Thinking is not Necessarily Knowing.
Just wanted to touch base on something that’s happened.
I’ve been meditating for a long time using a Samatha type method and only recently switched to the Vipassana methods in your audio course.
At first I found it quite difficult because I was used to hiding in the mantra I’d been using, and finding calm in that way. But you were recommending the opposite to that which was to accept everything and learn to let it go.
It was quite difficult at first but as I got used to it things began to open up and I realized what you mean by stillness. My mind is still active, but as active as it is I’m floating above it. So I feel still no matter how tumultuous things get.
This is quite liberating because I don’t have to try to be still anymore, like I’d been doing before. It just happens no matter how much is going on. Like the thoughts would be kind of random snippets which come and go very quickly and underneath this light snow of thinking there is a deep peace that’s very pleasurable.
And a couple of times I’ve been sitting in this deep peace, and I’ve realized it’s not inert – that in fact, there is also thinking going on there. Only its not thinking with words, but its a kind of wholistic thinking. As if I’m thinking in whole understandings. And these understandings are very profound. But as profound as they are, they don’t create a ripple in the sense of calm that is there.
So the mind is still, but highly active at the same time – the activity does not disturb at all.
So my question is this – is what I’m describing the ‘knowing’ you talk about? I know you describe it in detail, but I just wanted to make sure.
Thanks in advance.
Put simply, yes it is.
What you’ve described: of mental activity that is profound yet does not create one single ripple in the mind, is indeed ‘knowing’.
And this kind of mental facility is innate within us all, though few of us actually acknowledge it or develop a working relationship with it, because we’re too busy thinking. So, to most, ‘knowing’ is seen as exceptional, and called many things – ‘inspiration’, ‘realisation’, gut-feeling’, ‘intuition’, ‘sixth sense’ and so on.
As I say in my book ‘Love & Imagination’:
“For most of us, knowing is the ‘Eureka!!” stage, just before we jump out of our seats and stand, mouthing inarticulately like a fish, trying to explain something that is so complete and perfect we are stunned. This kind of understanding is usually accompanied by subtle feelings in the body. We feel the knowing in our whole body – we hum with it, and often it makes us feel like laughing or crying – it is a kind of joyful excitement that seems to vibrate throughout every cell in our body. We ‘just know’. From then on, we use thinking to quantify what we know, to explain it.”
So mind knows before it thinks – the only reason we think beyond knowing is simply to be able to communicate what we know.
Thinking is simply the encoded facsimile of what we know – but it is not knowing itself. With its linear chains of words and sentences, thinking is simply not capable of the incredible leaps of logic that true inspiration and understanding needs to form itself.
Most of the genius of our history has come from these inspirational knowings.
Einstein once said that the Theory of Relativity came to him very easily as an almost visceral understanding – that his biggest problem was figuring out how to explain it to other people.
David Bohm, one of the most innovative physicists of the twentieth century “… trusted this interior, intuitive display as a more reliable way of arriving at solutions. Later, when he met Einstein, he learned that he too experienced subtle, internal muscular sensations that appeared to lie much deeper than ordinary rational and discursive thought.”
The Buddha, on becoming enlightened, also ‘felt’ what he knew before he found the words to speak it. In fact his knowing was so profound that his first and immediate reaction was to keep quiet about it, because he could not figure out how to put it into words sufficient to explain to others. It was only the impassioned pleas of his fellow meditators that convinced him to at least attempt to explain.
So you see, what is common to all these inspired men is that they each had profound and inspirational ‘knowings’ which they felt before they had the words to explain.
For most of us, this usually only happens in unguarded moments – when we are absorbed in something we are passionate about, playing sport, working in a team, or at a job we know how to do well, or in conversation with a close friend – when we forget to be self-conscious. In this integrated state our attention is in flow with our awareness. We don’t have to think, or talk, or analyse – we just know what to do, and we do it.
In these circumstances actions, words, and understandings just seem to flow out of us, and it all happens so very smoothly. This is our mind’s potential, the way it should be. This is when our mind is fully integrated, and at its most powerful.
Our problem is, we’re taught to think, but rarely taught how to know.
Thinking is by nature an anxious mental state, in which we attempt to cram the raw material of inspiration into a kind of mental sausage machine, which then extrudes the words and sentences we need.
But know is something which simply happens when we ‘get out of the way’ so to speak. As you said, “as profound as the understandings were, they didn’t create a ripple in the mind. So the mind was still, but highly active at the same time – but the activity did not disturb at all. “
Knowing comes from contemplation – we simply rest the mind upon what we seek to know, and then wait, and understanding comes in its own time.
I once had a client who was a very successful computer networks troubleshooter. She made a lot of money troubleshooting the problems that companies had with their complex computer networks.
One day she told me how she worked.
She said, “In my office there is a desk, a filing cabinet, a chair, a very powerful computer and a big, and very comfortable couch … do you know which of those is the most important tool I have?”
She shook her head.
“No, it’s the couch.”
The way she worked was, she’d go to the company, listen to their problem, then examine the network, basically soaking up as much information as possible, and then she would return to her office and after locking the door, she’d curl up on the couch and go to sleep.
“… and I’d sleep for however long I felt like sleeping. Then I’d have a shower and a cup of coffee, sit down at my computer, and the solution would come out fully formed.”
So this stillness you described as: ‘underneath this light snow of thinking was a deep peace that was very pleasurable” is a very deep ocean of ‘knowing’.
And as we practice meditation, and thinking becomes more transparent, this ocean becomes more noticeable as a primary dynamic of mind – and we begin to build a relationship with it – to understand it’s ways, and how to use it.
We learn that we don’t have to think, to know. And at that point, everything changes. We learn to trust the innate ability of mind to work its way through problems without us pushing and pulling at it. As such we don’t get into the panicked loops of worry that come when we try to thinking our way through problems.
We let go and relax in the trust that life problems usually come with their own solutions embedded within them – it only we’re calm enough to notice them when they arise.
Just one warning though – now you’ve noticed this capacity of knowing, please do not look for it when you meditate. Don’t expect it, or think about it or wait for it. This kind of anticipation will only create anxiety and thinking, and that will obscure the subtle environment of knowing.
Just keep it simple and do the business of meditation, and let knowing happen on its own terms, when it chooses to arise.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)