Since I've become churchless -- a convert to no-religion -- one of the more ridiculous things I hear from true believers is: So you've given up on finding the truth.
No! That's entirely untrue.
I've simply realized that the most fundamental questions about life, reality, and what, if anything, lies beyond the physical can't be answered via blind faith, dogma, preconceived ideas, or rigid ritualistic practices.
Here's some questions that I find fascinating:
What is the essence of consciousness?
Does a "soul" exist separate, or separable, from the body?
Are humans part of a larger whole, or just a part?
Is our usual view of reality the truest way of seeing?
Ever since I started studying yoga and meditation with a crazed Greek-Christian-Hindu-whatever teacher in the crazy late '60s (the decade), I've been exploring these sorts of ponderings.
Partly through learning from others through books, talks, discussions, and such. But also through daily meditation almost every morning for more than forty years.
I'm still at it, because it seems clear that consciousness is key to understanding ... well, everything. The world outside of us. The world inside of us. The world neither (or both) inside and outside of us.
If we're not conscious of something, it doesn't exist for us.
Yet as countless mystics, and just as many scientists, have pointed out, our attention almost always is directed toward those some things, not the consciousness which makes possible (some would say, is) our knowledge of phenomenal existence.
Over the years I've written quite a bit about my favorite approach to meditation, Thomas Keating's "Open Mind, Open Heart." Here's some posts where I talk about this book, whose philosophy is based on the medieval classic, The Cloud of Unknowing.
It may seem sort of strange that I'm so attracted to a book with a subtitle, "The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel." But I simply substitute "reality" or "consciousness" when Keating says "God," and ignore the Jesus references.
Many people are so identified with the ordinary flow of their thoughts and feelings that they are not aware of the source from which these mental objects are emerging. Like boats or debris floating along the surface of a river, our thoughts and feelings must be resting on something.
They are resting on the inner stream of consciousness, which is our participation in God's being. That level is not immediately evident to ordinary consciousness. Since we are not in immediate contact with that level, we have to do something to develop our awareness of it. It is the level of our being that makes us most human.
The values that we find there are more delightful than the values that float along the surface of our psyche. We need to refresh ourselves at this deep level every day. Just as we need exercise, food, rest, and sleep, so also we need moments of interior silence because they bring the deepest kind of refreshment.
Faith is opening and surrendering to God. The spiritual journey does not require going anywhere because God is already with us and in us. It is a question of allowing our ordinary thoughts to recede into the background and to float along the river of consciousness without our noticing them, while we direct our attention toward the river on which they are floating.
We are like someone sitting on the bank of a river and watching the boats go by. If we stay on the bank, with our attention on the river rather than on the boats, the capacity to disregard thoughts as they go by will develop, and a deeper kind of attention will emerge.
A thought in the context of this method is any perception that appears on the inner screen of consciousness. This could be an emotion, an image, a memory, a plan, a noise from outside, a feeling of peace, or even a spiritual communication.
In other words, anything whatsoever that registers on the inner stream of consciousness is a "thought." The method consists of letting go of every thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts.
Yes, even the most devout thoughts. Most meditation practices speak about emptying our cup of consciousness so it can be filled with a deeper sense of reality, but almost always this is just talk.
Because they assume what the practitioner will eventually be filled with. A vision of X. Merging with Y. Understanding or becoming Z.
When you've got X, Y, and Z floating around in your psyche, you're focused on the boats going by that Keating refers to in the quotation above: forms of religious or spiritual dogma. Instead:
In centering prayer we begin to shift our attention from the boats and objects on the surface to the river itself, to that which sustains all our faculties and is their source. The river in this analogy has no qualities or characteristics. It is spiritual and limitless because it is a participation in God's being.
...You must keep turning your attention from what is on the surface of the river to the river itself, from the particular to the general, from forms to the formless, from images to the imageless.