Inside and Outside
Many years ago I watched a television program which showed entire worlds (worlds of extraordinary complexity) existing inside of us that are invisible, but which become apparent when we look through a microscope. In us we have bacteria, cells, molecules and atoms, which we aren’t aware of in our bodies. Just because we do not see them, makes them no less real. They are here whether we are aware of them or not, and not only do they exist, they are influencing us all of the time. Not only influencing. They are us. That is who we are, (they are the reality of who we are) and to get even a small glimpse of this microscopic world is astonishing.
In another arena, when we go away from the city and look up into the night sky, we see inconceivably larger worlds that we are a microscopic part of. An uncountable number of stars. Astronomers looking through the most powerful telescopes at small dark patches of sky, find hundreds of, not stars, but galaxies, all of which are indiscernible to the naked eye. A student recently told me that there are 50 billion galaxies in our universe. Fifty billion. That’s beyond the scope of my imagination. These galaxies make up the universe that we are a part of, even though they are rarely in our consciousness. We imagine ourselves to be set apart from the totality of all existing things and our illusion of separateness causes us a lot of suffering.
Albert Einstein said that as human beings we are part of a whole, part of a universe, and that we experiences ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest. He said that this is an optical delusion of consciousness. “This delusion is a kind of prison for us.... Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
In a similar way there is a whole world of thought and sense perception, which is happening in each moment. This world is as large as the stars and as close to us as our cells. We exist as thought and body sensations, even though we are not in touch with this particular aspect of the universe that we are either.
There are tools for examining these inner universes, a different kind of microscope and telescope. Awareness is the tool with which we can see into the world of our minds and sense perception, and meditation is the instrument with which we sharpen the tool of awareness.
When we first begin to notice thought and sensation, awareness is not very sharp, like a weak telescope, but we still can see certain things. When we first look at our thinking mind we see how much is happening. We see how wild, un-concentrated and out of control the mind is, and that it seems impossible to keep it focused on one point. We get a glimpse of how much unconsciousness there is.
Maybe after practicing for a little while, we might feel some peace. Then perhaps later, as we sharpen the awareness through meditation, our telescope gets stronger we might arrive at some insight, or some therapeutic understanding of ourselves. We might notice how we cling to certain thoughts & sensations & avoid others.
As our lenses becomes clear and focus sharpens, the mind becomes quieter, and we perhaps sense our physical form through the sense doors in a way we never have before, like how we are pulling in between our eyebrows or squeezing our arms to us, or have a feeling of well-being, or settling down, or deep peace. We could also begin to notice the interconnectedness of thoughts and body sensations. The stars begin to come out more brightly and we experience the breath moving in us, often in a different way than we ever have previously noticed.
And as we strengthen our telescopes we begin to uncover more and more subtle sensations or how attitudes manifest in how we walk, or get up from a chair. Along the way we see other universes, mind states, samadhi, rapture, out of body experiences, beings of light or darkness. Achaan Cha a great meditation teacher who lived in Thailand, said, “Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a still forest pool. All kinds of wonderful rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. this is the happiness of the Buddha.”
When the practice gets deep, amazing things happen out of the ordinary. Many students have shared their experiences with me that are not considered normal by cultural standards. It is not uncommon that a client or student of meditation will touch the center of deep feelings of anger or attachment to someone who is close which gives rise to a shift in their attitude. When the student returns home the other person may call or write to them and seems to be the one who has changed. We are connected in ways that western science does not yet understand, but is beginning to be examined.
A rather cruel and heart wrenching experiment was done in Russia with rabbits. A mother rabbit was intentionally separated from her babies and then hooked up in a way that revealed her mental activity. The babies were taken may miles away and then at a determined time they were killed. At the exact moment the babies died the mother rabbit had a tremendous distress response and surge of mental activity.
One afternoon about ten years ago, I was taking a nap and was having a marvelous dream that seemed like it was more real than my waking life. I was with my grandmother, my father’s mother who had died about 15 years previously. I was feeling rapture and great joy in this dream. Suddenly the phone rang and my son’s voice woke me up. His first words were, “Are you ready to become a grandmother, Mom?” followed by the announcement that he and his wife were going to have a baby, my first grandchild. I was confused and disoriented from waking from the dream so quickly and shifting realities so fast, as well as the amazing implications of what had happened. It took me a while to even register what he had said. My mind kept trying to make sense of this throughout day. Later that same afternoon, I received a package in the mail. It was from my cousin, Barbie, who had not previously been in contact with any of the family. I had had no communication with her before this and have had none since that day. In the box there was gold charm in the shape of a heart that said “Terry” on it. Along with the charm was a letter that said, “Grandma bought this charm for her bracelet when you were born and wore it all of her life.” Barbie said she had just happened across it and thought I might want to keep it.
It was a mind stopper. And it was clear that there is a lot more available to us than our ordinary way of perceiving the world suggests.