Clear Space Meditation Path : part 2
The process of ‘being with’
There is an element in human relating, which occurs across many seemingly disparate situations. It is the process which I call here “being with”, in the sense of staying with something and simply allowing our internal response to metamorphose into something fuller and richer. It starts with the insights into relationship offered by Martin Buber, when he distinguished the different ways we use the word ‘I’. He differentiated ‘I-It’ and ‘I-Thou’. When we look at a person (or an animal or a thing) and observe or tell ourselves something about it, we imply an ‘I’ and the other is an object to us. So we might say, “He’s got brown hair” and the full version of what we are saying would be, “I see he’s got brown hair”. In that sentence the ‘I’ we are using would be an ‘I-It’. That’s what we do most of the time. But there is another way of being with someone where we don’t make them an object in this way. If we are just with them and don’t tell ourselves anything about them, no trying to work them out, no stories, no criticisms, no attitude, just being with them… our unspoken words might be, “I am comfortable here with you”, and then the ‘I’ we have used would be an ‘I-Thou’. This ‘I-Thou’ relationship can offer us a different experience of the other and of ourselves; and it doesn’t matter whether the same is happening for them or not.
Let me take what might seem like a rather bizarre example. If right now you look outside and gaze at a tree, or it could be a plant inside the room or a stone, but preferably something natural, initially your gaze rests on an object. If you continue gazing, without in any way trying to describe or differentiate or distinguish or divide, you will find that you see more and more of the tree. You don’t need to try to pick anything out, if you stay with it, more and more about it will come to you and you will start to get a different sense of it. What is happening is that the tree is starting to become ‘you and the tree’ – a relationship is forming. If you look away and after a few moments look back, that sense will still be there in how you are aware of it. Now recall your sense of the object when you first picked it out to look at, and you will notice a change has taken place in you as a result of your being with it in this way. You might notice this as an ease, which comes from recognition, a familiarity, a smile even.
This is similar to what is happening in meditation when we are sitting with a ‘sense of’ something in the way I described earlier. Alongside us is our sense of something or someone. But this sense is not anything we can gaze on with our eyes, even though fleeting images may accompany it. It is not concrete like the tree, so no picture can form, though we might describe it as an ‘image’ in our awareness. As we wait, a feeling forms in response to this awareness and, as we go on waiting, there may be other feelings. So the process of staying with the awareness allows our feeling about it or towards it, to come through. This is the first step in the journey of understanding, because until we realise and then ‘name’ our feeling about something, we cannot make a true response to it in a fully conscious state. And there is more. Because realising and naming a feeling is a step in understanding, it changes the sense itself. It also opens the way for other layers of feeling to arise, which, too, change the sense. All are steps in increasing understanding, altering our awareness, allowing us, in our fully conscious state, to be more real in our responses. This is the therapeutic effect of this meditation path.
Setting this out as I have done, it makes it look as if everything happens in a neat, orderly, even speedy, progression. Of course it doesn’t. You may take several sessions sitting beside a sense, which arises consistently, before you notice a feeling come. And then it may be a little indistinct and it still feels as if nothing really changes. But yet every time a feeling arises and you name it, something changes, however small. You do not have to notice your change in awareness while you are sitting, it may come later and you may not even spot it at first when it comes. But next time that sense appears in your meditation it will be slightly different, and this opens the way to a new feeling and a new awareness.
It is open to you now, when you feel ready, to take this fully into your meditation. When you are being with a sense of something which has arisen, also listen to the feelings which arise in you in response, name them in some way and hold the memory of them as the sense starts to fade.
You have reached the point at which this meditation path has the potential to be therapeutic in a wider way than simply allowing you to be more relaxed, feel less stress, and be more mindful. It has the potential to affect your way of being in the world, to help you to be more real in your relating and closer to your true self.
© Simon Cole