Out beyond ideas…there is a field, I’ll meet you there.
Sufi mystic Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
I first ran into the concept of ‘not doing’ in the works of Carlos Castaneda. His early books, particularly Journey to Ixtlan and Tales of Power had a big effect on me when I was a young man. Later in my life I ran into ‘not doing’ again when I began working with don Americo Yabar. And more recently, I have run across it, in a most beautiful and pragmatic way, in the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. In the previous post I shared the basic outline of how and where to practice ‘not doing’ as part of the Andean approach for exploring our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. In this post I would like to express more about what I think ‘not doing’ is all about, and also share some techniques for ‘not doing’ that I have found to be useful.
My awareness is almost always focused upon the products of my mind. The mind is an incredible thing, it takes all of the information reaching the senses and makes ‘sense’ of it all. That we see the world as consisting of separate objects rather than one undifferentiated mishmash of colors is thanks to the mind. Not only does my mind figure out, for example, that the chair I am looking at is an object separate from everything around it, it also places the object into the category of ‘chair’, so that when I look at the chair I don’t see just an ‘it’, I see a ‘chair’. That’s amazing when you think about it, and the mind is doing this all of the time we are awake with everything that we perceive. And that is just the start, not only does the mind identify and label everything reaching our sense organs, it also figures out–of all the millions of things happening around us at any one moment–what are the more important things to pay attention to. The mind also makes judgements about the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ of what is happening, and how it affects our view of ourselves and of the people around us and of the world itself, and so on and so on up to more and more abstract levels. The mind may also wander away from what is happening here and now, to consider instead what has happened in the past or might happen in the future, or what might be happening elsewhere. The workings of the mind are accompanied by an internal dialog, a flow of thoughts that accompanies the process of the mind making sense out of the world. Our normal state of awareness is to simply experience and act on the interpretation of the world that our mind presents to us, this is so much our habitual experience that we mistake the interpretation of reality presented to us by the mind as being reality itself.
To say that our mind is massively useful would be a gross understatement. It is rather helpful when putting on your clothes to know what part of reality is you and what part of reality is not, and when eating to know what is food and what is not, and to know why you need to have a job and how to get there, and how the refrigerator opens, and that you need to look both ways before crossing the road, and so on and so on and so on and…well…everything we need to know to live in this world.
After acknowledging its indispensable utility I’d like to point out that the mind is, like, totally mental (sorry…idiomatic joke). It can only give us its mentally created interpretation of reality, not reality itself. Reality is beyond all the thoughts, concepts, ideas, perceptions and feelings we have about it. We can use words and ideas to point at that, by saying that the essence of reality is ineffable, and that it is vastly more mysterious and wondrous than our minds can possibly encompass. And the same is true of us, we are more mysterious and wondrous than our minds can possibly understand. We are the Beings from which our minds and their thoughts emerge, not the being created by our minds.
Knowing yourself deeply has nothing to do with any ideas, concepts, or beliefs you have about yourself. Knowing yourself deeply involves experiencing yourself at the level of Being. Eckhart Tolle (paraphrase).
In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle points out that we are not the experience created by our minds (our perceptions, our thoughts, our feelings), we are instead the experiencer, we are consciousness. Consciousness cannot be known, for it is the knower not what is known, and while we cannot ‘know’ consciousness we can become aware of our existence as consciousness itself, we can sense it here and now as our very Presence. When we move our awareness to consciousness itself we experience the world beyond/before/behind the interpretations of the mind. This is the basic dance step of the mystic.
While we cannot understand or talk about that which lies beyond all our mental constructs of reality we can use words as guideposts to help us get there. Carlos Castaneda, Americo Yabar, and Eckhart Tolle are all excellent sources for how to proceed down this path. I have culled a variety of techniques from them that I have found to be useful and I present some of them below. Sometimes one technique seems to work better than others, and on some days when I am doing the not doing meditation I may have to try more than one before my experience starts to shift. And on some days, of course, nothing works. Here are some hints (adapted from Tolle’s book):
*Move your consciousness away from the products of your mind (perceptions, emotions, and thoughts) and be aware of your consciousness itself. Let go of thought, become still and alert, and feel your own presence, become your own consciousness.
*Time is a construct of our mind, outside of the mind there is only eternity, ‘eternity’ defined not as an infinite length of time but as the state of timelessness. One way to ‘not do’ is to enter completely into Now. I played around with this for a while, a few times a day I would ask myself ‘is it still now?’, and then I would notice where my experience went when I checked out whether it was indeed still now. What I found was that for me there is something that is always there in my experience when I check out ‘now’. Now I can sometimes just go directly there…where was I…oh yeah. At times I can just go directly to that experience of now. The mind can only interpret reality within a flow of time, it can’t do its thing in pure now (eternity), but consciousness is still there.
