind is continually concerned about, that it does not want to let go of. Do you have a sense of this? Protecting myself in my work, my relationships, my health, my money. Trying to anticipate difficulties that may arise (by continually scanning the memory for dangerous situations) and trying to come up with strategies so that I will be prepared to avoid difficulty. Daydreaming about pleasant things that have happened (which is again the scanning of memory) and contemplating ways to get these pleasant experiences again. In all of this activity the mind is unable to simply hear and feel what is going on right now. And all of this activity keeps the mind working, struggling, burning calories and exhausting brain cells. Anyone can discover some hint of this in sitting still, though the mind may need to recharge a bit before this comes to light.

So the primary “purpose” or perhaps a better word would be “function” or “healing activity” of sitting still and attentive is that a quiet presence begins to take over and this quiet presence reveals the workings, the assumptions, the fears, the exhaustion, the longings of the body/mind, freshly – for the first time. And from this simple seeing of what is really going on but has not been noticed comes an intelligence that begins to transform how we exist.

I have seen people of 80 looking fresh as a daisy and young as a child after 7 day retreat. Much of the aging we experience is the heaviness of a mind that does not understand what it is doing and yet is compelled to struggle day and night.

Meditative work is utterly simple. To be touched by the world and to become visible to oneself, it is only necessary to let up on manipulating, controlling and changing what is going on right now, at this moment.

Maybe this is enough for now. I may not have understood your concerns and/or I may not have expressed my reflections very clearly, so please feel free to write back for clarification.

Question: Yeah I was concerned that even meditation, sleep, and low responsibilities in even an adult life might not keep the brain from wearing down and becoming unfocused and prone towards forgetfulness and missing the big picture as well as the obvious. Would you say meditation can keep the mind as young as a person wants it to be? I just finished reading the book, “OSHO Meditation” and looked that guy up to find that many found his works a little contraversial. I thought most of what he had to say made good sense, but what other common perspectives are there on meditation that are different from his? Is it true that meditation must be in the persuit of experiencing, but not thinking? I can’t be focusing on one simple problem in a passive way hoping an answer will rise? People don’t “meditate on a problem” do they?

Jay: You seem to be concerned with the aging of the mind. Like all things the various functions of the mind do wear down and eventually cease completely, unless you consider biological decomposition to be another function of the mind.

What is it that you do mean by mind? What aspect of mind are you concerned about wearing down? Memory? Clear thinking? Focus? You can really question and then observe silently if these functions are really what define the mind or if they might be superficial aspects of a mind that is deeper, stiller, simpler.

Another way to look at this is to observe very carefully how the mind functions, what exhausts it and what energizes it, not necessarily for the purpose of controlling because controlling is clearly one of the things that exhausts the mind.

And what about the fear of losing abilities, skills that seem important for living a quality life? What is the root of that fear? Is there any ability we have that is not subject to being diminished or destroyed at any moment? Does this mean we are doomed to constant fear?

I read just a little from Osho just now. He says “Don’t do anything – no repetition of mantra, no repetition of the name of god – just watch whatever the mind is doing. Don’t disturb it, don’t prevent it, don’t repress it; don’t do anything at all on your part. You just be a watcher, and the miracle of watching is meditation. As you watch, slowly mind becomes empty of thoughts; but you are not falling asleep, you are becoming more alert, more aware.”

You ask about other perspectives on meditation but Osho has summed it up simply and completely. What he says is not a perspective. It is listening, presence. It is the absence of perspective, the putting aside of our million perspectives. Interestingly, he talks about teachers who teach all sorts of techniques, strategies and perspectives: “Whatever Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and other people like him are doing is good, but they are calling something meditation which is not. That’s where they are leading people astray.”

The human mind is full of important, living questions that vitally need the light of silent attention to unfold and clarify. From what you write, you are touched by these questions. Ultimately, we each need to sit with these questions ourselves, though it can be good to talk together using words. You ask about the relationship of experiencing to thinking in meditative listening. Check this out yourself. Is it not true that when the brain is dominated by thinking, very little of what is going on is experienced, even though the thinking thinks it is a whole world unto itself. It can be easily noticed that in a moment when thinking goes silent, the world of sounds, sensation, spaciousness is revealed. It also becomes clear that there is no one, no controller, that can stop thoughts from dominating the mind. That is thought trying to stifle itself. And yet, there can arise from who knows where an interest to be with the direct experience of life. And then thought may quiet down !
on its own.

