After some amount of contemplative practice, and maybe even a deeper awakening experience, we tend to notice how much of our energy is handed over to thoughts, to mind-stuff.
After a while, we notice all of it, everything outside of the pure silence is mind stuff, thought forms of one level of another.
The stuff we think about, the stuff we want, the memory that haunts us, the relationship we can’t let go of, the embarrassing moment we still cringe about, the things we worry about. It’s all mind stuff.
Regular contemplative practice is like a shower for the spirit. After that kind of nakedness, you start to recognize the thoughts you put on everyday like clothes. Just like our wardrobe, we tend to go through the same range of thoughts for quite a while.
There’s the mental infrastructure we take for granted: body, memory, family, address, gender, income level, relationships, nationality, personality, likes, dislikes, Enneagram number, Myers-Briggs type, all the things that we use to locate us in the world. That’s mind stuff, a thought form, a mental formation.
Then there’s the ongoing activity of trying to jostle for position, to be liked, to get approval, to get some amount of security and control. That’s the more obvious mind stuff.
But what if we exchanged the whole bundle for the silence? We don’t identify with this little self anymore, this singularity, this individual, but with the silence, the tehom, the creative abyss out of which all creation is made possible, including ourselves.
Everything we experience, think, feel, and do is an aspect of our own consciousness. It’s all mind stuff. And the question becomes how to become a channel for beauty, for balance, for wellbeing, for wholeness, for love to enter this world we perceive around us.
After abiding in silence, we realize everything we experience, think, feel, and do has brackets around it. It’s not the absolute. Our biology and sex drive and relationships and our favorite food and our favorite movies and our favorite memories are now in brackets. It’s not the full picture. Our politics and history and degrees and job titles and raises and investments and family and loss. All in brackets. The attitude toward all of which which is to some extent conditioned. All part of a limited understanding, a flawed, desiring ego. All, in one way or another, aspects of our own consciousness, with no absolute inherent substantiality.
Fixating on mind stuff is like fixating on an email you read in the morning even though you’re at the zoo you’re your child or at dinner with a friend. It’s a contrived distraction. It takes us out of the moment.
There’s a profound freedom in making that realization down to your very marrow. Having let go of the distraction, a different means of living and a different capacity for love and service become possible.
Contemplative practice is one means of tapping into this capacity, for opening ourselves to the divine qualities inherent in the silence. When we abide in the silence, when we identify with the silence, which is to say, when we enter that no-self mode, that neutral presence, that abiding witness, that nondual awareness, that state of being Christ called kingdom, this capacity becomes manifest in us.
When we don’t we fall back into reactivity, trying to defend, stand out, justify, make wrong, feel superior, and so on. I personally love to grieve lost things, find myself in imaginary conversations justifying myself to this or that person, trying to appear impressive to this or that person, trying to fend off judgement from this or that person.
Of course, after a while you wonder: who am I talking to? There’s no one there. It’s all mind stuff. I want to hold on to things to feel like I have a story, one that matters, I’m a person of value, I want to pin the positive experiences and accomplishments like butterflies on the pinboard of my mind’s museum and have a grand opening.
But it’s just me in the museum with a bunch of hoarded made up things. The practice of abiding in silence is like stepping out into the cool clear air, nothing to hoard or accumulate, just to see what you see, to do what’s needed, and to let go of what’s not.
Contemplative Carl McColman on his new podcast project Encountering Silence
Contemplative teacher Rich Lewis’s recent post Silence Is God’s Classroom
Contemplative Light’s online course The Divine Transformation: Essentials of Christian Mysticism (Coupon Code: HALFOFF for 50% off of course through December)