The Immaculate Inbetween


‘Hi Roger … In stories of the Buddha that I’ve read, enlightenment seemed very easy to people. Just by listening to the Buddha, they used to suddenly become enlightened. Is this just an exaggeration, or was it really that way back then?’

And my reply:

Um … well, not having lived back then, I couldn’t say. But I can tell you a little of what I think might have been happening.

Obviously, in the time of the Buddha, the world was totally different to the kind of environment we live within today. Where our world is, even on the most basic level, insanely complex and informationally constipated, aside from the odd war, their world was slow and relatively serene.

 With no media, and little knowledge of the written word for most people, the need to process and retain information was not as significant a part of their world as it is in ours.

But while information was not as omnipresent and compelling as it is in our world, the need to be aware was essential – their survival depended on it.

 They needed to be momentarily aware of their surroundings and whether danger was imminent. They had to be aware of the passing of the seasons and when was the right time to plant crops, and they needed to be aware when they hunted.

As such, thinking about things and analysing in great depth was not a significant part of their mental ecology. Rather they knew what they knew, and they learnt from experience, and they spent most of their time in the moment-by-moment awareness they needed to survive.

We, on the other hand, spend most of our time processing information of one kind or another. Our survival depends on it.

Not only that, but our culture needs us to be constantly engaging with information and reacting to it. Advertisements try to elicit envy and desire. The media tries to elicit outrage and fear and anger. Entertainment tries to elicit excitement, whether fun, or fear or sadness. After all, that’s how they make their money. If the media didn’t manage to make us outraged or fearful, we wouldn’t bother engaging with it. If a film didn’t make us laugh or cry or squirm, we wouldn’t be bothered watching it.

As such, in our world we have very little need for the kind of momentary awareness ancient people lived in. We’re more used to living in the exciting virtual reality in our heads, which we create from all the stimuli we live with.

So, all well and good. That’s just the way it is.

But there is another level to our situation.

And that is, the information and thinking we live with is not only in our minds – it is also in our bodies. Every thought process we have, whether of happiness, sadness, anger, fear or whatever, creates its own cocktail of hormones – which stimulate different parts of our body in different ways.

For example, a fear reaction will cause hormones to be released that make the heart beat faster, and blood pressure rise. Not only that, blood is directed away from the organs and into our limbs to make us ready for action – which is why, when we live with constant stress, we develop digestive problems.  

Fun and elation do similarly, only the opposite – a different set of hormones cause the body to relax and the blood flow to deepen. And so it is with all the other reactions we might have throughout a day. As we move through each reaction, it is as if our body is constantly being pushed and pulled in different directions.

Now, on its own, this isn’t significant – for us it’s normal – simply the kind of life we need to live in the kind of world we live in.

But when it comes to meditation, and our ability to do it, all this mental and physical jitteriness puts us way behind the eight-ball compared to the ancients – largely because we’ve spent all our life in this restless state, so we don’t know any different. If life isn’t exciting us in one way or another, many of us think something is wrong.

As such, we seek stimulation continuously, even when it’s not immediately there – picking up our phones when there’s nothing to do, to check Instagram or Tik Tok or Facebook for some dopamine. Watching Netflix or going out clubbing to keep the hormone hits coming – always looking for something – anything to keep the emptiness of ‘nothing to do’ at bay.  

So even though this world we live is full of fascinating inventions and entertainments and comforts, the trade-off is we’ve lost touch with the mental tranquillity and stillness our ancient ancestors took for granted. For sure, their lives may well have been less comfortable compared to ours, but inside themselves, their inner ecology was comparatively serene.

So let’s look into this serenity and stillness.

What is it? And where does it come from?

Well, it exists in the big ‘nothing to do’ that we try to avoid.

It exists between thoughts. It exists between this action and that action. And most significantly, it exists between our reactions – in the space where mind and body are not being altered by one or other of the many hormonal cocktails that occur when we react to an ongoing experience.

In homage to the Buddha’s central thesis of ‘the middle way’, I call this space ‘the immaculate inbetween’ – the tranquil stillness that exists between everything.

Which is why I’ve said many times, that when you meditate, you should use the method to practice letting go of everything – whether unpleasant, pleasant, or nothing at all.

Whatever it is, let it go.

By that I mean, practice removing your attention from every distraction, and every feeling. Let go of every reaction, whether it’s joy, elation or a negative reaction like sadness or anger. Let go of bliss in the same way as you let go of the pain.  

And that’s what the breath is for.

 It’s the place to take your attention when you’ve let go of everything – the default resting place for your attention. The safe place where it can learn to not elicit some or other reaction.

Gradually, as you practice letting go of everything over the weeks, months and maybe years, you will become aware of ‘the immaculate inbetween’ … where there is no reaction – no happiness, no sadness, no anger. No pleasure or pain. None of the things we are used to are there.

And yet, you will discover something else – something much better that what you’ve always been used to – something indescribable and profound. Something empty, yet full … and that’s as far as I will go to describe it, other to say it’s the ‘immaculate inbetween’.

So … to answer your question … and thank you for your patience if you’ve got this far … I think the reason the ancients became enlightened so quickly and easily in response to the Buddha’s teachings was, their minds were already well acquainted with ‘the immaculate inbetween’. After all, it was where they spent a large part of their time.

And enlightenment was only a hop skip and a jump further on.  

Whereas for us, it’s a long, long journey to get there.


‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.


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