When we lose ourselves in the music, what is the self that we have lost? This post discusses the possibility that our default state is, in fact, a lost state, that when we become enthralled in the music or the task at hand we are in fact, found, and that this is a state that we must seek out, revere and embrace.
In Zen Buddhism, they talk about the ‘monkey mind’. This is our ever-busy, wandering state of distraction that dominates our every waking moment. They argue that to watch this wandering mind and to learn the skill of bringing it to stillness is to find peace, that sitting for hours daily is the method to achieve this calm. Certainly a commendable journey but perhaps sitting in meditation all day is not the path for all of us. I believe there are many ways to attain this serene state. It makes a lot of sense that such mindless chatter that the monkey mind creates is a stressful state of existence, particularly given that when one slows down, finds some quiet and stillness and over time begins to conscientiously observe the mind it is soon discovered that the vast majority of our thoughts are indeed afflictions - we are not making them happen, they are happening to us. They are fictional stories of the past, present and future, fantasies played out to an unbelievable depth. I have only experienced this recognition in any real sense a few times, the first during a silent 10-day meditation retreat. It takes time to woo the swinging monkey from the trees so that we can observe it, and it is quick to climb back again. Very quick. Ten seconds of real silence can take many hours of dedicated meditation practice. Many people have these experiences of the dissolving of the illusory, fictional self during psychedelic journeys and modern science is now taking these very seriously- you can go to MDMA clinics to battle depression and it is likely that, within a decade, psilocybin (i.e. magic mushrooms) and dimethyltryptamine (i.e. ayahuasca) will be commonly used throughout the world as medicines to treat a vast array of ailments. Such is the value of witnessing the true self, of seeing beyond the story. These medicines, along with meditation, can form a deep connection with reality, an insight into something more profound than what we normally see. They remove the ego; the narrator in these fictional tales.
There is a vast difference between distraction and connection, but it is not always easy to see. If I am playing a computer game for hours, I can, without doubt, be lost in that realm, my thoughts stilled for many hours on end, concentrated on the games world. I have lost myself in the story, but have I also found myself? Are we not simply a state of ongoing connections to whatever we spend our time on? I believe that herein lies the fundamental but subtle difference. We can spend our whole life in a state of perpetual distraction that feels like connection, seeking overstimulating actions so that the truth of connection does not stand a chance. To delve straight into such highly stimulating activities before learning to be still restricts one’s ability to connect, and the requirement for ongoing stimulation dominates. Why is it so hard to sit alone with my mind? Why do I reach for the unlimited world at hand on my phone before I have the chance to notice that I am thinking? Most people’s reaction to sitting alone in silence, even for an hour, is to run- and rightly so, as our minds can be scary places because truly watching our thoughts means facing the reality of the self; our desires, our dreams and our feelings. Sitting quietly, we feel lost because the true self is a stranger; it is an unknown, unexperienced realm but it is in fact where reality exists. The fictional tales of the monkey mind remove us from the scary reality of who we could be and what we might have to do to become so. But what is lost for this fictional life? I believe it is worth striving beyond the fables because behind distraction is where you begin.
The point here is not that everyone should become an aesthetic but that we should become aware of ourselves through a practice of consciously slowing down so that we can connect with who we are through the activities and conversations we participate in. This allows for the creation of true and beautiful connections to whatever activity we pursue while side-lining the storytelling monkey so we can firstly be aware of what reality actually is and secondly appreciate the purest forms of connection to things that matter to the real version of the self, not the illusory ego-self.
How do we learn to control the fictional mind and live in reality? We participate regularly in activities that are founded in truth, that are fundamental to this planet and to human existence, that involve our hands and our bodies in a way that leaves us respecting and understanding them more thoroughly. Ancient activities likely fall under these categories, timeless skills and actions that are revered today. The resurgence in respect for handicrafts, martial arts, camping, yoga and self-investigative activities suggests what we are seeking- I think of these types of activities as ‘pure’ activities. Here we can start to recognise what may instead be distractions- getting lost in computer games, films, Facebook, YouTube or Netflix is indeed getting lost. This is not to say there is no value in these activities, but that the value can only be extracted through conscious participation in these typically mindless pursuits. This is a learnt skill and through regular, mindful and focused participation in the pure activities we can develop the awareness to benefit from all activity. We can find beauty in the mundane, perfection in imperfection and meaning in whatever we are doing.
So, what is the ultimate state of connection? Meditation must be a contender. Forming a deep connection and understanding with the truest self, learning to watch thoughts and recognise them for their falsities, beginning to observe the difference between the truth and the story. Through sitting quietly, we are simultaneously learning who we are and how to connect deeply and honestly with anything or anyone we choose, as a conscious decision. It forms the foundation of understanding the self, allowing one to live beyond ego.
Now, to go and get lost in the music can have profound depth. Its foundation can be constructed within our world’s reality. I believe that when we are truly connected, we may at times feel that we are lost in the external action but that through awareness and presence that this becomes the ‘found state’. This feeling of being found can and should become the default state. This is what the mindfulness revolution is all about; the ability to live authentically, to escape the fictional tales of our mind and to be present in the activity we are in, be it meditation, eating, talking or watching a movie. Forget about controlling the monkey mind, through continuous and constant participation in the here and now we can instead release the monkey to the wild and thus reveal our true self.