Like a blackboard covered with writing, formulae and sketches, the mind can’t easily begin new projects if there is a confusing jumble of stuff there.
The mind is the recipient of a vast collection of information, flooding in constantly through our senses; sometimes useful but most often just clutter.
It is also operating on two, perhaps even three different levels; the conscious, in which we interact with physical situations and surroundings, the sub-conscious, the part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings and perhaps even another lower level in which we intuit events based on previously assimilated information.
Using the blackboard analogy, we could think of three layers of blackboards attached to the front wall of a lecture theatre. Let’s call them front, middle and back. The blackboards are on pulleys and can move up and down so that the one at the back can be viewed once the other two are pushed up or down and likewise the back two could be completely covered if the front one is level in front of the other two. And if the front board is partly up, some of the information on the middle board could be seen, and if the front and the middle boards are partly up and partly down, information on the back board may be seen.
On each board is information written in chalk, just like one sees in a lecture theatre. The chalk could be of many different colours and the information could be language, sketches, physics diagrams or mathematical formulae.
The easiest one to define and describe is obviously the front blackboard which contains information about the events that are in day-to-day conscious mind in physical situations: driving a car, eating a meal, making a telephone call. In the conscious mind, when we drive a car, we are physically and mentally aware and constantly making small decisions which keep us safe and moving towards the completion of a task.
The next board, the middle one representing the sub-conscious mind, is a little more difficult to describe because the actions relating to it are not always immediately seen. In driving the car, there are many learned actions which have become part of our sub-conscious mind, like remembering the route we must take or the use of indicators or the radio. So in driving, the two minds are working together (hopefully in harmony!) sometimes so well that we may even get to a destination without remembering a part of the journey.
Now for the back board, the one which is almost impossible to define but which seems to be there because without it, we could quite easily be defined as robotic or artificial intelligence. Let’s call it the intuitive board. So what is it on the back board that makes us more than robotic artificial intelligence? Probably hazy stuff like emotions: something of which we are aware, but which is not uniform to all people. What creates violent anger and jealousy in one person may simply be an irritation in another. What is love to one person could just be affection in another.
The back board could also be redefining information/knowledge which is written on the front and middle boards in ways which we hadn’t thought of yet but which now emerges as a brilliant solution to a complex problem.
And of course, the boards are all suspended in front of a featureless white painted wall or to make things even more complex, what if there was no wall behind them but simple open, empty space?
To get back to my first proposal about wiping clean the blackboards.
Let’s also try to imagine that the blackboards aren’t absolutely solid, flat hard wood based structures but are instead slightly translucent material, solid enough to write on yet transparent enough to see something of what is written on the boards behind and so the information can flow and permeate all the boards simultaneously.
Now if what is written on the back board – the intuitive board, is written in large colourful chalk, it would still show vaguely through the middle and front boards. If it was written very lightly in white chalk in small letters, it may still be seen but would hardly be visible through the other two boards. So this is the structure of the mind – perhaps simplistic but graphic enough to have an idea of what we have to cope with when we attempt meditation.
Ultimately, in meditation we want to go behind the front, conscious board, wiping away the day-to-day clutter, then to the middle sub-conscious board wiping away the information unnecessary to the time and space in which we are attempting to meditate, then on to the back intuitive board where we release emotional bonds holding us and then to the clear, empty space behind that: the state of being called the “clean slate”.
There are many different techniques and philosophical structures using meditation as a tool to interact with the sublime freedom of wandering in the state of the “clean slate” but “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Robert de Vos
Author Bio – Robert de Vos: teacher and practitioner of Iyengar-style yoga for some 35 years and Sifu (instructor) of Yang T’ai Chi. A member of the Inner School of the Sufi Movement in the West for many years, he is the author of eBook “Living in the Here and Now – a guide to walking the mystic path” and creator of www.mymoodkit.com