Contemplation engages our interest with an enquiring and enlivening aspect
With the practice now underway, the necessary investigative element is introduced. Once skilfully deployed, this additional dimension of the contemplative state operates with extreme speed and subtlety, such that it runs entirely without need for verbal initiation or interpretation. The investigative aspect applies itself to what we can say are two distinct levels of awareness, both of which are cognitions – i.e. reflexive (re)presentations – of the body’s sensory system. We might say they’re created ‘in the mind’, though this is too loose a concept and rather implies brain function alone. It’s more accurate to say the two distinct levels of awareness are cognitions of the sentient system as a whole. They’re reflexive (re)presentations formed from activity occurring both within and without the sense organs, their nerve conduits, and the brain.
In order to make sense of the world, awareness can be said to operate on two levels
So what, in practice, are these two distinct levels of awareness? Firstly, there’s a meta-level, meaning a put-together superimposition we create within ourselves so as to navigate and make sense of experience. It’s an aggregated ‘situational report’ created from lower level cognitions of the sentient system – an ordering of the vast flux of sense data which is presented in awareness as a workable pattern. This pattern allows a ‘live’ referencing of the body’s activity to all that is external to it, and is here the overarching contemplative state itself – what we called the ‘attitude’ of our outwardly gazing contemplative mode of being. Then there are the fundamental, lower-level cognitions of sense contact: thoughts, feelings, visual and auditory impressions, and so on. These objects of awareness are what we take to be the experience of ‘my self’.
In contemplation, we make no judgements and ignore no occurrence
As we introspect, we note our awareness of all of these passing fundamental cognitions as they intermittently cut across the meta-level awareness. Whether they are bodily sensations, mental objects such as thoughts or memories or imaginings or moods, together with all cognitions of sensed sounds, ‘visual’ imagery, and sensed smells – everything that appears and cuts across the meta-level awareness is noted. Throughout this frequent cutting across the meta-level awareness, nothing is to be ignored, and nothing is to be left un-noted – however uncomfortable their expression or the implication may be. All objects of awareness are of equal significance in contemplative enquiry; so we resist the inclination to judge some as being of more import than others as we otherwise might in a self-interested concern for progress.
We strengthen perception by clearly noting every object of awareness
This noting of awareness can be given definition by concise internal verbal labeling. So as each object of awareness appears, we silently remark to ourselves say, ‘hearing’, ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, ‘perceiving’, ‘remembering’ – any brief and appropriate clarifying term will suffice. Such labeling signals, and marks in actuality, the cessation of the cognised phenomenon and is not concurrent to it. All events arise discretely in a sequential series – a causal chain. Each link is either awareness of some novel object caused by impingement upon the senses, or is caused by the previous moment of awareness – such as a thought that triggers a feeling. There will be repetitions of links, though each is a new cognition and is treated as such. Again, these lower-level cognitions are what we take to be the lived experience of ‘my self’.
As our skill increases, things simplify, and the narrative of self is teased apart
After a short while, and as the noting increases in definition, we can drop the internal verbal labeling of phenomena, whilst always being prepared to reintroduce it should the definition weaken. This noting, whether verbally remarked upon or silently perceived, is of vital importance though, and should at no time be neglected. It’s this process of clearly defining all passing fundamental cognitions of awareness that is a pre-emptive deconstruction of what would otherwise have been taken as a narrative construct identified with ‘the self of me’. In other words, a sense of continuity would otherwise have attached to the serial flux of phenomena presented to awareness. This apparent, though not actual, continuum is then taken to be ‘my life’ unfolding within and about ‘the self of me’ – a misleading and illusory narrative creation.
Contemplation is largely a process of the mind correcting its own misunderstandings
Next, we enquire into each of these passing phenomena ‘was that what I am?’ Or if we prefer ‘was that the self I take to be me?’ Or perhaps ‘is it right to regard that as part of me?’ It’s best to rotate these three wordings now and again so as to retain the freshness of the enquiry and re-stimulate interest. What we’re doing here is letting the mind itself clarify whether the phenomenon (re)presented is intrinsic to, or is an essential part of, what it believes to be ‘the self of me’. It is of course the mind that must untangle itself from its own erroneous narratives and beliefs. To do so, it must be presented with the evidence in a way that it cannot dismiss. Looked at another way, in asking these seemingly curious questions, our selfless being is, as it were, parentally enquiring of the mind ‘you claim there is a self of me – yet where is the evidence?’
As the practice matures, the true power of contemplation is revealed
In due course, the contemplative enquiry becomes integrated within, and runs along with, the noting of passing phenomena. This is a process of the mind naturally inclining to a passive investigative state, no longer having a need for the internal verbalization of the enquiry into self-nature, yet still demanding of a response. So, although initially the overt positing of the enquiry appears somewhat contrived, the gathering interest taken by the mind in effect supplants the previous internal verbalizations. The mind now takes an intelligent interest in all that it perceives, yet does so of its own accord and without any sense of onus or contrivance. In this naturalisation, the non-verbal mode of enquiry both engages and is responded to in a flash. This is to say that the enquiry becomes an almost instantaneous event – a contemplation.