I may not be a tech-bro but even I can see the pointlessness of write-only memory, something which can be written to but never read. Yet, when I learnt of it I was reminded of something I do have some familiarity with: mindfulness. Consider this excerpt from Bhante Gunartana’s Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English (which is the follow-up to his excellent Mindfulness in Plain English):
“You need to sit in the place where the whole world of your experience is coming up and passing away so rapidly that there is just nothing to hang on to. Nothing lasts long enough for you to mentally glue it together into “something.” As soon as you turn your attention to any occurrence, it goes “poof”! It vanishes as soon as pure awareness touches it. It all just comes up and goes away, leaving no trace. There is no time for such a trace to be left. As each thing comes up, it pushes the last thing out of the mind and there is no residue. You come out of this experience with no solid memory of anything that occurred. There is just the lingering impression of everything arising and passing away more rapidly than the mind can hold. This is termed “seeing things as they really are.” You are not verbalising or conceptualising. You are just “seeing.” This happens in the awareness of your deeply concentrated mind.
It all just comes up and goes away as a raging torrent without the slightest straw to grasp to keep you from drowning. Yet you do not drown. Because you are not really there. “Me” is just another “thing” that only exists when you glue your passing experience together in that artificial way. What does the seeing in this state is a calm, unruffled, pure watchfulness that does not get involved and does not exist as a thing. It just watches.”
To me, it sounds as if the higher states of mindfulness are nothing more than a write-only consciousness, a truly momentary existence, where each instant of experience is integrated with but isolated from every other.
The rest of Beyond Mindfulness goes on to describe “Jhana” states, states that through the means of supreme concentration enable a person to experience something more. There are twelve Jhanas in total and the idea is that they form a sequential ladder—a rung cannot be missed, each one must be grasped and used to ascend to the next. Unfortunately, the orderly ascent through the first four Jhanas, through the four Immaterial Jhanas, and through the Supramundane Jhanas didn’t grab a hold of me. It just didn’t resonate. So I created my own hierarchy of mindfulness, and it uses as its central metaphor the idea of “the gap”.
“Between stimulus and response there is a gap, and in that gap resides choice.” It’s an idea often attributed to Viktor Frankl, though I think its origin is immaterial at this point. The idea is common coin, now. But hold it in mind for a second.
THE FOUR LEVELS
In An implacable enemy I mentioned the different ranking methods TV Tropes utilises. My favourite is the “Super Weight Scale”, which includes a “Muggle” tier, a “Super” tier and a “Cosmic” tier. The first is composed of normal humans; the second is composed of humans with extra-ordinary abilities; the third is composed of non-human entities, or humans that have gone beyond their ordinary human essence. I’d like to adopt a similar set up: my hierarchy of mindfulness has four levels.
– Level Zero is composed of Mortals—they do not comprehend the existence of The Gap. To them, stimulus is indistinguishable from response.
– Level One is composed of Apprentices—they comprehend that there is a Gap between stimulus and response, but they remain unable to manipulate it. Sometimes The Gap seems tiny. Other times The Gap seems like a chasm. They have to work with it in whatever guise it appears to them.
– Level Two is composed of Adepts—they comprehend that there is a Gap and they are able to manipulate it, expanding and shrinking its borders. The experience of time itself is malleable to these people.
– Level Three is composed of Lords—they too can comprehend The Gap and manipulate it. But they can do something else. They can enter into it, inhabit it.
Mortals don’t comprehend The Gap; Apprentices demonstrate awareness of The Gap; Adepts exhibit control of The Gap; Lords are presented with the opportunity to inhabit The Gap. The last, “inhabitation”, is what interests me most. What does it even mean?
RESULT, SEED, INTERFACE
One way to model existence is to separate it into domains of the past, present and future. If I were to visually represent this, it would look something like this:
In magnitude, the present is dwarfed by both the past and the future. It is tiny in comparison to the totality of those two great entities. But not in meaning, for the present’s meaning is immense, threefold. The present is, all at once, result, seed and interface:
– The present is the result of everything that occurred in the past.
– The present is the seed for everything that could occur in the future.
– The present is the interface between the immutable past and the possible futures.
The Lord of the Gap recognises this, and to him or her, The Gap manifests as a Gateway that when stepped through leads to a state of transcendence. The Lord of the Gap escapes time and escapes space. The Lord of the Gap inhabits the present, utterly, and so becomes everything that has happened in the past and everything that could happen in the future.
Miyamoto Mushashi’s The Book of Five Rings was intended as a manual for combat, a guide to an eminently physical art. Because of this, alongside its instructions one can often find commands like, “You should investigate thoroughly”, directing the reader to stop reading and try doing instead. Mindfulness and what I’ve discussed above is similar. Reading will only get you so far. It is a supplement, not a meal replacement.
Put another way: Guy Sajer, a young French-born German soldier in World War Two, once said: “I cannot find the words to describe what I saw. My impression is that all words and syllables were perfected to describe unimportant things.” Above, I have tried to describe something important and primarily experiential using the wholly inadequate tools known as words. I was aware of the difficulty before I started, but I still felt compelled to try, and I hope that I have at least provided a signpost to aid in your own exploration.
Or, in more Zen terms, I hope I have used my finger to point you in the direction of the moon.