Listening to the din outside his window, William R. Stimson leaves himself behind.
I don’t think I have the power of mind to seek after the self or anything else in meditation. I am a very poor practitioner; I have my hands full just relaxing. At my best, I can only sit there completely relaxed and notice acutely.
During an all-day meditation yesterday, I paid very close attention to the ever-changing traffic sounds, the barking of a dog out back, the occasional car alarm, scraps of music wafting up from the street, and—of course—the ever-moving tension patterns in my body. I noticed thoughts, was surprised by hallucinatory images that seemed dream-like, and was astonished by complete delusions that came playing through my mind. Probably these were no more nonsensical than the thoughts I consider logical and rational—the ones I cling to by imparting to them some measure of credence. Sometimes, though, it seemed I was seeing other people’s thoughts, so unrelated were they to me or to any concerns I was consciously aware of having.
At one point, rather far along into the day, I was astonished to catch myself composing a Spanish melody. I demanded of myself, “Why am I making up that song? I shouldn’t be doing that!” In the same way, I often abruptly chastise myself, “I’m thinking! I shouldn’t be!” when I recognize I’ve fallen prey to a thought while meditating. Only it wasn’t something I could put a stop to. The agreeable Spanish melody was coming in, in fact, from the street out front.
It was such a rude flash of awakening to realize the music was completely outside of what I was, that just at that moment it seemed everything else—every thought, every sensation, everything I called “me” and that played across my consciousness—was equally outside of what I really was. And then, almost at the same time, the opposite seemed more true. The Spanish music from the street was so obviously completely inside of what I was, just like every thought, every sensation—everything, in fact, all around, inside and outside of my skin. It was all me—the world included.
We get quiet for a moment in meditation. We sink down to a relaxedness, a calmness, abruptly free from all the crazy dreams we confuse with reality. And in that instant, by mistake maybe, or because we aren’t thinking to stop it from happening—we experience, in a flash, things as they really are.
What’s happening around us: it’s us. We are doing it. We are making the Spanish music outside. This “we” that is so joyfully composing and playing the music is who we were before we were born, who we are now, and who we will be after we die. It is our true identity. It has no quality, except that everything is its quality.
William R. Stimson, a writer and occasional waiter in New York, helps conduct the meditation program at a Ch'an Center in Queens. His articles about simple living and Zen meditation have appeared in numerous publications.