Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Abstractions, gratitude, and god

Consider how life goes.

You are presented with a bewildering array of colors, sounds, and textures. From their behavior, you infer the existence of abstractions called matter, time, space, etc. to explain them. Next, you take these abstractions to be the (only) "real things," and the experiences from which you inferred them to be secondary. The things you have merely inferred become certainties, and the things you can actually be certain of (experiences) become curiosities at best.

It's a marvelous sleight of hand that is remarkably hard to detect, but the payoff is worth it. It is possible (indeed overwhelmingly common) to spend a whole lifetime missing out on connecting with the Sure Thing in favor of abstractions.

One remarkable place we do this is in expressing gratitude. We suspect there's something profoundly amazing about just being alive. To objectify this sense, we have to make use of abstractions. What is life? A combination of amino acids. How did they come about? From fusion and other processes. So we become grateful for amino acids, fusion, evolution, etc. Those are all fascinating things to be grateful for, but again there's a sleight of hand: the realization that sparked the gratitude was the sense of being alive, not any of the abstractions that we suspect caused that miracle.

It is actually possible (and incredibly worthwhile) to allow the gratitude to remain precisely on the alive-ness itself, and not on any of the abstractions (such as our calculation of the remarkably low odds that we should be alive). I hesitate to proffer my own take, but here goes: if you manage to be genuinely grateful for the Real Thing for even a moment, you may catch a glimpse of what sages across time have been calling Enlightenment or God. (Yes, those too are abstractions, so don't chase them either.)

How do you get to the Real Thing?

One possibility is to deepen your felt sense of gratitude, but don't be grateful for anything in particular, or because of any particular reason. Don't let your gratitude "land" anywhere. Be grateful for "what is," without in any way identifying what it is or why it is.

Another technique commonly offered is meditation. It certainly can work, but there's a common trap you can fall into: abandoning some of the abstractions, but solidifying deeper ones. For example, it's easy to sit and meditate with a clear mind, while maintaining (and even deepening) the sense that you are an individual meditating within a real world. You will know you are making progress when your gut-felt certainty about your abstractions called time, space, self, objective reality, etc. begin to loosen. What arises in their stead? I will leave that for you to discover.

1 comment:

Tom Vykruta said...

If you were to invent a new type of meditation exercise to coach the abandonment of abstractions what would it look like? Starting with baby steps for the non enlightened.