We were very lucky to have a visitor with us this week from the Hawkhurst group. It enlivened the group and seemed to generate a new perspective and renewed energy. As we have said before on this forum, Cheltenham group is always keen to welcome visitors from other groups – so please don’t be shy about contacting us. (Details in the Contact insert or from the Office.)
We started with a review of the exercise from our last meeting. (See report here.)
This week we had a break before tackling the final episode of the Master of the Carriage, and looked at the subject of ‘Rest’ in the broadest sense. Our meeting-taker brought a number of quotations for us to consider. (References in the attached document, together with this week’s exercise. Only a few of these were read in the meeting.)
With regard to “accumulating things and ideas”, we felt this applied equally to spiritual ideas and philosophies. We need to absorb an idea properly and this takes time. And we need to put it into practice. Our visitor mentioned that some people complain about hearing the same ideas over again, but she felt we need to be reminded again and again, to allow the ideas to expand and go deeper. Another member of the group had read the following in one of Dr Roles’ papers:
Dr Roles wrote:Reports from this week’s meetings give the clearest confirmation of the Shankaracharya’s oft-repeated assurance that the chief obstacle to progress is ignorance, which is measured by the degree to which one thinks one already knows! After hearing … about the three different kinds of machine to which people’s lives are geared, somebody said, “Oh, I already know all that”. “Do you?” said the meeting-taker, “I’m sure I don’t”. (68/27)
The group recognised the importance of natural samadhi. It was seen as particularly important for those group members who are engaged in creative work. A creative writer said she needed to start from stillness to allow ideas to surface. Then after a while she finds the ideas stop flowing and she needs to stop and give the mind some rest. She also edits Contact and recently she found she got so drained of energy from intense work over a short period that she was unable to do her own writing until Contact was finished and she was able to have a rest. A composer said that his music came into the mind from stillness. He felt it was important not to feel that one has to carry on and finish something, but to stop and rest when rest is needed. The work would be resumed and finished at the right time.
A question was raised about rest on the Causal level: Is this possible only in Meditation? We concluded that it can sometimes happen spontaneously at other times, but this is from grace. It’s not something we can practise. One person said it had happened when he had looked up at the night sky on a clear night. Another said that for her it always seemed to be associated with ‘time stopping’. It had happened in a dentist’s waiting-room. There was the most awful, frightening and negative ‘Art’ on the walls. But then she looked out of the window at the traffic and time seemed to have stopped. All the taxis, cars, vans etc. that had passed and were to pass were ‘all there at once’ and everything was still. It was a very weird feeling of the universe being ‘not quite solid and real’.
We went on to discuss attention. One person was puzzled about the story of the arrow-maker. His attention was so focussed on the tip of the arrow that he didn’t see the wedding procession go by - but surely we are supposed to be aware of everything that is going on? Someone pointed out there are two different types of attention and there’s an excellent paper from Dr Roles on the subject (64/7). HH told us that the focussed type – active or egocentric attention - is only needed for the tip of the arrow. Passive or allocentric attention is possible for quite a lot of the time during the day, and does involve that wide focus – being aware of everything as if on a screen in front of you, and keeping the screen bright. This concept had not been discussed much in the Study Society in recent years until James Austin came and talked about it from the viewpoint of what is actually happening in the brain. The switch from one-pointed to passive attention and back again during short breaks in intense activities such as piano practice or proof-reading can sometimes happen in a very easy and natural way and this corresponds to the two triads that end in sattva – one starting from rajas (focused activity) and the other from tamas (passive stillness). It is illustrated in the circulation of the enneagram around point 9 which is what we need to practise in order to climb the ladder. If this circulation can be kept going, it seems to lead automatically to lengthened periods of natural samadhi between each period of focussed work.
Our visitor, who works in a hospital, gave a good example of this. She described how her work is naturally divided into half-hour sessions, with a short break between each patient. She said coming to stillness in each break was important to help her give full attention to the next patient – being receptive, not having preconceived ideas about what might be wrong, and keeping her own thoughts, feelings and desires out of the way. By attentive listening to what the person says, she often finds there is strong clue to the nature of the problem before any physical examination takes place. Working in this way feels easy and enjoyable.
The musician in our group told us about a pianist he came across who believes it is unnecessary to pay attention when practicing scales and exercises, so reads a book at the same time! However, he thought that most pianists would disagree and he himself found that if you really do pay proper attention, scales and exercises are not boring.
Our visitor told us about a visit she had made to the Dhan Karunai Illam – a home for disadvantaged children in Southern India that receives much help and support from the New Zealand group. She told us about how the children wake up at 5am and start the day with readings, meditation and prayers. The atmosphere is happy and peaceful and the work that follows – such as vegetable preparation – is all done well and efficiently. It is an effective way of encouraging stillness and attention, and creating sattva – something that we could all learn from. As HH has said, each activity needs to start from stillness and return to stillness.