Meditation

What is meditation about? It is always a struggle between two modes or being – feeling and rational. I think much of the time we are in feeling mode. Our feelings of like and dislike shape the routine activity of daily life. Performing a task involves the rational mode. As often as not feelings can either hinder or enhance rational mode activity. Yesterday — was trying to change the oil in his motor bike but his feelings about dirt, difficulty and discomfort kept getting in he way of a simple mechanical task. Likewise the pleasure of teaching, sparking off and drawing out ideas and conclusions, enhances doing theology. RM and FM are two sides of the same thing. Meditation helps one become aware of how these two interface. The focusing of the mind during meditation, the being aware of switching from one to the other and of the intermingling of the two is something that can carry over into the rest of the day. This is the meaning of mindfulness. But mindfulness is only the beginning. The task is to become aware of the underlying reality. It is a bit like being at the cinema. We are so caught up in the sights and sounds of the drama on the screen that we lose awareness of our surroundings, of the projectionist, of the streets outside, etc. Even if we are aware of them they are not as interesting at this moment as the drama on the screen – even though they are real and the drama is fiction. Fiction it may be, but when it absorbs our attention it is more ‘real’ than reality. This is one of the hurdles of meditation – getting through the boring phase of bringing the attention back from one distraction after another until one achieves simple self-awareness. To continue the analogy – the film and the cinema only exist because of the social infrastructure that produced them – a world of real people engaged in tasks, projects and creative activities, involved in all kinds of human interaction. The goal in meditation is not just to become self- aware in the minimalist sense of mindfulness but to become aware of the underlying Reality which has given rise first, to me and second, to my mental world.

(Re all this cf. McGinn on Augustine’s mysticism: Mcginn, Bernard . Presence of God: v1 The Foundations of Mysticism (The Presence of God: a History of Western Mysticism). SCM Press, London, 1992. p. 233)

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