The primary exercise at the Mesa World Retreat consisted of projecting onto inanimate objects. We were required to allocate a significant slice of time to identification with a specific object in the natural world for which we expressed an affinity, to ‘bond’ with it, and then engage in a productive manner. The whole endeavour was supposed to take on a teacher-student guise with the latter, incidentally the individual, expanding self-consciousness through the exhumation of unconscious material. It vaguely reminded me of the medieval and Renaissance alchemists, who, according to Jung, projected intrinsic archetypal and symbolic processes onto retorts, alembics, flasks, and other alchemical vessels before attempting to comprehend them in naturalistic terms. Unlike their philosophic contemporaries, the alchemists were ignorant of the psychological self-projections they were attempting to come to terms with. This resulted in some pretty reductive thinking and an understanding of emergent symbolic images strictly in terms of chemical processes in the laboratory. Naturally our intimate knowledge of the inner mental processes forestalls such an empirical error on our part; we have some rational awareness of what is happening when we inaugurate dialogue with the inanimate objects that comprise the outer world along with the capacity for critical analysis. To put it in layman’s terms we have insight into our own mind-space; we can see the furniture inside our mental tepees. Or can we?
I will confess that I struggled with this exercise at first. Talking with inanimate objects out in the grasslands and forests seemed ludicrous. Who talks to rocks, statues, and mountains save for one spiralling into the depths of madness? Anybody who chanced across such a phenomenon would promptly arrive at the conclusion that there was a break-out at a mental asylum in the immediate vicinity somewhere. But these rogue thoughts weren’t mine, they were thin-lipped and insular preconceptions of an ego wholly identified with the idea of recognition and validation. From in amongst the cacophonous mind-noise, I can hear faint whispers echoing from the authentic housewife, my higher Self: “Don’t sell your authenticity for a superficial victory such as pleasing the Others. Don’t sell me short.” I didn’t intend to disappoint or overlook my progressive self, so I settled upon a practice that was authentic but discrete. I decided that I would commune with my teacher in silence.
In retrospect, it would be fitting to say that those who suffer from unwavering mental noise and an inner voice fiercely determined to drive one through the roof with adages of endless self-criticism and evaluation wouldn’t encounter much trouble in finding a suitable teacher. Trust me, the inner critic possesses an uncanny ability to round an army of sticks and stones that will fuse into one and break the bones of your ego faster than burp in a dust storm. I found mine in a beautiful meditation space some three hundred metres from our wooden cottage–a ruminating state of Gautama Buddha, the Enlightened One.
It wasn’t love at first sight by any means. My initial reaction to this statue, parenthetically one of two religious-spiritual world symbols in the meditation space, was an indifferent squint. For most the Buddha’s prominence as a universal symbol of the search for truth, inner wisdom, and enlightenment would make him the obvious choice. But it was for that reason exactly that I didn’t want him; he was a clichéd embodiment of spiritual transcendence and unio mystica with the divine. I wasn’t interested in jumping on the same bandwagon. I wanted something a little more original, something that might stir emphatic exhilaration and inspiration. After spending some time wondering about the meditative space rather aimlessly I plonked myself down on a wooden stump opposite the Buddha and perused the innumerable ferns. At some point I cast an adjacent glance at him.
B: Don’t be embarrassed.
M: I’m not.
You’re ashamed that you thought those things about me.
How would you know?
Oh, I know. I know everything.
Of course you do. It wasn’t me who thought that; it was my ego.
A bit of a grumpy bum today, huh?
I’m annoyed at the flies out here in the bushland. They’re so aggressive.
What do you think I should do about them?
Are you still there?
The more I fight the flies, the more aggressive they get. Buddha?
This is ridiculous.
Just be what?
At one with them.
How can I be at one with these annoying little shits?
How can you not be?
Hmmm… Well the flies are swarming around you as well, they’re settling around every nook and cranny but you don’t even flinch a muscle. How do you do that?
Maybe that’s what I need to do. If you ignore them they’ll go away.
They will Paul.
Your unwillingness to respond is a test, isn’t it? The silence is a test.
The Buddha’s quietude starts to annoy me so I decide to venture out to the hammocks with my cousin. The walk in the summer heat is excruciating and tiresome. Both sentiments are further amplified by the fact that the flies are persistently indifferent to my feigned obliviousness. Maybe I should start the histrionics again, at least then I get to exteriorize my anger with a few swats and punches into the air. Suddenly, the Buddha is there again:
They’re just doing what’s natural to them. It’s what they do. Flies like to anno white-skinned city people that have little to no experience out in the wild, the real world.
Remember you do have choices.
Yeah they’re all drifting about between the Devil and the deep blue sea.
