A Concrete View

redrocks3 Image by Noelle

Today, I send into your meditation a concrete view. When I was five I learned stars are out all day. Prior to this, I assumed they went home for the day and came out at night like bats. People would say, “The stars are coming out…” To my child’s mind, I assumed that meant they’d been some place else and were now returning. One day, a teacher explained the brightness of the sun overwhelmed the starlight, making it appear as if the stars had disappeared. This seemed a curious magic trick I couldn’t quite figure out.

In the summers, we camped out a lot on the lake I grew up on and the night sky was filled to the brim with stars. My brother told me how a shooting star isn’t really a star but rather a meteor burning up in our atmosphere. I’d always thought they were stars that had died thousands of years earlier and we were just now seeing the last of their light vanishing in the night sky. I liked my idea better and didn’t believe him for many years.

When I was eight, my brothers told me that if you don’t have both bottom and top wisdom teeth, that when they grow in, they’ll keep growing up into your skull and kill you. The perfect story older brothers like to tell. Apparently, I still believed that story when, at the age of twenty three I mentioned it to my dentist when he noted I only had bottom wisdom teeth. My mother was present and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her laugh so hard.

redrocks2 Image by Noelle

In first grade catechism, a nun told us we needed to be prepared to make sacrifices as Jesus had. At the time, at the front of our church was Jesus on the cross with blood dripping off of him. Even to my six year old mind it seemed as if Jesus’s sacrifices hadn’t worked out all that well for him and I wondered why everyone else would want to do that. I was smart enough to keep such observations as this to myself and merely said, “Yes, sister…”

There is not a moment on this earth, while we live human lives, that we aren’t trying to figure stuff out. We are always creating stories with the information we’ve got available. We’re making decisions what information we’ll grab, incorporating it into our world view and what we’ll jettison as poppycock and move on. These habits are easy to see in a child. They have a fairly concrete view of things. If someone says the stars come out, then logically they must have gone in at some point.

However, we’re all doing this, all of the time whether we’re conscious of it or not. Every minute of every day, we’re taking in data and trying to place it in some context we can make sense of or use. A friend is late meeting us and we’ll begin to tell ourselves stories to explain their lateness. They were in a car accident, maybe we had the wrong night for meeting them, or maybe we believe people don’t respect our time and project a sense of rudeness onto their tardiness. As we stand there waiting we are using all of our past experience to explain our now moment, thus not actually being in the now. We are telling ourselves every version we already know of why people are late. To be fully in the present, we’d have to stop explaining to ourselves why we’re standing there alone.

None of our problem solving and sorting has anything to do with this now moment. I already had the shooting star story in my head and when my brother gave me new information, I was weighing it against what I already knew. We think we live in the present moment, but almost none of us do or if we find the present, we linger for brief moments before vanishing back into the past. A bit like stars we can’t find.

redrocks4 Image by Noelle

It takes a great discipline to curb the need to explain what is happening or to staunch the need to file information into some known construct. It’s said the sign of an evolved mind is one where two completely opposing ideas can be held simultaneously by the thinker without rejecting either for need of finding the right one. To do this, you have to be able to suspend this need to explain things or the need to have the right answer. As tools go, there are few as powerful in doing this as meditation. It trains our mind to observe what it’s doing without judging what it’s doing.

The more we learn to detach from the stories and reactions we are in fairly steady states of creating, the more we find ourselves lingering in the present moment. Non-attachment is like a suspension fluid we are floating in that keeps us from using the past to constantly interpret our now with. Non-attachment also allows us to be aware of how we are creating beliefs and make conscious, present decisions as to whether we really want to create them. Meteor burning up in atmosphere (rejected, but true), wisdom teeth taking you out at the age of twenty five (believed, but false).

It’s not an uncommon complaint to hear someone say they weren’t listened to, by say a friend, a boss or a spouse. What is truly staggering is how little we really listen to ourselves. Actually take note of what we’re saying to ourselves or ask ourselves why we’re telling some story, we most often can’t even prove to be true. We just keep taking information in, weighing it against other information we took in at some other point and making stories from all that data to explain our life. Then we call it gospel, even arguing for it when challenged. Meditation is like pulling the lever on that information conveyor belt into the stop position, so that we can really observe what lays before us.

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