I sat on the floor of my room, eyes closed. My brain was filled with noise, with random thoughts and anxieties throwing themselves all around. “Clear, clear,” I thought, trying to shout them down, tune them out. I listened to my own breathing, listened to the noises around me, but all my thoughts were still there, resisting, entangling.
Without realizing, at some point my “clear, clear” thoughts go away. Everything goes away. It is blank for a second, as if I’m too tired to think or about to fall asleep. Time is suspended. There is absolutely nothing at all.
A car makes a swooshing sound as it drives across the road in the back. The swoosh is like a gentle, light stroke on a blank canvas as it enters my mind, fading away back to nothingness as it passes. I hear another rumbling, that does not pass by and fade. Perhaps from inside the building, I think. I’m aware of my hands touching the carpeted floor, and it is as if my senses are extending from my palm and fingertips into the ground, through the walls, to the levels below, throughout the building. I feel the existence of the world around me, of another car as it passes by the road behind me, of the air of a strange 60 degree day in the middle of January, of the leafless trees and drab-colored grass. My own existence disappears. There is only the world, and I exist as part of it: this world is me, I have become the world, I am the world.
“This is peace,” I think. “It was so hard to achieve it, surely it will be easy to break and fall away from.” The uncontrollable (only containable) destructive instinct of the human mind kicks in. Against my will, it summons back my anxiety, my scheduling concerns, the work I have to do. I feel it, and fear that I have lost the peace that was so profound and beautiful.
But I am proven wrong. The peace is with me now. My thoughts exist alongside it, and I am aware they have the power to erode and overcome the peace, and inevitably will with time unless I make an effort to prevent it. But the peace has a power of its own. Once achieved, it is temporarily self-sustaining and resilient, so much as no direct attack is launched at it or something more immediately powerful comes along and replaces it. The peace makes it easier to control my thoughts. Standing on the tangled mess itself, of course it is hard to untangle: peace provides a second platform on which I can stand.1
I can feel the peace somewhat fading now. Language, perhaps, is one of the things that erodes peace: not strongly, for language is a tool of its user.2 It inherently contains some elements that are external to the individual; moments of greatest disturbance of peace are when I hesitate to determine what word or phrasing to use. However, when language flows as if it is in my nature, it does not conflict with the peace. Here, it is a tool for more clearly experiencing it.
I think about things that feel “off” to me in a way I can’t describe. Suburban houses and communities, so deliberately designed and socially entangled. House-hunting reality TV shows. They feel wrong to me because they represent the pursuit for a home at such a removed and non-individual level: there is no peace to be found. There is no peace to be found in television drama, either. They represent opposites: individual and social, internal and external, temporal and eternal.3
Proximity to peace is attained by the removal of barriers between the individual and the world around them. Social constructs are such barriers and bring the individual farther from peace.
The reason I decided to meditate in the first place was because I was frustrated while doing my physics homework. It was not the physics homework that was the problem. Doing physics problems can be a purely individual pursuit, connecting you with an idea and minimizing all other obstructions, thereby bringing you closer to peace, but only if you do them for the purpose of individual connection. My frustration came from the passage of time and the presence of pressure to complete the homework within a time frame so I can move on to other work and get it done, as prescribed not by me but by external factors: the classes I am taking, the responsibilities to others I have taken on.
Originally written on January 12, 2020. Edited and posted on February 23, 2020.
A few weeks later, I would find that what I called “peace” was similar to the “life-world” described by phenomenologists Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, which I read about in Abram’s The Spell of the Senuous. The basis of reality is the senuous world, in which consciousness is one contributor, not the encompassing platform, Abram writes. He reframes the perception of an object as a two-way act of “participation;” each object is animate and possesses agency, with its own “styles and sensibilities…tones and textures,” and perception is the “attunement or synchronization between my own rhythms and the rhythms of the things themselves.” A strikingly applicable quote: “Whenever I quiet the persistent chatter of words within my head, I find this silent or wordless dance already going on — this improvised duet between my animal body and the fluid, breathing landscape that it inhabits.” ↩
Abram speaks to this, too: “To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we thus block our perceptual reciprocity with that being.” ↩
Borrowing language from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death ↩