*When my internal dialog has the bit in its teeth and has taken off I find it very difficult to enter the now, and I have found the following steps help me get started. First I pay attention, exquisitely, to my breathing. I can’t do that fully and carry on with my mental internal dialog at the same time. After doing that for a while I pay attention to the living energy of my body, the sensations that are available which inform me that my body is indeed still here and alive, it is kind of a gentle tingling within the body but not really tingling…just check it out to see what I mean. That puts me in the present moment as well, then I go on to fully enter the now as described in the preceding paragraph.
*We can only perceive light because dark also exists. Without darkness we could not see light. We can only hear sounds because silence also exists. Without silence we could not hear sounds. Listen to the ever-present silence that is the background to all sound.
*’Doing’ involves paying attention to the various forms (chairs, people, words) that our mind creates out of reality and also attending to the meaning our mind applies to those forms. Let that go, experience what you experience before your mind has organized the world for you. A way that works for me is to attend to the void out of which the forms arise.
So, how does this all tie into the Andean approach? For me it ties in by being something that I have been encouraged to do by Americo. (Paraphrase) “Just go out in Nature, and ‘not do’, especially ‘not doing’ thinking. If the power permits, that is all you have to do, there is no ‘process’ to do, there are just vibrations, your energy and the energy of Nature and how your energy begins to change when you do this. That’s it. I recommend that you do it a lot.” (personal communication). The challenge, by the way, in quoting Americo is that I almost never write down what he says when he says it. I sometimes write it down later that day, or perhaps the next, and then often I just jot down a cryptic note that I then expand back out at a later time to the best of my understanding.
There is a significance to practicing ‘not doing’ in Nature, in a place of salka. I have found this to be a common thread in many of the sources who have had an influence on my view of reality over the years: don Americo Yabar (of course), and as already mentioned the writings of Carlos Castaneda (Journey to Ixtlan and Tales of Power) and Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth), as well as the writings of Alan Watts (e.g. Man, Woman, and Nature) and the anthropologist Gregory Bateson (e.g. A Sacred Unity). I would like to share with you my distillation of what they have to say about this. I prefer to speak from my own experience but in this area I have not gone far enough down the path, so what I would like to share instead is my understanding of what lies down this path, for it is this understanding that draws me to want to explore it.
Here it is. We as Beings have emerged from the higher order patterns of the conscious Cosmos. The Cosmos can be said to have a greater-than-human ‘intelligence’ if we don’t limit our meaning of ‘intelligence’ by having it only apply to the sort of mental intelligence that arises from the human mind. Just as we Beings have emerged from the higher order patterns of the Cosmos our minds have emerged from within us. The mind, then, is a product of higher order patterns and there is no way that our mind can comprehend the patterns, the processes, from which it emerged. It is not a matter of not being clever enough, it is instead simply impossible for the mind to understand its own origins. It would be like a knife trying to cut its own edge, like trying pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, like a mirror trying to see itself. The mind cannot possibly know the consciousness from which it arose for consciousness is the knower, and when the knower becomes the known it is no longer the knower. Consciousness retreats exactly as fast as the mind pursues, for it is the pursuer.
Now, the mind knows how to create things, for example, a clock. The process the mind uses to create things is not the same process the Cosmos used to create the mind, for the mind is much more limited than the Cosmos and operates off of different principles. We in the West live in a physical and social world that has been predominantly shaped by the human mind, which is one reason why the mind is so great at helping us get by in our society. Our human created world, however, tends to isolate us from an understanding of the higher order patterns of Nature and the Cosmos.
When we situate ourselves in a place of salka, and shift our consciousness from the content of our minds to the higher order Being who has a mind, i.e. move our awareness to consciousness itself, we experience our connection to Nature and the Cosmos, to the higher order, patterns, consciousness from which we emerge. We become, as Tolle puts it, conscious participants in the unfolding of the higher purpose of consciousness. As Americo puts it (comments in parenthesis are mine), the intelligence of the Cosmos is thinking about the solution for our current situation on this planet (‘thinking’ in the same sense that a flower contemplates blooming) and when the time is right (e.g. it is time to blossom) all we need to do is to be in harmony with the Cosmos. ‘Not doing’ in Nature is a way to do this.