I was walking along the Metolius river in central Oregon, semi-lost in thought. Which isn't unusual for me. Like most people, I spend a lot of my day focused on what's going on inside my head.
That's as far from earth level as my six foot bodily consciousness can rise.
Since I've been reading "Tajiquan Theory" in the morning before I meditate, some Taoist lessons came to mind.
Breathe. Focus on your abdominal center, the lower dan tian. Simply be aware. Without thought.
I've heard this in each of the Tai Chi classes that I've been taking for three and a half years. "Rise from above. Sink from below."
Where does that leave you? Centered. Often we carry a lot of tension in our upper arms and shoulders. Letting it go, relaxing the elbows, softening the knees, we settle into a comfortable wu chi stance, rooted.
As in the Tai Chi dojo, so on the riverside trail.
Attention to a few breaths, feeling my abdomen expand on the inhale, contract on the exhale, and my psyche was several feet lower, seemingly. I wasn't teetering along inside wobbly mental confines any longer. Nature and me were much more intimately connected.
That's how I've been feeling ever since I entered my churchless phase: more attuned to the world that exists outside of conceptual thought.
Or at least, on the far edges of it – since I'm not sure that it's possible to completely separate sensation from cognition. The human brain isn't wired in such a dualistic fashion.
It's strange that I hear so frequently, "Brian, you think too much." This advice (or criticism) usually comes from true believers who question my leaving a religious fold. They view themselves as having gone beyond thought into pure spiritual experience.
Yeah, right. I don't see it this way at all. And I feel like I know whereof I speak, because I've been there and done that – the true believing thing.
Belief involves thought. So does faith. Each adds on something to direct experience that isn't naturally there. A complex conceptual superstructure is constructed on top of simple sensation, leaving the psyche top-weighted.
Christians believe in the presence of Jesus. But there's no Jesus actually there in prayer or a church service. Without all the dogma and theology of Christianity, Jesus wouldn't exist. He's only evident when the thought of a believer is active.
Same with guru worship in Eastern faiths, something I know a lot about. The elevation devotees feel in the presence of the guru comes from believing in his (or, rarely, her) divinity. No belief, no elevation.
It's all in the head, another example of top-weighted experiencing. This was the point of my "Did I see God in first class?" post. The ahhhhh from being a few feet away from a purported God-man erupted only from those who believed in him.
By contrast, when I walk along the Metolius there's no believing involved in recognizing the river's beauty. My thoughts keep me from fully experiencing what's really there, rather than being essential ingredients of the experience – as is the case with Jesus or guru worship.
There's nothing wrong with thinking. But when it's the foundation of religious or spiritual faith, we're out of balance, way up there in our own head, not grounded in natural reality.
I'll end with some Alan Watts.
The first element of Chinese Taoist yoga is to stop talking to yourself. Don't explain the world…So one has to get to the nameless state, the nonthinking state, which is called in Chinese wu nien. Wu means "not" and nien means "the heart-mind."
…Now, you will find, if you try, that it is a very difficult thing indeed to stop thinking. "Stopping thinking" doesn't mean to stop using your eyes and your ears and your hands and all your senses. It means that when you see a dog, you don't say "dog" to yourself; you just see what is there. The Buddhists call this the state of suchness.
…When in ancient texts of mysticism you read that it is necessary to go beyond the senses, that necessity can very easily be misunderstood. The texts are not saying that it is the senses – the eyes, the ears, and so on – that falsify.
It is our conceptions of what the eyes and the ears bring to us that cause the falsification…The splendor of a river is that it is the meaning and has none, and there is about it a quality of meaninglessness, of having no meaning and yet being meaning to all nature.