This post is a reminder for myself (and possibly a pointer for others) concerning a state that has arisen during formal meditation — on retreats, especially. I’ve come to a place of stillness, which is distinctly pleasurable, where thoughts may or may not be present at all.. and if they are, they are seen with distinct clarity and don’t create any further thinking. I remember once reflecting on thinking while in this state and saying that the thoughts were like sticky notes, loosely pinned on. In any case, the thinking mind is no longer in the way or providing any distraction. Witness consciousness is present, but there is little in the way of an object. Breathing can still be found, and may be the anchor for awareness, but the chatter within the mind is gone. One of these loosely pinned on notes might read, “what now?” How do you go further into stillness if there isn’t anything left to settle down –and nothing but the breath to observe? Is this emptiness? Is there any point in staying in this space? Here is the reminder for next time this happens:
“…there’s still more to do. This is where mindfulness, alertness, and ardency keep digging away. Mindfulness reminds you that no matter how wonderful this sense of oneness, you still haven’t solved the problem of suffering. Alertness tries to focus on what the mind is still doing in that state of oneness— what subterranean choices you’re making to keep that sense of oneness going, what subtle levels of stress those choices are causing—while ardency tries to find a way to drop even those subtle choices so as to be rid of that stress. – Mindfulness Defined by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
So what’s to be done? Notice what is happening – even if it’s relatively “empty” compared to typical experience – something is still happening. Pay close attention to volitional activity – are you subtly “doing” something? Is the mind in the process of fabricating anything at all? Is there contact at any of the senses? Perception? Feelings, either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? Look for these elements. Apply the concept of inconstancy to look for any changes in what you find. Recognize that what you find is being witnessed and is not your true nature, it is not ‘self’. Recognize that whatever is going on, no matter how subtle — it is still producing stress. Using these tools to uncover subtle experience and discern that they have the marks of existence (impermanence, not-self, dukkha) is to “keep digging away”.