Keep It Simple

The gift of awarenessAndrew Olendzki

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The human mind has a tendency to make everything it takes up more complicated and elaborate than it needs to be. You may have noticed this. The Buddhists even have a word for it, papanca, which means something like mental proliferation.

Meditation moves us in the other direction. It is an attempt to remove, piece by piece, layer by layer, all of the baroque ornamentation with which we embellish our world of constructed experience. Underneath all the drama, the restlessness, the hopes and fears, behind the narratives we weave about ourselves, and even before we’ve thought of ourselves as ourselves, lies a simple, unadorned awareness. It’s not even a thing—just an event that happens, a little burst of knowing, deep in the center of it all.

Experiencing this awareness has more to do with subtraction than with addition or multiplication. René Descartes was on its trail in his Meditations when he imagined all the complexities of our world to be an illusion. Take away everything with which we populate the story, and what is left? Just me, thinking. The Buddha got two steps further than Descartes, beyond the “me,” and beyond the thinking: awareness occurs. Knowing as an event does not belong to anyone, nor need it be constrained by the thinking of thoughts...

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