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2 May 2014

Alan Watts - The Art of Meditation

The art of meditation is a way of getting into touch with reality and the reason for it is that most civilized people are out of touch with reality, because they confuse the world as it is with the world as they think about it and talk about it and describe it. For on the one hand, there is the real world and on the other a whole system of symbols about that world which we have in our minds. These are very very useful symbols, all civilization depends on them, but like all good things, they have their disadvantages and the principle disadvantage of these symbols is that we confuse them with reality just as we confuse money with actual wealth and our names about ourselves, our ideas about ourselves, our images of ourselves with ourselves. Now of course reality from a philosopher's  point of view is a dangerous word. A philosopher would ask me what do I mean by reality. Am I talking about the physical world of nature or am I talking about the spiritual world or what? And to that I have a very simple answer: when we talk about the material world that is actually a philosophical concept. So in the same way if I say that reality is spiritual that's also a philosophical concept and reality itself is not a concept. Reality is [est. 15 seconds sound of a Buddhist Bell]. Now it's amazing what doesnt exist in the real world. For example in the real world there arent any things. Nor are there any events. That doesnt mean to say that the real world is a perfectly featureless blank. It means that it is a marvelous system of wiggles in which we describe things and events in the same way as we would project images on a Rorschah blot or pick out particular groups of stars in the sky and call them constellations as if they separate groups of stars. Well, they are groups of stars in the mind's eye, in our system of concepts. They are not out there as constellations already grouped in the sky.So in the same way the difference between myself and all the rest of the universe is nothing more than an idea. It is not a real difference. And meditation is the way in which we come to feel our basic inseparability from the whole universe. And what that requires is that we shut up. [He laughs.] That is to say that we become interiorly silent. And seize from the interminable chatter that goes on inside our skulls, because you see most of us think compulsively all the time. That is to say we talk to ourselves. I remember when I was a boy we had a common saying: "Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness". Now obviously if I talk all the time, I dont hear what anyone else has to say. And so in exactly the same way if I think all the time that is to say if I talk to myself all the time I dont have anything to think about except thoughts. And therefore I am living entirely in the world of symbols and I am never in relationship with reality. Alright, now that's the first basic reason for meditation, but there is another sense and this is going to be a little bit more difficult to understand why we could say that meditation doesnt have a reason. Or doesnt have a purpose and in this respect it's unlike almost all other things that we do except perhaps making music and dancing. Because when we make music, we don't do it in order to reach a certain point such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music - to get to the end of the piece, then obviously the fastest players will be the best. And so likewise when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as we would be if we were taking a journey. When we dance the journey itself is the point. When we play music, the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. And therefore if you meditate for an ulterior motive that is to say to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life, you've got your eye on the future and you are not meditating. Because the future is a concept. It doesnt exist. As the proverb says: "Tomorrow never comes". There is no such thing as tomorrow. There never will be, because time is always now. And that's one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves and stop thinking, we find there is only a present, only an eternal now. So it's funny then, isnt it, that one meditates for no reason at all, except we could say for the enjoyment of it and here I would interpose the essential principle that meditation is supposed to be fun. It's not something you do as a grim duty. The trouble with religion as we know it is that it is so mixed up with grim duties, "we do it because it's good for you", it is a kind of self-punishment. Well, meditation when correctly done has nothing to do with all that. It's a kind of digging the present, it's a kind of grooving with the eternal now. And brings us into a state of peace, where we can understand that the point of life, the place where it's at, is simply here and now.

Well now, in the art of meditation, there are various props, supports. One thing that we are going to use as a means of stilling chatter in the mind, is pure sound. And for that reason, it is useful to have a gong. [Sound of a gong] This is a japanese Buddhist gong made out of bronze and shape like a bowl. If you dont have one of these, you can get the rounded end of an oxygen tank. Have a machinist sew it off roughly into the shape of a bowl and use that. Or you can use your own voice - chanting. Another prop in meditation is the use of incents. And that is because the sense of smell is our repressed sense and because it's our repressed sense it has a very powerful influence on us and therefore we associate certain smells with certain states of mind. And so the smell of incents is associated with peace and contemplation and so it's advantegous to burn incents in meditation. The other prop is a string of beads and these beads are used in meditation for an unconscious method of timing yourself. Instead of looking at a watch, you move a bead each time your breathe in and out so that at a certain rate you see there are always 108 beads on a rosary and when you get the slow breathing half way around the rosary is about 40 minutes and that is the usual length of time for which one sits in meditation because otherwise you get uncomfortable and you get stiff legs and problems of that kind.

