How to contemplate – Part 2


Photography: Steve Evans, London

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.

Continue reading in Part 3

49 thoughts on “How to contemplate – Part 2

  1. I do love reading your stuff, but is there the slightest chance that sometimes, only sometimes, you could make it more user friendly? Actually, I think I should say ‘drongo friendly’. I have to read your pieces 4 or 5 times, at least, just to get a grasp of them, which is a down rightshame because I really want to contemplate and read more about your methods.

    P.S. Re: Doves. I didn’t know you had doves. So have I. I see it as a ‘sign’.

    • Thankyou LB, your interest is much appreciated, and your request entirely valid. One of the considerations I took into account when deciding quite how to present a method of contemplation, was the degree to which I should accommodate a model of the mind within the explanatory notes. In other words, to what extent is it necessary for the practitioner to have some rudimentary working model of how the mind and consciousness arise? Of course, nobody needs to know about brain function in order to contemplate, but I do feel it’s very helpful to be clear at the outset that the conscious mind is a system of representation – that means re-presentation, or if you like, it’s a reflective quasi-mirroring of the world.

      As we go about everyday living, we assume that what presents to us in consciousness as the world (including our own mind and body), is exactly what the world and we ourselves are. As an aside, this is known in philosophy as Naïve Realism, and that is a telling term of course, because it implies our view is both overly-simplistic and inaccurate. So, if we don’t accept at the outset that what we see introspectively in contemplation is purely a partial representation, and not reality itself, then we are at risk of misreading whatever we apprehend. That is why one hears ridiculous claims such as “all there is, is consciousness”. Many meditators fall into that trap, and it can lead to a rather solipsistic view of the way things are.

      This requisite, as I see it, for the would-be practitioner to establish some rudimentary model of the mind, is what makes the instruction set seem rather laboured or pedantic at first, at least until such time as it becomes absorbed and then discarded. I think that is a price worth paying, but only for those who are using contemplation as a powerful psychological and emotional tool, one that leads progressively towards the eradication of those naïve beliefs earlier alluded to. The goal of such a system, though one ought not think in terms of objectives, is the same as the Buddhist goal of freedom from psychological suffering, all of which arises due to those very same naïve beliefs that we carry around unwittingly in our assumptions and predispositions.

      Let me ask of you, if I may – what is your interest in contemplation, what do you seek to gain from it?

      With all best wishes, and further thanks,


    • I must confess I too have the same feelings about Hariod’s writing, Looneybitch, but what I’ve found works for me is to not let that be an issue. I have embraced it because it is Hariod’s style and once I accepted that, it became sheer pleasure to read and reread with more understanding. Food for thought? I think it helps greatly to suspend impatience and read with contemplation.

      • Do you know, that’s a great way of thinking about things. I read it once very quickly and then, as you say, had to slow down and reread parts to make it understood. But it’s another way of reading and important to keep your mind open. I have actually learned a lot since I have been reading Hariod’s blogs, and it does make me react in a different way. Thanks for your advice.

        • Jackie [that’s much prettier than Looneybitch :)], thank you for liking my foolish advice. It’s not often the things I say meet with such approval, so that’s really good that you were not offended by me advising you on how to read dear Hariod’s posts. I almost feel I’ve entered another state of consciousness when I read them – they sound so ‘of another time’, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Thanks for replying. Best wishes, Marie.

          • Yes, I have realised now that you have to slow down and savour them. I think he is a bit of an oracle and gently prods me if I step out of line. For a Liberal(!) he’s not too bad! 🙂

            • He certainly is that! I’m not au fait with Hariod’s political leanings, but I take your word. Me? I think you might find me a little boring in that department: I have no strong political views, and I tend to lose the thread of political arguments – I just have never been very analytical and I try not to advertise my ignorance about such matters too much. Can we just stick with the ‘tripe’ for now? LOL

              • I love tripe – it’s what I do! I don’t normally go on about politics, and that was my first leaning to it, but it was telling me to talk about the merits of Donald Trump to the world and I could ignore it no longer! I have returned to tripe, so rest easily.

                • Phew! Thank goodness! I didn’t come on WordPress to engage with highbrow folk! And of course (ha-ha), this explains the nature of your ‘Hairdo’ post! You know I’m only teasing you! Surely one of the merits of DT must be that hairstyle – there’s a lot of wisdom in that thatch. Why else would anyone sport something like that unless it had clear cerebral benefits?! 🙂

  2. Dear H, how are things in lay line country? The point of asking if you could make it easier to read may have sounded rude. This was far from my intention. Your writings are for educated people, one of which I am not. Therefore, some of the things of which you write (bit of Morcambe and Wise there!) are above my head. I dearly would like to be able to read through your blogs and just ‘get it’, but sadly this is not the case because of my lack of knowledge of the subject matter. Also, I have a butterfly mind and love to skip read. I cannot do this with your blogs so I am having to read and then re-read so as to understand – not at all your fault, and more mine in having no capacity to concentrate.

