Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Inner Squirrel - How not to go Nuts!

The path of meditation is very much focused on the interaction of meditation practice and meditative consciousness, the former leading one to the latter. From the intellectual point of view, the purpose of meditation is to answer the ages old question, "Who am I?"

But as we are in the midst of a glorious summer and hopefully able to spend more time in nature (as we here in the northwest are blessed to have so close and so abundantly at hand), we might find ourselves sitting by a stream watching the squirrels intent upon their summer program of gathering nuts for the upcoming winter.

Does the squirrel ask, "Who am I?" If he does, his wife will no doubt interrupt, saying, "What a nutty question! Get back to work!" But, gee, whiz, don't most of the six or more billion humans on this earth do pretty much what the squirrel does? We Americans, when greeting a friend we haven't seen in a while, might ask, "How ya doin'? Keepin' busy?"

You get up in the morning and immediately most people embark upon their chores, busy about their lives, sometimes frantic, occasionally with a moment of rest over a meal or a cup of tea, but only briefly, for as we sit, thoughts of un-ease stir as the "what-if's" and the "to-do's" rise like phantoms from the recesses of our subconscious. It may well be that we humans spend more time obsessing nervously about our tasks than the squirrel, who seems more intent on getting his job done than fussing over the odds of success or failure. But, still, in his intensity doesn't the squirrel, too, betray a certain anxiousness? Besides, you can't say he isn't muttering under his breath, occasionally his eyes glancing up at the sky to see if the winter storm clouds, aren't all ready gathering.

Aren't we humans busy little beavers and bees, squirrels and ants, too? I've heard it said that a study showed that most humans have little, if any, abstract thoughts about life at all. That's hard for me to imagine. My dear old mother, God rest her soul, used to regale family members about how I, as a child, would harangue her with the "big" questions of life. (I don't have a specific recollection but I was a bit serious, not a bit like a squirrel in those days. I had to grow up to become a squirrel. Instead, I started life puzzled about its meaning.)

I doubt many people find happiness the result of puzzling relentlessly over the question, "Who am I?" For most it would seem more fun just to, well, go out and have fun, for heavens sake! So what gives with this never-ending "pop up" on the screen of human history--this existential inquiry about "self?"

It may be that the squirrel's worries extend only to the upcoming threat of winter and not beyond, and it may well be that few squirrels have pondered or held committee meetings or raised funds for a new IPO on the question of how to improve the efficiency of their nut gathering techniques or nut storage facilities, but we humans have a long memory for past hurts and failures. We get knocked about enough and we begin looking for how to grow bigger, better nuggets of success and happiness. Well, ok, some of the 'we's' might do that. There are others who are more in the squirrel line of living, for sure.

The inquiry into "Who am I" is proportional to the length of our memory. (I could, at this juncture, shift to the subject of elephants. But let's save that for another time.) There we are enjoying a whole handful of peanuts when the thought arises, "Gee, these are fattening. All this salt is bad for me. Will I find these high-quality peanuts ever again at Costco?" You see, we are of two minds, sometimes :-). There are some who permanently have two minds! (But that's a different subject, so, don't ask, and I won't tell.)

There are some who know, even in the midst of their pleasures, that the ax is going to fall, not only due to the inevitability of the perverseness of life, but in direct proportion to the intensity of their pleasure or happiness. Where, or where, does this seemingly illogical and perverse fear come from? Yup, long memory!

The great sage and exponent of human consciousness, the world's first and foremost psychotherapist, Patanjali, compiled the insights of his forebears -- great rishis of India's ancient golden age -- and taught that it is memory ("smriti') that cracks the cosmic nut of happiness. Memory? I hardly think so. Most elders, obsessed with their lifetime memories, are a bit dour!

No, not that memory, silly. He is not referring to the memory of facts, circumstances, pleasures and sorrows! Rather, Patanjali refers to the memory of the "Who" who is watching; the "Who" that observes these passing pleasures and sorrows. He is referring to the perception of the Perceiver behind the sense impressions, thoughts, reactions, emotions that flit by and appear briefly upon the screen of experiences. As "Horton hears a Who," Patanjali sees the You: the real You. This You remains whether appearing as a child, a vital youth, a  busy squirrel with furrowed middle-aged brow, a pleasure seeker, or an aging or dying elder. Always this You is there watching. This Who, this You, is untouched by life's passing show and drama.

Most people you get to know well, well, they tend to shrink in your esteem. But this Who, this You, only grows in size: grows in your esteem, your reverence, your awe. Because contacting the Who, the You, is at first only as fleeting as your sense impressions are upon your mind, you cannot yet claim that the Who is You. Those who do think of Who as You risk falling into the pit of solipsism, self-involvement, and increasing egotism.

It is safer to see the Who as not You, but as Thee until such time, as the Who and You are so continuously interlocked that Who are We. Another strange thing happens, two: in perceving the Who, who has no name or form, you begin to sense the Who is all a-Round and the wall begins to fall between You and Who and We. By this time you are either nuts or enlightened.

You are nuts if your mind, having seen the Who as You, insists on analyzing the Who as You. You are enlightened if you let it go, saying Nuts to You.

A happy, joyful and in-lightened summer fun in the sun,

Nayaswami Hriman, aka Swami Hrimananda!