I’ve always been a sucker for guitar solos, especially ones that invoke a strong emotion of sadness or intensity. For me, when the message of the music hits the heart of the lyrics, it brings me to a state of stillness or reflection…similar to meditation.
When I think of something that can stop me in my tracks, something that causes me to catch a glimpse of something beyond myself, music and its effects on my awareness stands out clearly in my mind. What about you?
James Joyce used the phrase of “aesthetic arrest” to describe a state where the ordinary mind falls away and we’re left in awe of the present moment (sounds a bit like meditation, doesn’t it?!) In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce writes:
“—Art,” said Stephen, “is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end. The esthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.”
The well-known mythologist, Joseph Campbell, in commenting on Joyce’s use of this phrase, wrote that, “The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object….you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest.”
So, why the hell am I writing about aesthetic arrest, what does the title of this post, “Is it Only a Dream…” and what does it have to do with meditation and compassion?
Today, while musing on what to write about in this week’s post, I began listening to the song titled, “On the Turning Away,” by the rock band Pink Floyd. I’m not sure whether you’re familiar with this piece and in a sense, that doesn’t matter. What mattered to me, in the context of meditation and compassion, were the lines:
“On The Turning Away”On the turning away From the pale and downtrodden And the words they say Which we won’t understand “Don’t accept that what’s happening Is just a case of others’ suffering Or you’ll find that you’re joining in The turning away” It’s a sin that somehow Light is changing to shadow And casting it’s shroud Over all we have known Unaware how the ranks have grown Driven on by a heart of stone We could find that we’re all alone In the dream of the proud On the wings of the night As the daytime is stirring Where the speechless unite In a silent accord Using words you will find are strange And mesmerized as they light the flame Feel the new wind of change On the wings of the night No more turning away From the weak and the weary No more turning away From the coldness inside Just a world that we all must share It’s not enough just to stand and stare Is it only a dream that there’ll be No more turning away?
When I read the news these days and see how many people are suffering due to the turning away, turning away from those who are weak and weary, turning away from our compassion, our kindness, our sense of sympathy with those around us; I find myself torn apart by the senselessness, by the lack of basic mindfulness that allows the turning away to happen. Remember how we’ve talked about meditation as a means to compassion?
On this day, I found myself with tears in my eyes…sitting in Ozo Coffee on Pearl St. in Boulder, overcome with a deep and abiding sense of compassion for all those who are suffering in this world of ours. I was overcome by the realization of how easy it could be if we were to realize the suffering of the mind that our fellow-humans suffer due to our turning away from them. And I experienced an indescribable sense of the present, an aesthetic arrest that within itself held a meditative-awareness of the present that was extremely precious.
Sometimes it takes opening to that tender place, feeling the sadness in the moment, sadness for the craziness that we witness, the suffering that occurs daily, to other humans in this world. Sometimes these moments of aesthetic arrest, meditative awareness, compassion…whatever, are the product of the moment and not of any attempt to meditate or “practice” meditation. And for many of us, that tender place is simply too painful a place to come into.
This day in the coffee house, I simply allowed what was happening to happen. I was very uncomfortable and self-conscious of the fact that I was sitting in front of my computer, Pink Floyd playing into my headphones, weeping. I mean, c’mon, what would others think? But I allowed the “meditation” to persist and to unfold. Because I hadn’t done anything to create this space, because it had come when my heart and mind were – simply – open, it was too precious an opportunity to waste.
On this day, I simply chose to remain in the moment. My mind was clear, my heart was open. And I allowed the meditative awareness of the present to dictate what I would do. And so…I just sat.
On learning how to use these kind of spontaneous gifts of compassion that we encounter every day meditation master and author of, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” Sogyal Rinpoche writes:
Every day, life gives us innumerable chances to open our hearts, if we can only take them. An old woman passes you with a sad and lonely face, swollen veins on her legs, and two heavy plastic bags full of shopping she can hardly carry; a shabbily dressed old man shuffles in front of you in line at the post office; a boy on crutches looks harried and anxious as he tries to cross the street in the afternoon traffic; a dog lies bleeding to death on the road; a young girl sits alone, sobbing hysterically in the subway. Switch on a television, and there on the news perhaps is a mother in Beirut kneeling above the body of her murdered son; or an old grandmother in Moscow pointing to the soup that is her food for today, not knowing if she’ll even have that tomorrow; or one of the AIDS children in Romania staring out at you with eyes drained of any living expression. Any one of these sights could open the eyes of your heart to the fact of vast suffering in the world. Let it. Don’t waste the love and grief it arouses; in the moment you feel compassion welling up in you, don’t brush it aside, don’t shrug it off and try quickly to return to “normal,” don’t be afraid of your feeling or embarrassed by it, don’t allow yourself to be distracted from it or let it run aground in apathy. Be vulnerable: use that quick, bright uprush of compassion; focus on it, go deep into your heart and meditate on it, develop it, enhance, and deepen it. By doing this you will realize how blind you have been to suffering, how the pain that you are experiencing or seeing now is only a tiny fraction of the pain of the world. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, pg. 203. Harper:SanFrancisco; Revised edition (March 17, 1994).
Sometimes meditation and compassion are simply about being in the moment, regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes we sit within the pain of an open heart…or a closed one. Sometimes the best that we can do is to watch as our heart closes down because we simply can’t connect with the pain and suffering in the world, it’s just too much to bear. Sometimes, we can only “…join in the turning away.” But if not…
…why wouldn’t we want to learn how to be more compassionate? Why wouldn’t we want to train our mind in the art of meditation, an art that finds as its natural consequence the aesthetic arrest in the moment, where all thoughts stop, and where we stand in awe of the moment, able to embrace all that is, with the simple acknowledgement that we are exquisitely in the moment with it all..the pain, the suffering, and the joy of knowing that we’re here…in…this…one…precious…moment…like……..no other! That’s meditation.
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Also, don’t forget to download the free ebook, Can Meditation Change the Way that You View Your World?, for help with getting started in you meditation practice. Also, you can download the ebook, How to Work with the Four Distractions to Meditation.
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