Now then the other thing first of all we have to go into is how does one sit in meditation? You can sit anyway you want, you can sit in a chair or you can sit like I am sitting which is the Japanese way of sitting or you can sit in the lotus posture which is more difficult which is cross-legged with the feet on the ties. And the younger you start that in life, the easier you will find it to do. Or you can just sit cross-legged on a raised cushion above the floor. Now the point of this is that if you keep back erect I dont mean stiff like this, nor slump like this but just easily erect, you are centered and easily balanced and you have a feeling of being thoroughly rooted to the ground. And that sort of physical stability is very important for the avoidance of distraction and generally feeling settled. Here and now, "J'y suis, j'y reste" as the French say - "I am here and I am going to stay". Well now, the easiest way to get into the meditative state is to begin by listening. If you simply close your eyes, and allow yourself to hear all the sounds that are going round and round you. Just listen to the general hum and buzz of the world as if you were listening to music. Don't try to identify the sounds you are hearing, don't put names on them, simply allow them to play with your eardrums. And let them go. Now the words you could put it - let your ears hear whatever they want to hear. Don't judge the sounds, there are no as if it were proper sounds or improper sounds and it doesn't matter if somebody coughs or sneezes or drops something. It's all just sound. And if I am talking to you right now and you are doing this I want you to listen to the sound of my voice just as if it were noise. Don't try to make any sense out of what I am saying because your brain will take care of that automatically. You don't have to try to understand anything. Just listen to the sound. As you pursue that experiment, you will very naturally find that you cant help naming sounds, identifying them, that you will go on thinking, that is to say talking to yourself inside your head automatically. But it is important that you don't to repress those thoughts by forcing them out of your mind because that will have precisely the same effect as if you were trying to smooth rough water with a flat iron - you are just going to disturb it all the more. What you do is this - as you hear sounds coming up in your head, thoughts, you simply listen to them as part of the general noise going on just as you'd be listening to the sound of my voice or just as you'd be listening to cars going by or to birds chattering outside the window. So look at your own thoughts as just noises. And soon you will find that the so-called outside world and the so-called inside world come together. They are a happening. Your thoughts are a happening just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you are doing is watching it.

Now, in this process another thing that is happening that is very important is that you are breathing and as you start meditation you allow your breath to run just as it will. In other words, don't do at first any breathing exercise but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe. And notice a curious thing about this - you say in the ordinary way "I breathe", because you feel that breathing is something you are doing voluntarily just in the same way as you might be walking or talking. But you will also notice that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So the curious thing about breath is that it can be looked at both as a voluntarily and an involuntarily action. You can feel on the one hand "I am doing it" and on the other "It is happening to me". And that is why breathing is the most important part of meditation because it is going to show you as you become aware of your breath that the hard and fast division that we make between what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary.

So that as you watch your breathing you will become
aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience are all one happening. Now that may at first seem a little scary because you may think "Well am I just a puppet of a happening, the mere passive witness of something that is going on completely beyond my control? Or on the other hand am I  really doing everything that's going on? Well if I were I should be God and that would be very embarassing because I will be in charge of everything and that will be a terribly responsible position." The truth as a matter as you will see it is that both things are true. You can see it that everything is happening to you and on the other hand you are doing everything. For example, it's your eyes that are turning the sun into light, it's the nerve ends in your skin that are turning electric vibrations in the air into heat and temperature. It's your eardrums that are turning vibrations in the air into sound and in that way you are creating the world. But when we are not talking about it, when we are not philosophizing about it, then there is just this happening, this [sound of a gong est. 5 sec] and we won't give it a name.

Now then, when you breathe for a while, just letting it happen and not forcing it in any way, you will discover a curious thing that without making any effort you can breathe more and more deeply. In other words, supposing you are simply breathing out and breathing out is important because it is the breathe of relaxation as when we give a sigh of relief. So when you are breathing out, you get the sensation that your breath is falling out, dropping, dropping, dropping out with the same sort of feeling you have as if you are settling down in an extremely comfortable bed and you just get as heavy as possible and let yourself go. And you let your breath go out in just that way. And when it's thoroughly comfortably out and it feels like coming back again, you don't pull it back in, you let it fall back in. Letting your lungs expand, expand, expand until they feel very comfortably full and you wait a moment of waiting stay there and then once again you let it fall out. And so in this way you will discover that your breath get quite naturally easier and easier and slower and slower and more and more powerful. So that with these various aids - listening to sound, listening to your own interior feelings and thoughts just as if they were something going on, not something you are doing, but just happenings and watching your breath as happening that is neither voluntarily nor involuntarily, you are simply aware of these basic sensations, then you begin to be in the state of meditation. But don't hurry anything, don't worry about the future, don't worry about what progress you are making, just be entirely content to be aware of what is. Don't be terribly selective, particular say 'I should think of this and not of that'. Just watch whatever is happening.

Now then, to make this somewhat easier, to have the mind free from discusive verbal thinking, sound or chanted sound is extremely useful. If you for example simply listen to the gong. [sound of a gong, 10 secs] And let that sound be the whole of your experience, it's quite simple, it requires no effort. 21:50