Choose to be annoyed or choose to accept it as one of the things you can’t change and move forward.
I’ll accept it and move on.
I’m not convinced that you mean it. You’re saying it just to please me.
You need to think about choices.
I’ll think later, when my mind’s not on autopilot. Right now I’m too comfortable and lazy in this hammock.
The following day I return to the meditation space and continue my conversation with the Buddha:
P: Guess what? I found the answer to the fly problem.
B: Enlighten me.
Aeroguard, Australia’s leading insect repellent. My cousin brought some along!
I know, I know, I know. That’s not what you wanted to hear. You would have preferred something more enlightened, yeah?
I’m just being practical really.
Come on, what else can you expect from a white-skinned city boy other than a material solution?
Hmmm… I’m fully being ignored here!
What if you didn’t have the fly spray Paul? What would you have done then?
I’d spend more time indoors rather than outdoors.
Wow, so all it takes is a swarm of invasive flies to keep you away from the natural wonders of the cosmos. And of course let’s not forget me, the teacher you unconsciously elected to be your spirit guide. How else would you have found me if you hadn’t persevered in the heat?
To be honest I hadn’t really given that much thought.
Well maybe you should. Think about perseverance. Let the word echo in your mind; absorb it just like the thirsty desert swallows the summer rains.
Perseverance is the key; I need to persevere! I need to persist in my quest!
Disengage from your psyche-soma–your sensations, feelings, and your intellect. You are above it. Don’t allow yourself to be swept about by the vicissitudes they rouse. They might look like towering mountains at first, but they can be traversed and conquered.
I am stronger than any force, internal or external, put up as a hindrance to reaching my destination and attaining my goal.
I know this, but for some reason I keep forgetting.
You must remember.
Feeling the Buddha’s approval, I stand up and continue my walk in the bushlands. The feeling of contentment is addictive, so I return the following day again, hopeful that he might bequeath a satiating answer to one of my biggest questions.
P: Hey there teacher.
B: Welcome again Paul.
I noticed that there’s been a decrease in the number of flies about today.
Remember what I said about perseverance and detachment. Remain a pillar like I do, unaffected by both the perceived positive and negative.
I know I’m learning. I had a thought yesterday.
Not an uncommon thing.
It happened when I was staring up at the clouds from the hammock.
About the nature of mind?
How do you know?
Well I’m with you always. I hear your innermost thoughts. I know everything.
Right, so I haven’ been able to jettison the mind-matter debate.
I mean, I understand the whole mind evolved out of matter debate. All members of a certain species are underpinned by genotypes, some of which manifest qualities and traits better adapted to survival than others. The ones that are selected for posterity. Darwinism is a faithful consort of materialistic monism. For the ontology of mind to exist there must be a mammalian brain equipped with a neocortex responsible for higher-order consciousness. No brain equals no mind but not vice versa.
That’s one opinion.
Right. Of course the current model of materialistic monism cannot account for the fact that the mind operates in four dimensions and not three. It can move back and forth in time; it can express itself collectively through ‘psi’ phenomena; and it may be able to survive physical corruption of the brain. Here, mind utilizes psychoneural parallelism to manifest its timeless processes and does not cease to exist at the time of death.
That’s another opinion.
So in essence I see one of two possibilities. Either mind preceded matter and the cosmos exists as an Aristotelian teleology where human beings represent some intermediary between the generation of simple life and godhood…
Yes, or the mind did in fact evolve from the brain and ceases to exist at the time of death.
To that can be added another opinion.
The mind evolves from the brain and at some point, perhaps with the coming of higher-order consciousness in human beings, acquires an existence independent of the brain.
I hadn’t thought of that.
Then there were three…
Like the three Fates, hey?
I wouldn’t know which is the more likely. It could be any one of them really.
And it might be none.
What do you mean?
You could be barking up the wrong tree. Those seem the viable options at this point in time, but they might not be the options in say, fifty or two hundred years from now.
Big questions, big questions. You like to trouble your soul with the big questions.
In truth I’ve thought about it lots Buddha. Sometimes I don’t know what to think anymore.
The answer isn’t in thinking, it’s in feeling.
Feeling, the law of the heart.
And what kind of reasoning does the law of the heart adhere to Buddha?
Be open and receptive. It will come when it’s meant to.
Sounds very New Age guru to me.
Don’t force the issue. It will come when it’s meant to, if at all. Wait. Be patient. Be watchful. Don’t rush. Feel my boy, feel!
I guess with all this craziness in our chaotic lives there’s never much time for feeling anymore, is there?
I lift my gaze level with the Buddha’s and nod vigorously in agreement. All of life is about feeling, but for some reason we become perturbed and in some instances disaggregated or divided unto ourselves when it comes to opening ourselves up to it.