Finding the Quiet
I like Australians. Well, OK, I like almost everybody—but somehow I really like Australians. Maybe it's their clichéd national characteristics: practical, proud, yet self-deprecating. The song "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba—even though it's British—has that feel in its refrain: "I get knocked down / But I get up again / 'Cause you're never gonna keep me down ...".
So creeping slowly toward the point: on the new-book shelf at the local public library the book Finding the Quiet catches my eye. The author's name, Paul Wilson, reminds me of F. Paul Wilson, a science-fiction writer I remember from decades ago. So down take I the book. Paul Wilson is an Aussie, not an sf writer, who calls himself "The Guru of Calm". Ugh! The beginning of his book is extraordinarily off-putting—full of "I" this and "me" that. Double-ugh! After dithering and almost returning it to the shelf, finally I check it out. I expect to skim and then return it in a few days.
But after that distressingly boastful preface, Finding the Quiet shifts gears and becomes, for the most part, something rather close to the Engineer's Guide to Enlightenment that I imagined more than a decade ago. Yes, it's far from perfect. In fact Part B falls into the "F'ing Ineffable" pit of mysticism that, in my present state of unenlightenment, is seriously annoying. Maybe some day it will make sense, though somehow I hope not.
But for ~160 pages Paul Wilson does a solid job of categorizing and analyzing the major varieties of mindfulness meditation. He gives a neat taxonomy, a roadmap of three paths that he identifies as:
- deep — inward, narrow, focused, concentrated — absorption, in the yoga or samatha tradition
- directed — intentional, progressive, contemplative, spiritual — communion, in the prayer or tantric tradition
- aware — outward, broad, attentive, nonjudgmental — hyper-consciousness, in the insight or vipassana tradition
In other words, Reflection vs. Projection vs. Now.
Wilson's suggested practice of what he terms "The Quiet" begins with what he calls CenterWidenListen+Observe: center (take a breath, notice what's supporting you, straighten your spine); widen (broaden your attention to include peripheral vision); and listen (sense your breath and the subtler sounds around you). As Wilson says, this is "more of an attitude than a function" and eventually becomes "a state of not doing anything, but doing it with attentiveness." Then observe: move into one of the three practices, deep or directed or aware.
The down-to-earth nature of Paul Wilson's prose is charmingly captured in a remark he makes in passing. While discussing meditative hand positions (aka "mudras") and the virtue of the simplest one, he says, "There are many others, but their subtlety eludes me and I've yet to meet anyone who will attest to their usefulness."
I love it! Wilson's gentle dismissal—"... their subtlety eludes me ..."—applies to a boatload of mystical frou-frou. Let's throw it all overboard and get back to now ...