I recently read a description of meditation by Vimala Thakar, an Indian woman who worked with students in a non-traditional way. She had attended talks by Krishnamurti and was apparently moved by his way of approaching meditative work and the human condition.
Vimala Thakar’s way of talking about meditative work resonated with me. I don’t have her exact words in front of me but would like to paraphrase what I got out of her words, and then maybe unfold it a little more.
The impression that I came away with after reading her words was one of meditation as a simple act of sitting still and abstaining for a bit from exposure to the usual input into the nervous system. Taking a little time in which the usual talking input, social input, hearing input, doing things with the eyes, actively thinking about something, and purposefully moving the body are all set aside.
What happens when this quiet time is taken? If a little bit of time is taken, maybe a half hour or an hour, the body may relax a little from its built up tensions. The mind may have a chance to process some of the undigested information that has built up during the day or during recent days.
If a longer amount of quiet time is taken – two or three days in a retreat setting – something a little different may happen. More of the backlog of recent unprocessed mental, emotional, and physical inputs may have a chance to unravel and be digested. The amazing thing is that this happens on its own, without the need for a method for doing it. It isn’t the result of focusing the mind, or following the breath, opening the heart, or any other meditation technique. It just seems to happen naturally when there is not the usual onslaught of sensory overload and when the purposeful movement of the body – and of the mind – is also set aside for long periods. In fact, focusing, counting the breath, and other intentional activities of the mind seem to dull or block this natural process of the unravelling of built-up “stuff.”
After several days of extended quiet time such as in retreat, the surface-level backlog of mental and emotional static that has not been processed may begin to dissipate. The mind may become quiet and naturally receptive and sensitive. The body may become naturally still and yet energized, sensitive in its physical way. The body and mind are able, maybe for the first time in many years, to be alive, alert, aware. The beauty of life may soak in.
The comment by Vimala Thakar that struck me most was her pointing out that this state in the last paragraph is not the end but that at this point something new may take place, something that may never have had the opportunity to occur. She talked about a deep healing process that can only begin when all of this preliminary quieting and opening has had a chance to take place. This very much matches what retreat work has been for me.
After maybe two or three or four days of retreat, after the body/mind has quieted down, become sensitive and still, a deeper level of healing may kick in. It feels as though, with the upper layers of gunk cleared away for maybe the first time in many years, the light can get through to deeper, more encrusted layers of old, traumatic, unprocessed residues, layers of which we are usually not conscious, or which are so closely wound around our lives that they are taken for granted as natural.
This deeper level of healing may take us into difficult, unknown territory. The whole process of deep healing is a revolution in our entire being. There is no place to step back from it and observe. It engulfs and goes far beyond the “observer.” When this healing begins to take place, some people balk at losing control, being swept beyond what they know and understand. They may stop going to retreats. The conscious mind may build very convincing layers of rationalizations about why retreat is not necessary or why meditation in daily life is good enough (I’m not saying that everyone who feels that way is rationalizing.) Maybe it is helpful to hear about the tremendous resistance that may come up when deep healing begins to move the encrusted structures of what we have become. Or to put it another way, the pains of being reborn, moment by moment, into a living, sensitive being – as opposed to the entrenched, rigid, defensive posture that most humans live in most of the time – may seem overwhelming.
For many people there is no resistance at all to the deep healing, when it finally begins to take root. It may be recognized for what it is – the release of stuff that has to come out, including the stuff of feeling like an isolated individual. One goes to retreat again and again, entering into the stillness that seems to so simply take care of what needs to happen, to heal, to change, to open, to strengthen.
I don’t see that there is any end to this opening, healing, and resensitizing to life. And all the while that the healing is going deeper, the sensitivity and openness become wider. Even the word “wider” is not quite right because there is a quality that comes up in silence of no boundary anywhere in the vastness of life. It is all here. Deep healing goes hand in hand with a fundamental change in being, an unfolding of the natural way of being, which is so completely different from the picture, the idea, the constricted feeling of being that most humans live in most of the time. This is a way of being that is not dominated by a sense of being an individual. It is a way of being that is an expression of life as a whole. It is a way of being that is not bound by the feeling of having to defend something.
Breath by breath, moment by moment, life unfolds fully here in this open space of silent listening. Unfolding in whatever way it needs to. Underneath the heavy, enclosed burden of how most of us humans live is a radically simpler life – a life that leaves behind the burdens of being a defended, isolated being. But it cannot unfold – as it so desperately needs to do in humanity – without regularly being given the time and space and stillness that is meditative work. Moments here and there for the static of the day to digest. A few days now and then for more digesting and for a stillness and sensitivity to come into being. Seven days of retreat regularly for the deep healing of the human mind to have a chance to function and with it, the rebirth of undivided life in a human being.