Buddhist Cartography: Uncharted Silence.

March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment


Each of us is a walking atlas of inner maps that we use to navigate through life.

We have a primary map drawn through the brain’s ability to give form to the world through the use of language and the word.  This map gives our world a sense of stability and permanence that we call reality.

We have inner maps drawn by our families, culture and religion.  Others we’ve had more of a hand in drawing, such as friendship and relationship maps.  And, of course, there is the map we call the self, the map of who we think and believe our self to be.

Our atlases are the creation of the left side of the brain.  This part of the brain has its own type of GPS, or Global Positioning System, that it uses to select the map most appropriate for any given situation.  When you walk into a crowded room, for example, your internal GPS will pick up relevant signals and then select a map that tells you how to feel about the room, whether to leave or continue in and, if appropriate, it will even direct you where and with whom to sit.

Inner maps are sets of rules and judgments that direct behavior and thought.  We are usually not aware of their influence, as they typically lie either on the periphery of consciousness or entirely in the unconscious.  But the maps selected by our internal GPS determine to a large extent how we behave, what we feel and most of what we believe to be the choices made of our own free will.

The left side of the brain evaluates every passing moment of your life, making constant references to rules and judgments picked up in childhood.  It selects inner maps that direct you how to feel and what to think.  This process is often referred to in today’s spiritual literature as your “story”.  But if you want to know your true nature, you must still the story.  You must stop judging and close your atlas.

Mindfulness and meditation allows you to become aware of the story contained in your atlas.  To still the story, it helps to see your everyday thoughts as maps drawn by the left side of the brain.  It helps to see them as automatic processing that can go on without your conscious attention.  As such, they are not really you or your thoughts, so they can be put aside without any loss.  Then your attention can be turned to the non-thinking, right side of the brain wherein lies silence.

The right side of the brain is the non-verbal side so when you disengage from thought, you open the door to silence.  This is what is meant when the mystic tells you to still your thoughts, or when the Buddhist tells you to turn your mind to stillness.

If uncertain what is meant here, use mindfulness to see how your brain constantly judges, thinks and speaks.  Then ask yourself what it would be like if your brain could not do this; if you were not able to speak or communicate verbally.  Your answer cannot be in words which means your thinking brain cannot respond.  This creates a momentary stepping back from thought.  Gently hold onto that feeling.

As the brain will want to start up again you must focus the awareness on this feeling of not thinking.  Over time you will find that you can maintain this awareness even as the left side of the brain still thinks in the background.   Your aim is to take this disengagement into meditation and deepen it.


Buddhist Cartography: Mindfulness and Delusion.

March 6, 2014 § 3 Comments

Mt. Fuji Viewed Through Ocean Waves

Mindfulness is the Buddhist practice of turning the awareness to the present moment. The present moment is here defined, paradoxically, as your immediate space and its physical sensations of sounds, tastes and sights. It excludes, therefore, memories of the past and imaginings of the future.

When beginning meditation, we may be instructed to focus the awareness upon some object like a candle flame or the breath. Mindfulness extends this practice into daily life with the instruction to give full attention to whatever is being done at the moment.

Those practicing mindfulness know that thought regularly intrudes upon any attempt to stay in the moment. When this happens, the initial instruction is to turn the awareness back to whatever task was at hand. The intent, however, is not to suppress thought but to establish the immediate moment as a control group with which to explore thought.

A control group is a group separated from another group we wish to observe and test. In mindfulness, the control group is the immediate moment. The group we wish to test is our inner maps, or the thoughts and beliefs we have of reality and our self. This testing is done by continually comparing what we think is happening to what is actually happening (i.e., in the control group).

A preliminary step in establishing mindfulness is to separate the control group from the thoughts to be studied. This simply means developing an initial level of discrimination so you see a difference between what you actual experience and what you think about the experience.  The latter is something superimposed onto actual events and is often laden with emotions and beliefs.  I call this superimposition a secondary map.

An example of a secondary map is where a person views the world as an angry place when, in fact, there are no angry people around.  A person with such a map is often not aware his map is false so may go about avoiding people and being defensive.  If this person were to take up the practice of mindfulness, however, he would assign himself the task of checking his secondary map against the control group of the immediate moment.  And, finding no actual hostility, he would eventually conclude his inner map were false.

The belief in the reality of our secondary maps is quite strong and may take some time to dispel.  This belief is delusion in the Buddhist sense of a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality.  Mindfulness ends delusion by developing your power to discriminate between delusion and reality; between the false and the true.

Delusion ends when through the consistent comparison of our inner maps to the immediate moment we see that what we “think” about our self and the world is not really our self or the world, at all. This is why mindfulness is said to be a power that brings clear comprehension and leads to wisdom, calmness and liberating discernment.

Where Am I?

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