- The Art of Letting Go
by Peter Russell
In order that the mind
should see light instead of darkness, so the entire soul
must be turned away from this changing world, until its
eye can learn to contemplate reality and that supreme
splendor which we have called the good. Hence there may
well be an art whose aim would be to effect this very
Meditation is the art of doing
nothing. In today’s hectic, achievement-focused world
we are almost always doing something. This
"doing" mode is fueled by the belief that if
only we did enough of the right things, had enough of
the right experiences, earned enough money, or owned
enough possessions we would be happy. As a result our
minds are seldom, if ever, still. Instead we are busy
fretting about what we should have done or said,
planning what we should do or not do, say or not say, in
the future, and worrying whether or not we will obtain
the things and experiences we think we need to be happy.
Ironically this mental
agitation deprives of the very thing we seek. In the
final analysis we all want to be happy, to be more at
peace in ourselves, yet a mind that is worried cannot,
by definition, be a mind that is at peace.
This is why spiritual teachings
the world over have recommended some or other form of
meditation—some way of allowing the mind to become
still, and thereby find the peace we seek.
The allowing is important.
Meditation is not another mental activity, another form
mental "doing." Most techniques of stilling
the mind are exercises in attention rather than
exercises in thinking. You do not quiet the mind by
changing what you think about, but by changing the
direction and quality of your attention. In their own
particular ways meditation techniques turn the attention
away from the world of the senses—the world we thought
would bring us peace of mind—and inwards towards our
As the mind begins to settle
down it discovers an inner calm and peace. The habitual
mental chatter begins to fade away. Thoughts about what
is going on in meditation, what time it is, what you
might say or do later, occupy less and less of your
attention. Your feelings settle down, and your breath
can grow so gentle as to virtually disappear. What
thoughts there are became fainter and fainter, until
finally the thinking mind falls completely silent.
Indian teachings call this
state samadhi, literally "still mind." This,
they claim, is a fundamentally different state of
consciousness from the three major states we normally
experience—waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
In waking consciousness we are
aware and experience the world perceived by the senses.
In dreaming we are aware and experience worlds conjured
by the imagination. In deep sleep there is no awareness,
either of outer world or inner world. Samadhi they
define as a fourth major state. There is awareness, one
is wide-awake, but there is no object of the awareness.
It is pure consciousness—pure in the sense of being
unmodified by thoughts and images—consciousness
In samadhi you know
consciousness itself, in its unmanifest state, before it
takes on the many forms and qualities of thinking,
feeling, and sensory experience.
The Isha Upanishad, an ancient
Indian text, says of this fourth state:
It is not outer awareness,
It is not inner awareness,
Nor is it a suspension of awareness.
It is not knowing
It is not unknowing,
Nor is it knowingness itself.
It can neither be seen nor understood,
It cannot be given boundaries.
It is ineffable and beyond thought.
It is indefinable.
It is known only through becoming it.
The Buddhist scholar D. T.
Suzuki referred to it as a "state of Absolute
There is no time, no space, no
becoming, no thingness. Pure experience is the mind
seeing itself as reflected in itself.… This is
possible only when the mind is sunyata [emptiness]
itself, that is, when the mind is devoid of all its
possible contents except itself.
The Essence of Self
When you are in this state you
discover a sense of self that is more real and more
fundamental than any you have known before. You are no
longer an individual person, with individual
characteristics. Here, in the complete absence of all
normal experience, you find your true identity, an
identity with the essence of all beings and all
Usually we derive our sense of
self from the various things that mark us out as
individuals—our bodies and their appearance, our
history, our nationality, the roles we play, our work,
our social and financial status, what we own, what
others think of us, and so on. We also derive an
identity from the thoughts and feelings we have, from
our beliefs and values, from our creative and
intellectual abilities, from our character and
personality. These, and many other aspects of our lives,
contribute to our sense of who we are.
Such an identity is, however,
forever at the mercy of events, forever vulnerable, and
forever in need of protection and support. If anything
on which our identity depends changes, or threatens to
change, our very sense of self is threatened. If someone
criticizes us, for example, we may feel far more upset
than the criticism warrants, responding in ways that
have more to do with defending or reinforcing our
damaged self-image than with addressing the criticism
In addition to deriving an
identity from how we experience ourselves in the world,
we also derive a sense of self from the very fact that
we are experiencing. If there is experience, then there
must, we assume, be an experiencer; there must be an
"I" who is doing the experiencing. It
certainly feels that way. Whatever is going on in my
mind, there is this sense that I am the subject of it
But what exactly is this sense
of "I-ness?" I use the word "I"
hundreds of times a day without hesitation. I say that I
am thinking or seeing something, that I have a feeling
or desire, that I know or remember something. It is the
most familiar, most intimate, most obvious aspect of
myself. I know exactly what I mean by "I."
Until, that is, I try to describe it or define it. Then
I run into trouble.
Looking for the self is rather
like being in a dark room with a flashlight, and then
shining it around trying to find the source of the
light. All one would find are the various objects in the
room that the light falls upon. It is the same when I
try to look for the subject of all experience. All I
find are the various ideas, images and feelings that the
attention falls upon. But these are all objects of
experience; they cannot therefore be the subject of the
Although the self may never be
known as an object of experience, it can be known in
another, more intimate and immediate, way. When the mind
is silent, when all the thoughts, feelings, perceptions
and memories with which we habitually identify have
fallen away, then what remains is the essence of self,
the pure subject without an object. What we then find is
not a sense of "I am this" or "I am
that;" but just "I am".
In this state, you know the
essence of self, and you know that essence to be pure
consciousness. You know this to be your true identity.
You are not a being who is conscious. You are
In the words of the great
physicist Erwin Schrödinger:
What is this "I"?…
You will, on close introspection, find that what you
really mean by "I" is the ground-stuff upon
which [experiences and memories] are collected.
No single moment of
transcendence is likely to enlighten us forever. Our
conditioning is so deep
that it does
not take long before we once again are caught up in our
hopes, fears, worries and concerns. Once again start
looking for external sources of fulfillment and get
trapped in the "doing" mode. But a little
taste of the meditative state remains, and our
attachment to the world may not be quite as strong as it
was before. This is why regular meditation practice is
usually recommended—a daily dose of dehypnosis—a
daily remembering of ourselves in our unconditioned
© Copyright Peter
Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Peter Russell holds degrees
in physics, psychology and computer science from the
University of Cambridge, England, and is the author of
several successful books including The Global Brain
Awakens. The Brain Book, and Waking Up in Time.
His primary focus is the
exploration and development of human consciousness,
integrating eastern and western understandings of the
mind, and elucidating their relevance to the world today
and to humanity's future. He was one of the first people
to introduce human potential seminars into the corporate
field, and for twenty years has been lecturing and
consulting to major companies on creativity and personal
The above article is adapted
from his new book From Science to God: The Mystery of
Consciousness and the Meaning of Light. Here he
recounts both his own spiritual journey and explores a new
worldview in which consciousness is a fundamental aspect
of reality, leading to a new synthesis of science and
spirituality. Full details along with full extracts can
be found on his website http://www.peterussell.com.
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