Let’s pick up from where we left off in Meditation in Action-Part One.
If we can agree that meditation is any practice designed to bring the mind temporarily into non-conceptual awareness, the gap between thoughts, Pure awareness…or as I prefer, non-objective awareness…then that opens up the pantry. We then have choices.
Vipassana guys like their approach. As do TM, Zen, Taoist, yoga, and mindfulness practitioners. Each has its particular flavor, and we live in a glorious age where you can sample any that pique your curiosity. It then comes down to, “What works best for me?”
I have the same attitude toward meditation that I do for exercise: What is the “right” one?
It’s the one I actually DO.
I can play tennis for hours, vigorously and in sweltering heat, but I’m no longer inclined to do a five-minute run…or work out in a gym. But I’m happy to do an hour of push hands. Or bagua.
The one you actually DO.
I like sitting meditation. And standing. And moving. The each have their charms. The simplicity of stillness meditation puts the focus on pure Being, undistractedly settled into the Present. Each moment spent in the gap between thoughts…non-objective awareness…is its own reward. Limiting the activity of body and mind is a wonderful respite from the demands of life, and a gentle foray into eternity.
What makes standing or moving meditation so effective for me is that they integrate body-mind-spirit by consciously engaging the body in the radical Present. The objective is not to transcend the body and mind, but to integrate them into what I refer to as superconsciousness. Superconsciousness is characterized by whole-brain coherence that allows for greatly enhanced physical, mental, and creative ability. You see it in “Flow” states, or when “in the Zone,” but these are usually associated with external circumstances and occur unpredictably. In meditation in action we get to access superconsciousness any time we like, even if the skill we usually associate with Zone and Flow may be not always be there.
Let me explain. In Zone and Flow, superconsciousness is a by-product of the activity. We are doing something we like and have some skill at, and in the moment we everything just goes right. There is an optimal ratio of predictable and unpredictable motion (too much and we are overwhelmed and too little and we are bored), so that there is a satisfying feeling of competence as well as enough challenge to keep our mind fully engaged. There is a sense of the mind being clear of extraneous thoughts as well as a knowing that does not demand much deliberate reasoning. Body and mind work together seamlessly.
Superconsciousness born of meditation in action is the opposite. The state is independent of external circumstances and may not necessarily guarantee enhanced performance (in that instance). It exists for its own sake: the sheer joy of body-mind-spirit integration. I maintain that familiarity with the state, and practicing any activity in that state…martial arts, yoga, music, sports, conversation, etc…will make enhanced ability easier to develop and Zone and Flow states much more accessible.
Can we access superconsciousness in sitting meditation? Certainly. And that’s a good place to start. But then you want to start introducing some complexity into it. You learn to not just DO meditation, but to LIVE it.
Superconsciousness in Push Hands
For example, I find it pretty easy to play push hands in a state of superconsciousness. Taijiquan push hands is an activity I have done for over thirty years and have won enough tournaments against highly skilled people to have confidence in what I know. I can easily enter a Flow state.
Push hands for me now is more cooperative than competitive, an opportunity to engage a willing partner in mutual exploration of jin (qi that is directed by the mind and expressed through the body). I came to push hands as most do, as a primarily physical exercise using li (crude muscular force) rather than jin. Somewhere along the way the light went on and I realized that my effectiveness was significantly enhanced by energetic coherence. That led to body-mind-spirit integration…what I now call superconsciousness. In that state you don’t “think” as we ordinarily consider it: rational analysis, weighing the pros and cons of various options; quantitative and qualitative reflection of discrete thought-forms; the “It-mind.” (Such “thinking” usually takes a quarter to half a second…a pretty long time when playing with a skilled partner.) Rather you “know” without thinking, using your whole brain coherently in the present moment. It is non-objective awareness.
In this “meditation in action,” you enter the gap between thoughts for sustained periods, but can easily shift to the slower conscious mind when circumstances change and you need to reassess. That is because superconsciousness not only transcends consciousness, but it INCLUDES it as well. It’s not an “either/or” choice but rather a “both/and.” And both conscious and superconscious awareness transcend PREconsciousness, awareness that is not yet conscious. (For more on the levels of awareness please see “Awareness VS. Consciousness” and the included talk I gave for the Society for Consciousness Studies in 2017.)
So How Do I Access Superconsciousness?
Accessing superconscious awareness is actually pretty easy. Sustaining it takes some practice.
We humans reset to the It-mind (consciousness) automatically, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It updates our personal narrative, allows us to keep track of our stuff, and is useful in figuring out complicated things like road maps, IRS forms, and mathematics. It goes off the rails, however, when the It-mind turns everything we encounter into an object that can be represented by a thought, including ourselves. We then lose ourselves in a world of abstraction, and our thoughts become more real than the things themselves.
How can we control our mind and bring ourselves into the Present? It begins by consciously opening to body-mind-spirit integration. And that means bringing awareness to the communications your body is sending you moment-by-moment.
The simple solution I am talking about is to intentionally shift attention from the narrow perspective of the conscious mind to the much broader bandwidth of the preconscious mind, the “Eye of Flesh.” We do that by intentionally feeling with our bodies. This accesses other brain functions, like the insula and the somatosensory cortex, parts that are hidden from conscious awareness.
Here’s a simple sitting meditation for accessing superconsciousness. It’s a good first step in a beautiful journey of discovery.
Take this same idea and apply it to your taijiquan form, for example. Actually FEEL each action, each movement. This begins a conversation that can take you a long way toward “meditation in activity.”