Transcendence: Curving Your Attention Back on Itself
After we picked up Daniel Siegel from the train station, we drove toward Isaac Newton’s childhood home. We were going to meditate there, under the apple tree that was said to evoke Isaac’s curiosity.
The story goes that Isaac wondered why it was that apples fall straight down rather than zig zagging or falling up. His curiosity led him on a lifetime of exploration into physics and mathematics, and into the nature of light through optics and astronomy.
The plan was for Dan, me, and some friends to meditate under the same apple tree that inspired Isaac to inquire into the nature of gravity. The yard between the apple tree and his 17th century childhood home was the perfect place to meditate as about 30 of us sat on blankets and folding chairs listening to Dan.
Only two days before, I had led hundreds of people into a group meditation outdoors at the Old Market Square in Nottingham, England. A friend and fellow meditation teacher who studied with Deepak Chopra, Sue Cooper, headed up the event called ThinKNotts. It was a day designed to create more awareness of self-healing, complementary medicine, meditation, mindfulness, and stress reduction.
I was lucky enough to be asked to lead the meditation. I had been speaking in County Cork, then Dublin, Ireland, anyway. It was a short flight.
What a thrill it was to introduce people to the quietness and love that can be accessed in any moment with meditation. New and seasoned meditators alike were in the crowd. The event was considered a big success and certainly one of the highlights of my life. Read more about it here.
After the meditation was over, I heard from many who had never meditated before. One young man said he finally felt like he belonged as he sat in meditation with others like him, happy that, in fact, he wasn’t weird. Others reported feeling so joyous, peaceful, and connected and some became fast friends with others sitting on the ground nearby. Some people lost track of time, others forgot they were sitting in the middle of the square and couldn’t believe that all around them was the activity of the big city. I’d love to do it again, anywhere, anytime!
As you might know, meditation–any kind of meditation– only has three requirements. 1. Your willingness and resolve to do it. 2. Your gentle, non-judgmental attention. 3. A focus for your attention. You can use one or more of the following for a focus: something you see (an object or light you imagine in your mind’s eye or something you actually see), something you hear (a sound you listen to, or one you make, or a sound you think, like a prayer or mantra), or something you feel (such as your breath moving in and out of your body ).
As Dan and I were being driven to Isaac’s house, he told me about his “Wheel of Awareness Meditation.” Visit this link to find out more. The wheel is a visual metaphor representing how attention works.
Consider your focused attention as a spoke in the wheel, and your awareness is the hub of the wheel. Along the rim of the wheel, aspects of things you can become aware of are represented, such as sensory experiences, thoughts, the interior of the body, and the sense of interconnectedness. In the practice, you focus on one area of the rim, meditate on that, then shift to another, and another, as if you are sending a spoke out from the hub to the rim. A spoke of attention, that is.
And at the end, the practice is to curve the spoke back to the center. In other words, you focus your attention on the source of your attention. And what do you get? If you are lucky, you have the direct sense of undifferentiated awareness itself. You become aware of your awareness. Have you ever done that? It’s called transcendence.
This inquiry into what is the source of my attention, was the impetus of my book, The Power of Attention. The subtitle is Awaken to Love and its Unlimited Potential with Meditation. That’s because as I inquired into attention, I sensed that my attention, without judgement or contraction, can actually be used as a beam of love itself. And, when I pay attention to its source, I become aware of the field of love that lives through me. Its the same that lives through you and in all things. It’s consciousness itself, or what some call the field of awareness.
When you surrender to paying attention in meditation, eventually, your thoughts become subtler and subtler and your attention merges with the silence that underlies and is between each thought. This silence is sometimes referred to as the gap. It is conscious field from which all sounds and thoughts arise. In meditation, your attention transcends or “goes beyond” all thoughts, emotions, body awareness, and experience as you merge with its source, or, slip into the gap. This is where the thinker of the thoughts resides—you, your awareness, your soul.
You can’t reach the gap by trying to get there or by thinking your way there. Instead, when you meditate without effort, your mind and body naturally calm down and you experience a period of time where you aren’t thinking anything. This experience of transcendence in meditation can be so fleeting that you might not even notice that for a second or two your internal conversation stopped. How often this transcendence happens and the length of time it lasts depends on the state of your body and mind–how much stress you’ve been under that day, what you ate, how you slept, and so on.
In this state of transcendence you feel peaceful, expanded, and completely content. You’re filled with a sense of total connection, safety, love, expansion, joy, and anything seems possible. Time passes without notice. A minute in the gap can seem like an hour or even the other way around. You lose body awareness too. But then, you have a thought like Where am I? Or, I could meditate forever, I feel so great! The moment you have a thought, you are no longer in that gap, that transcendent state. Thoughts exist in time, and the gap is timeless. When you notice the thoughts come, refocus on the practice at hand, you will naturally transcend and slip into the gap once again.
You can’t make this transcendence thing happen. It’s a natural result of the effortless meditation process. You can’t hold on to the experience of pure awareness, because it isn’t a “thing.” You can’t go “there,” because it isn’t a place. It is, however, the birthplace of everything.
Transcendence. It happened in Old Market Square and under the old apple tree. It can happen to you too. You don’t need to try to make it happen. All you need is the willingness to do it and these five essentials to meditation.