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.