    What do I hope to gain from meditation? I don’t know – higher conscience nous, or some understanding, or less frenetic life style maybe.

    • You didn’t sound in the least bit rude, and as I said, your request for more simplicity is entirely valid. I hope I’ve explained satisfactorily why I feel the need to go into the detail I do, both here and in my book, but should add something I omitted, and this is to protect practitioners from a lot of self-inflicted time-wasting. Without a basic working model of the mind, not only do we misinterpret what’s going on, but we also spend a lot of time searching out progress down blind alleys. I know this from hard-won experience over some twenty five years, much of which was spent meditating formally between four and eight hours each day. That’s a lot of training, but it was also a lot of self-inflicted mistakes, a lot of time-wasting.

      Embarking upon a path of meditation or contemplation is a huge commitment; it isn’t like signing up for a yoga class once a week; it needs to be a daily practice, a rigorous and earnest endeavor, if one wants to achieve the greatest psychological benefit. If the objective is simply to calm down, then it all gets a lot easier, naturally enough – but my system isn’t directed at those seeking tranquillity alone. It isn’t for everyone; that’s far from being the case, and there are any number of simple guides detailing calming techniques. My system doesn’t demand intelligence or skill in thought at all, though it does demand repeated and rigorous application. It’s rather more than introducing an element of mindfulness into daily living, powerful though that is, and is instead aimed at disabusing oneself of one’s most deeply held, but ultimately erroneous and pernicious, beliefs.

      You said recently that there was a retreat centre close to you, but I didn’t ask whether it was religiously affiliated or not – do you know?

      • There are two. One is near Arundel and which is strongly religious based – not that they convert you, but it’s more for silence and contemplation. The other one near Mayfield is more for anyone to just come and work things out. I think it is American based which immediately puts me off. The one near to Arundel is the Poor Claires and has a waiting list. I understand there is a very good one in Devon – by good, read expensive. 😦

        So what does your teaching aim to achieve?

        Mindfulness is great for some but I can’t calm down enough to free my mind of erroneous thoughts. I have bought a book about my erroneous zones but can’t settle to read it easily. I have mindfulness tapes which I play once and forget, or listen to in the car. If I really need to clear my mind I find a 40 minute nap works wonders – it truly does.

        • To be clear, I do not have any teachings to offer and I am not a teacher. The approach I discuss and debate on this site, and which appears also in my book, is loosely an aggregation of Orthodox and Zen Buddhism, Classical Advaita (Indian Nondualism), and Western Phenomenology (e.g. Husserlian). I set all of this within a context of a Representationalist Theory of Mind. Again, none of this is a teaching per se; it is no more than the result of my own endeavours over most of my adult life, and which I apply here in relation to emotional well-being – i.e. the realisation of contentedness. An important thing to bear in mind here is that each character type is predisposed to different methodologies as regards mental training. For some, faith, ritual and prayer work very well in focusing the mind. For others, dry analysis of mental phenomena, in a sort of Reductionist manner, is the way towards comprehending themselves and the world more accurately.

          Everybody has what is called ‘monkey mind’, so you are no different to the rest of humankind in that respect, rest assured. If we lead a hectic life during the day, we cannot hope to sit on a chair of an evening and suddenly have a tranquil mind – it takes a degree of preparation and some considerable experience in training. The analogy runs that the monkey is tethered to a stake and will frantically run around, constantly seeking gratifications, first here, and then there. This, essentially, is the effect of subtle and gross desires and aversions coming into play. When we close our eyes in silent contemplation, then the mind, abhorring a vacuum of sensory input, will act in this way. After a while, the mind settles down, and the monkey comes to sit passively at the foot of the stake, accepting its predicament. But this is not a magic trick; it is a training of the mind, a discipline. It works, but must be worked at, and there are no short cuts.

      • Dear Hariod, Looneybitch/Jackie has pointed out today, in one of her comments on my post, that you are male. Please can you forgive me for assuming that you were/are female. I believe I spoke of you in glowing terms as a “wonderful woman” in a comment I made to you earlier in the week and now I’m completely mortified. Sorry! I’m sure you’re a wonderful man, only it was your gravatar that subliminally made me think you were otherwise.

        • Dear Marie, I am known by about half the readers here as male and the other half as female, and have no objection in the least to being designated either. In fact, as a writer it actually can be quite helpful not having people’s preconceptions overturned as regards gender, and for that reason I am happy for the ambiguity to remain. It really is the words that count, rather than my personal status, although I do talk a little about that in the page ‘Who runs this site?’, and also within my anecdotal posts – all of which are true to my own life experiences. It sometimes feels almost as if we are about to enter a post-gender age, in some respects – although I fully subscribe to a feminist (op)position as regards the patriarchy – and I can quite understand the frustration some in the non-binary sphere feel about having to identify one way or the other. All this said, then identity politics, and gender politics more specifically, are not areas I engage in or have anything useful to reflect with others upon, leaving more learned souls to enlighten me on the same. In short, there is no need for any discomfiture in the least, and you are entirely free to address me however you wish. With all best wishes, dear Marie, and with much gratitude for your sincerity and sensitivity, Hariod.