By meditating on a problem do you mean to sit down and consider what it is that is bothering me? Maybe reviewing it in the mind. Considering different aspects of it? Well, why not? I think this is helpful. But rather than having the mind go off into trying to solve a problem, can this return to listening? Listening for insight, for clarification – not in what is already known or remembered – that is old habit – but in the open space of not knowing. Just listening into this unknowable moment. Forgetting everything that is known and letting what is unknowable open up and reveal itself.

Does this address your concerns at all?

Question: I guess my question was more about the breaking down of the brain since persumable the “mind” is intangible and not very well known. I am concerned for my clarity of thought and focus and confident perspective of the world around me. Also I was asking if something like focusing on a problem as in “meditating on it” is outside the realm of “meditation” since it isn’t strickly observing and taking in the world. I don’t know if it would pass Osho’s definition anyway.

Jay: I understand your concern about clarity of thought, focus and a confident perspective of the world. I have always felt that those were my tools for being successful, for being able to make money, for being able to take care of things (including myself) for being a good friend to people, even for being able to have a good relationship. For a long time I felt that those qualities were the hallmark of meditative work.

I don’t feel that way now. Sometimes for me the mind is not clear but it doesn’t bother me. The part of the mind that functions clearly in me is often tired and overworked. Rather than trying to drum up the energy to force it into clarity, I am perfectly happy to leave it as it is. In fact in that state it is often easier to listen to others, to cooperate (since my clarity is not driving dictating what it thinks I should do) and I’m more relaxed physically. So far this has not prevented me from surviving financially or in any other way.

Often the memory part of the brain in me is tired. It takes a break and there is a long lag in coming up with the right word or in remembering someone’s name. It doesn’t bother me because it’s clear that the memory brain easily gets tired and it’s learning to take a rest when it needs it. When this happens, I feel more directly in touch, happier, more relaxed. I’m not happier because I can’t remember but because memory is not dominating the brain, a more nourishing part of the mind is waking up, a more child-like part.

I recently visited with Toni Packer, the woman who led the many retreats I attended over the years. She is now in her 80s and has a serious neuropathy that requires that she be in bed most of the time. Between the lack of activity and the painkillers for her neuropathy, her memory is very poor. In our conversation she would forget from one minute to the next what we were talking about and the conversation itself was very “wandering”. I called it a right brain conversation. Not linear or logical. But the conversation was very sweet and full of humanness. What most struck me about her was that from time to time she would respond directly to hearing something elsewhere in the house or outside. Her response was direct and immediate. It became clear that even with the mind very incapacitated, her nervous system, her cells, had learned over the years to stay in touch with direct experience. This did not require the mediation of a clear, focused perspective. After observing this, !
I lost my concern with what would happen to my clear, intelligent mind. And in any case what happens to my mind is mostly out of my control anyway. But the important thing is this ability for the entire system – body, mind, skin, nerves, cells, hairs – to relearn how to be in touch with what is happening right here, simply and directly. Sensorily and yet in stillness. This is where intelligence and compassion come from.

Meditation is simply the shedding of light on what is arising at this moment. A good question might be “Then what, if anything, is NOT meditation?” It can be observed that usually there is very little intouchness with what is going on. Usually the mind is almost completely absorbed in the world of thought, which has the feeling of being about the world but allows very little intouchness with what is here right now – including its own nature. Thought is blind to itself, to its own nature. But presence can perceive thought and can recognize what thought is and what its limits are. It may seem like a fine line but it can be observed and it is a critical difference.

So if there is a problem, usually the first reaction is to think about what I know about the problem. There is nothing wrong with that. It is intelligent. Intelligent thinking is more like what I described above as presence being able to see thought. I think good thinking has that quality, as opposed to obsessive thinking (why the hell did he do that to me and how can I get back at him, etc etc etc).

So problem solving may start with thinking. What do I know about this? But just like the tip of an iceberg, what I know about something is only the smallest part of the situation. The body and root of a problem lies in the unknown, the unknowable. This is the silence that is entered into in meditation. Sitting, listening, in touch, without knowing, beyond expectation.

The unknowable is unknowable so you don’t have to worry if you are “doing it” right to someone’s specifications. You don’t have to monitor whether you are doing it to your own specifications. Monitoring is a limited activity of knowing. It can drop away too, and with it drops the energy drain of monitoring. This is the beauty of letting go of what is known (not negating it but just acknowledging that it only goes so far) and just listening without knowing. Things reveal themselves as they are, freshly, for the first time, in a child-like way.

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