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Letter to a Friend About Meditation

Martin LeFevre:  Perhaps because you have tried many different methods of meditation, you now see that methods are antithetical to meditation. As you said, “Meditation begins when ‘the me’ ends.” So without implying a method, how does one go from that intellectual understanding to experiencing its actuality?

Here are some principles, and suggestions. They are not meant to be instructions, much less a template, but may serve as a starting point to experimenting with undivided observation, which is the cornerstone of meditation.

Symbolic thought is a unique evolutionary adaptation, found only in humans on this planet. “Higher thought” separates, in order to “remove and make ready for use.”  However from its very inception in “fully modern humans” 100,000 or more years ago, conscious thought apparently did not just function to separate things in nature for survival and building cultures – an animal from its environment and the tree from its surroundings – but the human mind separated itself psychologically and emotionally.

Psychological separation is division, within and without, inwardly and externally. It leads inevitably to conflict and war socially, and to increasing fragmentation of the earth ecologically. The present planetary crisis of man is the crisis of consciousness, and the crisis of consciousness is the culmination of the fragmentary tendency of thought.

Meditation in the individual, by whatever name, is the remedy to psychological separation and fragmentation. And the essence of psychological separation is the ancient habit of thought separating itself from itself as the observer, which stands apart from what one observes.

The observer is what’s called in philosophy an infinite regress. Seeming to defy direct observation, it recedes into continuous separation, like holding a mirror up to a mirror. How does one break the mirror, so the observer ends and observing without separation and interpretation begins?

Again, there is no method. Just be present in a relatively quiet spot of nature while questioning the workings of one’s own mind. Don’t go with anyone, or take your dog. Simply sit on a bench or beside a stream (if you’re fortunate enough to live near one) and let all your senses open. That’s the first thing – to allow one’s senses to be as open and integrated as possible. That happens when one doesn’t choose to focus on anything in one’s environment, but simply watches and listens to every sight and sound as they occur.   

Meditation is precluded by concentration of any kind, whether on one’s breath, on a mantra, or fixing on an image or reciting a prayer. Meditation is all-inclusive, choiceless awareness with tremendous sensitivity. Nature is a mirror for choiceless awareness if one allows her to be, which permits the sensitivity of the senses to grow acute.

And in the same choicelessly aware way one allows the senses to attune to nature, one watches every thought and emotion as they arise without identification or judgment, and holds them in awareness until they flower and pass away.

One’s thoughts naturally slow, and the spaces between thoughts increase. At this point the tendency is to become ‘stuck’ on a thought or in an emotion. I’ve found that jotting down such thoughts and emotions, with the intent to look at them later if necessary, helps to free the mind to simply observe so that the spaces and silences between thoughts can grow.

One will soon notice that there always seems to be an observer that stands apart from what is being observed. The observer is the root of the self, the ‘me,’ the ego, which, taken together, has created all the division, hatred, conflict and fragmentation of society and man.

So the observer is the ancient and deeply rooted habit of psychological separation, which is as old as man. It’s the false wellspring of the illusorily separate ‘I,’ the ‘me,’ the separate self. (There is no such thing as a “Higher Self.”)

So what ends the primal habit of the observer, which seems to have such validity that it is very rarely questioned? If one really wants to end separation, alienation and fragmentation within oneself, and one gently but persistently questions the division between the observer and the observed within one, an insight comes that suddenly ends the infinite regress. One cannot seek it as a goal, just out of curiosity and the passionate urge to understand.

The ending of thought occurs when the observer falls away and there’s just observing, and the “peace that passes all understanding” descends with the spontaneous ending of thought. Non-directed attention grows unseen in the brain, and at an unforeseeable moment, which always comes as a surprise, the mind-as-thought falls silent, and the Mind of Awareness is.

One’s lifelong journey of meditation begins. Along the pathless way, time ends during one’s meditations, and intimations or more of the absolute, which is death/creation/love, come. As long as we live however, there are questions. Even the most illumined human beings never stop questioning. 

Speaking for oneself, the life-changing insight into the very roots of psychological separation exploded within many years ago. But I still begin my sittings, after allowing the senses to grow present and acute, with the question: Is the observer operating?

For as long as the observer is caught in its ancient habit of psychological separation, there can be no meditation and wholeness. With the effortless ending of the observer however, the door to unbounded insight and immanence opens.


Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.