About 25 years ago I taught two of my three daughters to ride their two-wheel bikes in about 1/2 an hour, both of them at the same time, without training wheels. Meditation can be that easy. More on meditation without training wheels in a minute. But first …
I work with sound and sound gear. So my language around metaphysics is shaped by terms from sound, music and audio physics.
For example, I’m very interested in the experience of Stillness –– the conscious cessation of thought, and how long it takes to reach this place of peaceful stillness. I use the term “declination time to stillness” to acknowledge the fact that some time is required for the mind to go from being flooded with thoughts, to becoming still, open, spacious and aware of being aware –– to achieve a meditative, or contemplative state.
All sounds that can be heard start from stillness, grow, reach a peak, sustain a steady level for some time, then gradually fade away as energy is depleted. We could say all sound emerges from silence or stillness, evolves, then fades into stillness again.
In musical physics this sequence is called the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release (ADSR) envelope and describes, in broad terms, how the amplitude (volume) of a sound varies with time. Today I’ve been contemplating the Release term of the ADSR sequence –– the amount of time it takes for a sound to fade to zero, after the plateau of the Sustained state has started to decline. A declination time to stillness.
Many people express frustration they can’t meditate, or can’t “do it right”. They know the practice of achieving a still mind is good for them, but they become impatient with the inevitable intrusion of thoughts when they attempt to meditate. This impatient frustration explains, to some extent, the current popularity of “mindfulness meditation” –– a practice whereby one simply allows thoughts to arise, notice them, and not attempt to intentionally clear the mind.
Mindfullness meditation is a good place to start as we begin the slow descent from an active mind to a mind of stillness. But, ah … how can I say this gently? I regard mindfulness meditation in the same way I regard training wheels on a child’s bike. What a misnomer –– “training wheels”. This device does not teach bike riding, it teaches reliance on a device.
Two of my three daughters, ages 5 and 7 I believe, learned to ride two-wheel bikes without training wheels in 1/2 an hour by this means –– through the safe, direct experience of riding a bike! Duh. Here’s how it worked …
Both of their bikes were set up so their seats were as low as possible. Their feet could walk-glide on the ground. We found a very gentle sloping portion of their maternal grandparents driveway where they could safely glide and scoot down a very gentle incline toward the lawn –– no danger of riding out into a street.
They simply sat on their bikes and scooted themselves along as gravity and the stabilizing, gyroscopic effect of the turning wheels showed them a bike is inherently stable and just needs to be effortlessly guided by subtle shifts of weight.
After a few scoots down the gradual incline I encouraged them to passively place their feet on the pedals and coast down the incline with their feet off the ground. A few more glides like that and I encouraged them to start to pedal. We were all amazed. Two new bike riders in minutes. No tears or frustration, just joy of movement! You see, they gradually learned to be directly aware of the experience of riding a bike –– not to rely on a substitute for riding a bike.
The same technique can be use in “learning to meditate”. It just takes a little bit of time, and placing one’s awareness on empty stillness, as opposed to placing focus on the thought forms one is supposed to “accept without judgement”. This direct cessation of thougth, or direct observation of stillness, is often called an advanced meditation technique and reserved for those with experience sitting with a mantra, breath observation or similar. “Advanced” –– ha I say! What is simpler than direct observation of the state one wishes to achieve?
This takes an intention to be patient and place one’s attention on the negative space –– thoughtless awareness. This takes a bit of time, just like a sound gradually fading away, releasing its energy as it transitions to stillness.
But if one is willing to be patient, to be generous and extend non judgmental awareness to each passing moment, the mental declination time to stillness will be observed, and will become shorter –– and stillness itself maintained for longer durations.
For thousands of years, bells and chimes have been used as practice aids to help those who wish to reach a state of still-mind awareness. Simply by striking a bell or chime once (or by plucking a stringed instrument once) and by listening to the gradual fade of the tone, one becomes aware of this truth ––– activity gradually declines to inactivity, if no further energy is applied.
A bell struck once or a guitar string plucked once will release its energy, over time, and fade to stillness. Of course this is so obvious it seem absurd when read as words. But just try this and listen. Really listen. If you really listen to the strike tone, then hear the gradual fading away from moment to moment, you cannot be thinking. Try this experiment with any object around your house you can strike or pluck that can make a sustained sound. A bowl, a glass, a vase. There is a big difference between reading about an experience, and direct experience itself. Try this.
Experiencing the reality of the declination time to stillness of a sound gives you direct knowledge of this reality: Change of state is possible, but moment to moment transition “time” is required. This is just like learning to ride a bike by direct experience.
By experiencing the reality of declination time to stillness of a struck bell or plucked string, you will then be more patient with yourself as you begin to let go of thoughts and experience your own declination time to stillness.
Yes, mindfulness meditation –– recognizing and allowing thoughts to be, is a good start. This is a practice of releasing judgement, extending patience and accepting the “is-ness” of the moment that has already arrived. But you can go beyond mindfulness meditation to pure, still, alert awareness. Consciousness free from conceptual thinking. Your essence self.
Be patient with yourself, observe the gradual fade of sounds into background stillness, and know your mind can return to stillness as well –– the source of all potentiality. Simply wait out the mental busyness. Strike your bell again and observe the fade to stillness.
The very first time you try this you will be pleasantly surprised to observe it is possible for you to experience some periods of non-thinking awareness. With practice, the declination time to stillness will shorten, and the duration of stillness will lengthen. All without effort. All by simply observing the gradual fade of sounds and allowing your mind to resonate to this simple truth –– a system will release its energy and return to stillness, if not activated again.
If if you get frustrated, just go ride a bike and don’t think about it 😉
Oh, the eventual return of thought is a topic for another day ; )