How often we need to repeat things, repeat a teaching, even to ourselves… Is this is why fables are read to the young? They are not necessarily easy to comprehend but they are easy to hear and follow, with their many repeated words and phrases, where often the child may join in, half-chanting their favourite parts aloud.

Before undertaking a new venture, teaching or speaking to a new group, I will generally write down a few notes to myself as a way of re-absorbing something that I already know and practise. Here, only very lightly polished, are the few paragraphs I prepared before a recent Meditations mini-retreat day.

Using the Four Dignities of Standing Lying Walking and Sitting offers us a chance of finding our way, as if along a path. It is an intrinsically human experience; you could call it Human‧Being. I began using this as a means of meditation practice as it seemed to offer a way-in that did not rely on ritual or method. It makes the experience Common therefore, rather than Singular or Separating, which last in particular must be an error… and there are too many ways of error already in the world, mostly emerging from the humans’ desire for certainty – or at least a certainty that does not include death.

Meditation cannot be about or offer that kind of certainty.

For example, I cannot even return to what I wrote about meditation two years ago* – and it was hard work at the time – with any feeling of having successfully tickled this thing into my net of words… And so the clue is prompted: our meditation cannot be merely a self-repeated gesture, however well meant.

No. I must, as well as you must, practically and truthfully take the advice of Chuang Tzu, to really go along with things; in Alan Watts’ happy phrase, to be at rest in spontaneity wu wei, rather than pay lip-service to that guidance. The way, the pathway, is the practice.

Something that the Four Dignities does allow or promote is a means by which we may find a balance in or through our senses*, between the numbered five – hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, scenting – and the un-numbered sixth: Minding. This is particularly the case if we can, even for a moment, remove from the mix that part which most unbalances us, which is thinking.


How is it that personal thoughts have come to be more than the tool of mental action that they actually are, and instead rule the senses? And what is the medium of that rule?

It is called Separation.
In the west and in our era its given name is Ego – sometimes, I Consciousness.
In the eastern Sanskrit tradition it is called māna.

And this, in fable terms, is perhaps how it arises.

Once upon a time and when very very young, first patterns are made in the Mind: memory begins. Then focus come to ears and eyes; patterns of hearing and light become sound and seeing, supported by tasting and smelling. And then one curious day, and it probably involves sight, the eye touches upon an object-that-is-not-itself, Mind feels for it, and for the very first time experiences a distance. And then the second curious thing happens: into that space of distance, emerging as if from a seed, a seventh almost-sense is new-born. In the beginning it faces both ways, turned as much toward Mind as toward the object-that-is-not-itself. But the object-that-is-not-itself is drenched in a wanting power so that the seed fixates and grows evermore towards it, so that after a time it faces only away, wresting itself from Mind entirely – yet wanting and wanting and wanting. This is the moment of Separation, when the object-that-is-not-itself becomes Object Alone: and it is suddenly glorious, and it is suddenly desirable, and it absolutely must be had. And because it must be had, a way must be found to keep Mind out of it: Mind with its overwhelming Oneness otherwise might subsume the desirous Object Alone… So seventh almost-sense performs the third curious thing, and it is a most marvellous trick; it transforms, becoming Ego, I consciousness, the imagining of itself to itself, saying that Ego must have, and that Ego must rule, and in order to rule it must never fail, nor hardly sleep even; and in order to achieve such a thing it gives birth to its only and ever-present child, and that child it calls Personal Fear, and it screams at all the other senses that if Ego is in any way challenged then Personal Fear will single-handedly kill them all off, including Mind.

Is this not a great trick?
Yes, indeed.

But… and it is the biggest of ‘buts’: it is also a Great Lie.

Close your eyes to light and there is darkness, we may be afraid. But at the back of our Mind we know that when light comes we will again see.

Close our ears to sound and there is silence, we may fear it. But at the back of our Mind we know we are not newly deaf and that when sound comes again we will hear it.

Close our mouths to taste, our body to touch, our breath to scent, we might again fear it. But yet again, in the back of our Mind we know there is nothing to heed in this.

Yet, close our Ego to thought, withdraw intellect, and Personal Fear screams and tears at itself once again. For this is not an insubstantial fear of partial absence: this is the dread fear of Death. Back of the Mind does not come into it… This is Ego’s triumph.

Triumph, maybe: victory, no, and the pathway into meditation is to expose it, to lay the Great Lie bare. Ceasing the clamour of intellect, letting go of thinking, and Mind’s overwhelming Oneness fills its place with Space, that is at last un-fearing; and it is generous, it even allows for the return of intellect and thought, yet reinstating these with a supra-antidote to Personal Fear – which is Spiritual Courage, which is Reason, which is Clear-Mindedness, which is Balance, which is Wellness, which is Serious Joy: Which is Love.

And which is my tribute to Alan Watts, the centenary of whose birth is marked this year: translator, writer, teacher and guide to many.


 *see article: The Four Dignities
*for more on this: February Leaps

© July 2015