The Postman Keeps on Ringing

In attempting to find my niche in the spirituality landscape, I am grateful to the simple teachers out there like Eckhart Tolle, who have been able to keep the same message alive and popular for decades. It’s not an easy task, this “business”, to keep people engaged in something that is brutally disengaging. There are all sorts of shiny toys along the way that the seeker can stop to play with, subtle distractions from the wonderful simplicity of meditation.

What I would call the “ancient aliens” branch of spirituality is all over the internet – astral projectors, dimensional and galatial travelers of all stripes discerning the secrets of the universe based off scribblings from the Great Pyramid. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a night or three in a stoned-out revery watching episode after episode of Ancient Aliens, there is a certain magnetism towards the paranormal. But, as Alec Baldwin asks in The Depahted, cui bono?

I believe there is a responsibility to keep the message as simple and concise as possible. Throughout the scientific process of meditation/enlightenment, there is a continual yearning of the ego to reassert itself, to grab hold of the reins once more and steer the ship. This is made all the more enticing by branching off into ‘ancient aliens’ territory. Yes, I do dive into Kundalini and quantum metaphysics in my book, but only towards the end and with the caveat that it is not at all necessary to the meditation process.

In keeping with that pledge towards simplicity, I thought it worthwhile to briefly look at the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. It is always refreshing and reassuring to see the same exact meditation process presented from yet one more independent, well-known source from thousands of years ago. First, sutras 1.2 – 1.4:

Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.

Then, pure awareness can abide in its very nature.

Otherwise, awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness.

The ego/default mode network is constantly at work, for most people. “Our” awareness takes itself to be the rising and falling thoughts and emotions that pass before it, constructing this solid, seemingly permanent entity called “me”. As discussed, the science of meditation (referred to as yoga here) involves stilling the “patterning of consciousness”. So, how do we do that? Let’s look at sutras 1.12 – 1.15:

Both practice and non-reaction are required to still the patterning of consciousness.

Practice is the sustained effort to rest in that stillness.

And this practice becomes firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully and continuously for a long time.

As for non-reaction, one can recognize that it has been fully achieved when no attachment arises in regard to anything at all, whether perceived directly or learned.

Clear, concise, and perfectly mirroring the actual scientific process going on in the default mode network during meditation. You could even condense these four sutras into essentially the practice of non-reactivity, which is what meditation is all about.

At first, consciousness takes itself to be the “patterning” of our mind. By the gradual process of non-reactivity, or refusing to harbor thought as Nisargadatta put it, this connection is severed. And this isn’t just figurative language, neural networks in the brain are literally disconnected moment to moment through this process.

The ego or default mode network is kind of like getting your mail each day. A person is established, with a name and address, various comings and goings. The momentum of this activity leads to a continual stream of thoughts and neural patterns “delivered” each day. But someone has to take the mail out of the mailbox, or take delivery of it.

One day you decide to stop picking up the mail, you just sit quietly inside and watch the mailman go by. But the letters are there, building up and up, practically falling out of the mailbox. The mailman looks around, perplexed. No one is getting the mail? The temptation to run out there and grab them all becomes very great, to catch up on all the latest news.

Eventually, the mail stops coming. The post office recognizes that there is no one home. It is pointless to keep bringing the mail, you’ve gone on permanent vacation. You have become address-less. This is the challenge, stop opening the mail. Don’t give a forwarding address, don’t change your name and move somewhere else, just stop opening the mail.

Freedom is at hand when the fundamental qualities of nature, each of their transformations witnessed at the moment of its inception, are recognized as irrelevant to pure awareness; it stands alone, grounded in its very nature, the power of pure seeing. That is all.

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, IV.34

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