          • You are pretty wonderful dear Hariod, and I just knew that you would respond in the most fitting way – it is what I have come to expect from you. Not to labour the gender thing too much, I did think to Google the name Hariod, as it was unfamiliar to me and I wondered if you were male or female. For some reason, I did not get around to this, and at some stage during the process, I consigned you to female – don’t ask me why, I really do not know. I guess one of the reasons is because I always felt a feminine vibe coming through in your very lovely, compassionate responses. But equally, why should it not have been a male response? Anyway, as you say, you don’t mind at all however I address you, and that is what is most important. If I may make bold, you remind me of a character in a book by my favourite author Andrea Newman. I won’t tell you the title of the book – that will remain my secret! With all best wishes, Marie.

              • I love that Hariod! Actually, I’m going to tell you the title of the book now: An Evil Streak. And the reason why you remind me of the particular character I have in mind is because both you and he are learned folk. That’s all I’m going to say, in case you have read the book and guess who it is. I love roses – so glad it was roses and not barbed wire . . . ha-ha!

                  • Hariod, we must exercise patience here, not everyone has been privy to the same high standard of education that we two obviously have, and also Jackie may not have been watching TV in the 70’s! LOL I suspect it’s the latter! 🙂

                    • Quite so, Marie – patience and discretion! We don’t want to fire the old thing up, what with her contacts in the secret services and shadowy links to the oligarchy. As to matters arty, then best just make reference to Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, Doctor in the House, and that kind of malarkey.

                    • I agree Hariod. Let’s agree to let sleeping dogs lie as they say. We don’t want to start an uprising so near to Brexit and Christmas. May I be so bold as to say, now that I know you are a bloke, you’re even funnier than when you were female? No offence to all the women out there on WordPress. LOL

                    • Did I say I was a bloke, Marie, or did Jackie? *sees her scratching her chin and staring into mid-space* Can I not just be some enigmatically androgynous thing? I do, by my own admission, have a penchant for what our American cousins call ‘pantsuits’, and as promoted recently by Jackie’s idol’s opponent. What’s more, we 93 year-olds, of whichever or none so ever gender, are equally capable of beardedness, after all. o_O

                    • Hariod! You are scaring me now – lol. It was me, your Honour, who said you woz a bloke. But I didn’t mean it . . . ‘onest!

                      93?! Shouldn’t you be firmly ensconced in a reputable nursing home somewhere, with questionable degrees of caring? Hahahaha!

                      P.S. I would visit if you gave me the address of course. You would have to shave though, when you knew I was coming. I have had a trauma with a bearded person which I wish to forget. Lol.

                    • Correctly surmised, and I am indeed ensconced such as you suggest I ought be – a slightly dilapidated home for fallen women, an iniquitous gin house by any other name, if truth be told. That said, the nurses here are kind to me, hoisting me hither and thither without complaint or reward – usually as a result of my utter exhaustion at having leapt the secure boundary fence for the umpteenth time, and rendering myself incapacitated as a consequence. I don’t possess quite the athletic verve I did when I was in my mid-eighties. Now, where’s the Hendricks . . .

                    • I am now in a state of mild confusion. Pray tell, what is the bearded enigmatic male doing in a home for fallen women? And are you testing my observational skills? Methinks you are throwing in a few red herrings to throw me off the scent. But I am on to you! Why, my good man, are you being hoisted hither and thither when you are (by your own admission) agile enough to leap the secure (not so secure if you are able to leap it!), boundary fence, at least more than once. And finally, Jimi died some years ago.

  3. I will come back for the third part, for the time being I keep in mind your wise saying: ‘Contemplation is largely a process of the mind correcting its own misunderstandings.’ Doesn’t this have within it the real essence of contemplation? I treasure most of your uplifting thoughts; they do show me the right pathway towards contentedness, and the ideas are all interrelated. Best to you, my dearest friend, Hariod. ❤

    • Thank you, dear Doda; I appreciate you giving your time to my offerings here. And yes, I do see the process largely in terms of the negation of wrong thinking, as a kind of Via Negativa — almost as if we reverse into a right understanding having backed away from its opposites. We can’t approach it directly, as we simply don’t know what it is (i.e. the goal of insight practise), and have only an intuition that it’s there in some form. I think you’re right, this is perhaps the ‘essence’ of contemplation, or could reasonably be considered so. With love and best wishes, as always, Hariod. ❤

  4. The more we discuss it, the more I can understand the composite nature of humans and all the perceptual systems that enable us to experience the good life and to develop high spiritual and intellectual potentialities. Much love and best wishes for a beautiful day, dear friend Hariod. ❤

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