The happiest mind may be the empty mind. The mind of pure experience. Empty of thought but full of life itself.
Perhaps an oak tree has such a mind, growing in silent nature in a forest far away from man. Perhaps the bird has it, circling with its wings above the forest.
Man does not have an empty mind but he should seek one if he desires freedom and contentment. The mind of a happy child becomes sullied, trammeled with course habit as he enters an adult world where the mind becomes a tool to survive at all costs.
The work of an adult seeking peace is to regain the purity of childhood, but better it by discarding the baser emotions which even a child must own to.
The intellect does not give peace. Not unless it is largely used in the search for tranquility rather than the pursuit of possessions and status. The work of a scientist may well give insight into why base elements gave rise to our world and ourselves. A philosopher may ponder matters which science can not yet reach.
And yet it is doubtful that such intellect can ever provide the thinker with unity with the world around him or a sense that all is well. With him or the world. To the contrary, he may see himself as separate and superior.
How much less can the business man enjoy peace when his sole aim is competition. Not co-operation, but competition. To defeat his competitors. What a joyless goal. As with the politician, who in most cases seeks power and aggrandizement not peace for all and the common good.
Consciousness is a great gift, some say, and yet used badly it can only be a cause of great suffering.
If consciousness can be said to equate to the self then its absence is a greater joy than its presence. As so many have noted through the millennia, the ego is endlessly restive, endlessly acquisitive. Looking to the past with regret, worrying about the future.
A man who recognizes the truth of this must seek for a way to navigate his life using his mind to achieve better balance with the universe, and integration rather than separation.
Words that are spoken and give pain are words which should not have been uttered. It is better that thoughts remain unthought than that they lead to a life of unhappiness.
In practical terms such realisations, if taken seriously, will lead inevitably to some measure of withdrawal from the world which most humans inhabit.
The path of unthought leads away from factories and offices. Away from airports and motorways. From pollution and commuting. From pointless consumerism and the shackles of the mortgage and the credit card.
How can humanity survive by inaction and unthought? How can man better himself by retaining an empty mind?
It is a matter of degree and attitude. It is a matter of direction and intent.
An empty mind need not always be devoid of thought but such thought should not be heavy with acquisitive intent. Such thought should focus on the beauty and sanctity of life. How to preserve our planet and our universe. How to provide for our modest needs without causing suffering, misery and despoilation.
Such thoughts are likely to bring peace and calm purpose to the mind. A far cry from the usual reward of unfulfilled and insatiable desire.
How such a mode of life may be practiced in the 21st century is probably not that much more of a conundrum than it would have been in any other era.
The urban jungle is not so very different from any setting in man’s history. The same problems have always been there. The same problems remain.
The provision of food and shelter, the need for survival.
Not easy tasks for the man determined to banish thought. And yet harmful thought can be minimised and much thought switched off completely.
On a personal basis it is open to us to opt for a quieter life.
There are those who say that silence is to be found in among great confusion and noise. That it is mind over matter. Maybe so and all the better for that. All the easier for a man who can retain his soul in the midst of the chaos of modern life.
However it is to be achieved, the man who can leave most matters unspoken, unwritten and unthought is likely to sail on calm waters.
The answer must surely be to practice emptiness wherever and whenever we can. And to switch on our powers of thought only when strictly necessary to provide ourselves with what we need to survive.
To restrict ourselves to producing only what is essential and not what we think we want. To forget about keeping up with our neighbor. To ditch snobbery and recognize that while we may appear better off in some fashion than our neighbor, the reality is that we are the same set of elements from the periodic table.
To understand that if we ditched all pretension and wasteful consumerism, if we and lived a quieter and simpler life we would make a better world.
It can only be achieved person by person. If ever.
But the rewards to the individual are substantial even if society at large continues in its well trodden path.
Insightful, useful and brilliantly written. Thank you Anthony.
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Thank you for your kind words Ron. Much appreciated.
There are so many compelling aspects of this post that I hardly know where to begin in response. You’ve clearly breached a number of thresholds in the subject matter here, and while you take a fair amount of liberty with your assertions, I have to agree with Ron Krumpos that it is “insightful, useful, and brilliantly written.”
I was intrigued by the notion that trees and birds might have this type of mind, steeped in silence and without thought, but purely engaged in experience. It’s a lovely idea, to be sure, although I am uncertain just how much experience one might rightly claim to have without the ability to be consciously aware of that experience. The kind of experience that birds and trees might be having could only be a kind of experience that humans are incapable of having in quite the same way, as our human experience also requires capacities and a character that birds and trees do not seem to have by all accounts. Since we are unaware of what it’s like to be a bird or a tree, there is plenty of room for speculation about what it actually might be like. I loved your premise, though, and applaud your insightful speculation.
I also feel strongly that the intellect is only the part of our nature that can acknowledge our attainment of peace, should such a moment or state of awareness be possible, and it is something much deeper and more personal subjectively that actually accomplishes the task. Your thoughtful treatment of this particular point is thought-provoking in the extreme.
All of us approach the attainment of unity with the world and each other in a personally subjective way, and while I feel strongly that the unity exists a priori in spite of our efforts to discover it or appreciate it, again, if we are unaware of that unity with all that lives, it hardly matters that it is so. It is a very important aspect to consider and you address it in a most compelling way.
Your assertion that since we have thoughts and a mind with which to think them, that we ought to apply those thoughts to “the beauty and sanctity of life, how to preserve our planet and our universe, and how to provide for our modest needs without causing suffering, misery and despoliation,” struck me as a profoundly insightful and important point in this posting. Would that even a modest majority of human minds might turn to such pursuits, it seems likely to me that the improvement in the world would be enormous!
You’ve really struck upon a motherlode of philosophical and ethical ideas in this post, and it is brilliantly argued and thought-provoking.
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Wonderful comment John and thank you for your generosity. In a sense I almost subconsciously intended the post as “prose poetry”. I have had extraordinary breakthroughs recently in my experience of consciousness and am less and less inclined to worry about the scientific truth behind what I am experiencing and to accept gratefully the feelings themselves without worrying too much about their veracity in physical, scientific terms.
I am unashamedly in search of the experience of “otherness” as a route to happiness and fulfillment.
In a comment on a post by Lettersquash https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/11963505/posts/2784015866 I expressed it thus:
“Increasingly I couldn’t care less about scientific or philosophical explanations for what “is”. It has become a simple matter of self defense. A matter of self improvement. A triumph of experience over theory. If a practice improves my mental welfare beyond measure I will pursue it without giving a jot about why or how it works. Whether the experience of emptiness or ecstasy is as a result of a mere chemical reaction within the brain or otherwise no longer concerns me. Even if it did, what good would that knowledge do me?
I think you and I understand each other well John, even thought there is much we disagree on.
A brain which “benefits” from a strong intellect is a mind which suffers from a strong ego. Where and whenever possible I am trying to simply “not think”. Using my intellect never seems to have brought me serenity so I prefer to live, so far as possible, without such processes.
I am sure that some people thrive on intellectual endeavor. I, it appears, do not.”
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I like to use the term suprarational consciousness, beyond reason, logic and images. It is an intuitive insight into life which our intellect can never reach.
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Agreed. I like that term. And wherever and whenever possible that is the state to live in.