The Silent Mind – Alan WATTS

One who talks all the time can never hear what others say. And one who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. Alan Watts examines the value of silent-mindedness or the practice of meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism.

[…] Fundamentally, meditation is not so much an exercise as it is a certain way of using one’s mind or one’s consciousness because, normally, most human beings, when they use their eyes or their ears, are constantly and chronically straining to see and to hear.

And when you come to think of it, that’s very odd because our eyes don’t work by effort. They don’t have to go out and get the light, the light comes to them, and in the same way sound comes to our ears and even the sensor of touch comes to our fingertips.

We don’t, for example, have to press a thing hard. If I want in the dark, I’m trying to fumble and feel what this is. I don’t have to press very hard to feel it because the sensation simply of the hard object comes to the nerve ends in my skin. And so it’s strange, isn’t it, that we have acquired the habit of a constant and chronic effort to see clearly and to hear clearly.

Through being taught that we must try to see and try to hear in order to have clear sight and clear hearing that we learn constantly to strain our senses in their use, but as a matter of fact, this impedes the clarity of our senses because, if you will, try staring hard at a book in front of you or staring very hard at the tv screen [you’re looking at right now], you’ll find that it becomes fuzzy.

Also, in the same way, if you’re trying to listen, say to a telephone conversation while the children are running all over the house and screaming, if you try to listen to the telephone, you’ll get very angry and you’ll have to start to yell at the children to make them be quiet. But on the other hand, if you just let the sound come to your ears, you’ll have no difficulty at all in hearing.

While we are seeing and hearing, we are trying to make sense of our world by thinking about it. And the act of thinking also introduces an element of strain into the use of our minds. And I think the reason for this is […] that thought is linear. […] It goes one word after another. It’s strung out in a line. […] Whereas, when we see, we see to what is going on entirely. We take in a volume when we see. We take in a great area.

Nature is a volume rather than something strung out in a line. But when we think, we get one thought after another, and so the process of thought is much slower than the process of seeing and using our consciousness or our mind as a whole. And this then requires a certain effort to make thought keep up with what we are seeing or what we are hearing. Also, you see, thought works by abstraction.

Alan Watts


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