Discovering Cosmic Consciousness

Most nights I resort to my Transcendental Meditation mantra to help me sleep – not that meditating is supposed to be a sleep aid.  The purpose of TM, as I recall from the instruction and group meditating sessions of years ago in high school, is to bring tranquility and to further one along toward cosmic consciousness. Nonethless, I am making good use of  my mantra. Each night, I plump up my two dense tempurpedics and lie on my left side for starters. I hear my mantra in my mind; then I ease onto my back. As I exercise my mantra, I am continually amazed at how quickly and constantly it slips away and I have to start it up again. Finally I fall asleep because, even with the digressions from the mantra, by forcing myself to keep it going in my head, I do avoid thinking  about the sleep-depriving topic that plagues me.

Usually, when intrusive thoughts over which I have no control crop up, I can reason with myself to dispense with them. I tell myself like a Stoic coach that things could always be worse, that I cannot know what other bad thing might have occurred, that an outlook of acceptance and emotional detachment actually feels good, that I can give myself permission to not engage with such a topic or to forgive myself, that everything is pretty trivial, and that the brevity of life puts things in perspective, etc.  However, that rationalization approach falls short of mitigating my monolithic concern that creeps in with the night; I cannot reason away the thought of the constant and extreme suffering of farm animals. Why does this disturb me? The simple fact (understood by anyone who rejects “speciesism” or is otherwise an ethical vegan) is that we are all animals (there are three categories: animal, vegetable, and mineral). Humans are a species of animal. There are differences among species, but all species of animal have interests, innate behaviors, emotions, a love for life, and the ability to suffer.  If anyone doubts this, he should consider the family dog who gets upset when left alone, has joys and sorrows, feels pain and loss, and suffers when hurt; such a rich emotional life and ability to suffer applies to other animals as well. So, getting into bed is clicking on the video, and I must imagine all of the innocent peaceful animals subjected to cruelty on a daily basis and killed in a storm of terror.

The thought of all this suffering has another layer that adds to its centrality in my life: the nagging question about why other people, assuming they are aware, don’t find such a heinous reality too horrible to condone and participate in.  If nighttime is reserved for images of suffering baby pigs and other horrors, day time prompts that human aspect of the question, as I must face at every turn the results of human action: dead animal parts (aka food), the finished product of the assembly line of cruelty, ground out relentlessly by the money-meat machine. I feel a divide between me and all the dog-loving, animal eaters.  However alienating that divide might be or disturbing the images of suffering, I embrace the truth with devotion. It is a boon to know that, as Leonardo Da Vinci said, my body will not be a tomb for other creatures.

The gurus of TM might or might not have been right about meditating as a way to achieve cosmic consciousness. Regardless, they had some good ideas about repetitive words and enlightenment. I use my mantra for sleep, and I revel in achieving the certain first step to cosmic consciousness – the knowledge that we should be kind to all sentient creatures.

On Meditation

While listening to the radio show “on Being” broadcast on public radio on Sunday mornings, I heard an interviewed guest mention meditation and in particular the mantra used by a group of meditators.  It stuck with me because if Stoics had a mantra, that would be it. Before I explain what is essentially Stoic about the mantra, let me say up front that I have found little if any value in meditation– sitting in one spot and letting some word rattle around my brain is not Stoic per se or useful in my opinion, that view being based on experience with transcendental meditation (TM) in the late 1970s—TM, that cleverly marketed version of ancient practices. To learn how to do TM, I paid my fees and got my mantra, which was a German woman’s name, Inge.  It turns out now I have a friend and neighbor from Berlin whose name is my mantra.  The TM gurus cautioned the initiates strongly not to ever reveal one’s mantra.  Why?  It would weaken it, they said.  And why should that be?  I came to understand that if the TM folks aren’t handing out mantras they are offering little in exchange for their fees other than the chance to gather to watch video tapes of a bearded man rattling on about cosmic consciousness in an abstruse and boring dialogue heavy with repetitive metaphors. There was another element (which philosophy does not have): the gathering together to share experiences in meditation and to meditate together—the latter of which is a bizarre and uncomfortable experience.  In the end, I found meditation in the morning was simply an invitation to fall back to sleep; I felt no benefits, doubted the attainability or the existence of cosmic consciousness, and concluded that if there were such a state of mental improvement it waited at the end of other methods than repeating “ Inge” to myself twice a day. These many long years later, I recognize the similarity between cosmic conscious and a Stoic sage—a person whom Seneca readily admits is not to be found except in the rarest of cases!

So, back to the radio show. I am listening to an interview of a Catholic brother (a member of another group of people whose notions do not square with mine) who mentions a group of meditators and he reveals that their mantra (apparently they are free to divulge their mantra) is “here.” Given that he spoke that word on the radio he had to spell it to distinguish it from “hear.”  As a Stoic, I right away saw the value of that word as something one might focus on.

“Here” denotes the present moment, denying the importance of the uncontrollable past and the uncertain future.  Any happiness (or more moderately phrased, any respite from trouble) can be found only in the present moment; confine whatever miseries we have to the present without compounding them with the ones that have not yet arrived.

I feel particularly under attack these days by anticipation and call upon my reason to stop thinking pointlessly, knowing that by living in the future I miss this day and whatever good it might bring, or, if little good, at least more tranquility  than if I import past and future ills. Hence I need to focus on “here” — this day, this moment.  Lying awake a few nights ago, unable to sleep, a common occurrence, the word “here” popped into my head. I used it as my mantra, corralling my wandering thoughts repeatedly back to that word as they ran riot around my too-busy brain.  It worked—I fell asleep.