Meditation is connecting with the treasures of our mind.
In his book “The Way Finders,” the anthropologist Wade Davis describes what it is like to descend into the dark caves of Dordogne, France to sit with the Paleolithic cave paintings that our ancestors etched and brushed against the rough stonewalls some 30,000 years ago.
Despite the magnificence of the artwork, the psychic force of the caverns doesn’t have as much to do with the visual display as the pure, awesome power of sitting quietly in the darkness with our ancestors at a time when humanity began to realize the depth of its consciousness and thus the acceptance of an existential departure from the wildness of the animal kingdom. There is a real sense of reverence within the paintings for nature and a nostalgic undercurrent for a time when man, grass, and mammoth were held in the grasp of the earth’s wilderness.
This description of our human roots struck me.
The author paints a beautiful mosaic of words himself, invoking the imagery of an anthropologist sitting in the dimly lamp-lit caverns with the titanic reservoir of human consciousness coursing through the caves, and really, the experience of this human mind. Though I cannot imagine the gravitational pull of such a place, the awesome power of the mind and the vast realms of the inner territories are here now, in this mind and in this experience of the present moment. The act of meditation is really a nestling into our base connection to the now and fundamentally, the consciousness that is rooted into the foundations of our evolutionary rise over thousands of years.
It is the act of descending into the treasure cave behind our brow, which we humans all possess that is no different than sitting with the work of our ancestors as they tried to discern the trials and tribulation of the human condition. Though we are here, typing on the computer or fiddling with a brand new gadget, we rest on top of the titanic reservoir of human experience, riding on an upwelling from the original source. And though we seem to be outside the reach of the wilderness, it is interesting to remember that the wilderness doesn’t end or begin in a park or near a snow covered mountain, it pervades through the infinity of the universe and the immediacy of our love, anger and tears.
When I shut my eyes and focus on the breath, there isn’t anything special about it.
It is ordinary and at first, difficult and boring. But over time, there is a deepening that takes place into my internal reservoir that may or may not be a door into something larger than my subjective experience. The world still spins and I can hear the faint sound of children playing in the neighbor’s yard, but I am slowly ceasing to be this notion of “me” while becoming more like energy—a vibrant force of awareness that enjoys sitting on the meditation cushion as much as shooting a basketball or cleaning a dirty dinner plate. The anthropologist’s sense of connection to the base of humanity while in the cave, is also here too, while relishing the sun rays streaming through the trees or listening to the sound of parrots flying overhead.
This is the art of now, of energy, and this “I” is none other than an integral blade of grass in the fluctuating mosaic. Being present and using this human consciousness of ours to be here is the greatest gift—one that links us intimately into the unbroken chain of existence.
And then of course, when I have gone past the ordinary and begin to ascend into spiritual heights—into what I believe is extraordinary—I am reminded of the Zen masters lurking in this mind and against the background of my surroundings. Turning things around, I come back to the now and relish what is here. Here are two humorous Zen stories about a young pupil named Hsueh-feng and his tough teacher Tung-shan. In both accounts, the pupil feels as though he is ready to challenge the Master and in both, he is pressed back into his practice.
Once, when Hsueh-feng was carrying a bundle of firewood, he arrived in front of the Master and threw the bundle down.
“How heavy is it?” asked the Master.
“There is no one on earth who could lift it,” replied Hsueh-feng
“Then how did it get here? asked the Master.
Hsueh-feng said nothing.
Hsueh-feng went to pay his respects to his teacher, Master Tung-shan.
The master said, “When you enter the door, you must say something. It won’t do to say that you have already entered.”
“I have no mouth,” said Hsueh-feng.
“Although you may have no mouth, you should still give me back my eyes,” said the Master.
Hsueh-feng said nothing.
Hsueh-feng would go on to be one of the most revered Zen Masters in the history of Zen Buddhism, but not before he experienced his fair share of whacks, evocative teachings, failures, sweat beads, and then the cultivation of a deep sense of centeredness.
These stories always seem to make me chuckle because they remind me of living out my journey on the mindful path—the times when I fall down or when I feel the exalted heights of boundless connection, either way, I feel the sting of the master’s truth and I come back to the center. Descending into the cave of the mind to be with what is here, to be with the profundity of time and space, and then to come back to the ordinariness of breathing, is like this.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta