Cloud Gazing in the Mind
Updated: Feb 8
Sitting on the cushion, legs crossed, I crack my back knowing I’ll be still for the next hour. I take in my surroundings one last time before closing my eyes plunging into the darkness.
The meditation starts like it has hundreds of times in the past. Focusing on the here and now. Noticing the sounds, birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind. Checking in on the body, slowly scanning from the top of the head down to the toes. And finally, settling in on the breath.
A slow inhale. A gradual exhale. Chest rising. Chest falling. I begin to get acquainted with that faint sensation at the tip of the nose. The ever so simple focal point of my attention for the remainder of this time. In and out. In and out.
A calming presence settles in. I sink into the moment. Noticing the perfect stillness. The deep comfort of the cushion. I wonder if I should get one like this for my house. It’d go great in my meditation room. Wait - the breath. Back to it. Inhale. Exhale.
A rhythm starts to develop. I’m watching it like a hawk. Laser focused on the air coming in and out. Getting a feel for the lengths of each breath, the pauses in between. Noticing the fine intricacies of such a mundane, unconscious action. Every breath uniquely distinct from the last. If I keep this up, I’ll be a Zen master in no time. Imagine all the things I could do with perfect attention. A life undistracted. Shit, I’m doing it again. Follow the breath.
A few more deep breaths and I've gone sufficiently inward. No longer getting acclimated to my new reality. A simple binary state of focus or distraction. Free from the regular sensory inputs that barrage our waking experience. A whole lot of nothingness. A truly uncomfortable amount of nothingness. Just me, my thoughts, and my breath. It's quite unsettling. But it forces me to get comfortable with the prospect of merely being.
Meanwhile, time seems to have frozen altogether. Or is moving really slowly. Or sped up... it's got to be coming up on an hour now? I seem to have lost all sense of what normally is a comprehensible linear progression throughout my days. I find myself fixated on calculating the time remaining. Counting the minutes until the arbitrary 60 minutes is over. A funny thing how obsessed we are with measuring time. Alas, I catch myself in yet another distraction, returning to the familiar of the breath.
These sporadic thoughts are unrelenting. But I recognize that I am not my thoughts. Thoughts come and go. In the same way the heart beats the brain thinks. Regardless of what I do. Why attempt the futile task of controlling an involuntary process? Just sit back and become the passive observer of all that arises.
With this newfound seat of awareness, I perceive everything the monkey mind throws my way. Work. Finances. Family. Girls. Insecurities. Aspirations. The totality of things going on in my life. Yet they don’t have the same potency they once did. I’m simply lying on the grass, pointing up at the clouds, naming them, and watching them pass. No attachment. Just plain observation.
In this state I’m at peace. Almost invincible. For my entire conscious experience is made up of mere thoughts which no longer have power over my headspace. I feel like an infinitely malleable being able to bend and adjust to whatever comes my – oh what's that in my knee?
A dull ache starts to set in. Minor at first, but just enough to steal my attention. I catch it right away and return to the breath. But this cloud doesn’t pass like the others. It lingers. Growing darker by the second. Its ominous presence becoming impossible to ignore.
Mind over matter I say. Intensifying focus on the breath. However, try as I may, it offers no refuge. The pain has invaded every square inch of my consciousness. Aching becomes throbbing. Throbbing becomes excruciating. What was once a moment of serenity has devolved into an all-out war.
Worst of all is the knowledge that one movement and it all goes away. Just straighten your leg and this suffering will dissipate before your eyes. Every second I persist is another I willingly withhold my own liberation. This is nothing short of self-torture. Meditative masochism.
But with this knowledge comes the realization that eventually it has to go away. The bell will ring. I'll move my legs. And it will be as if this mind-numbing pain never happened. It’s in this moment that I'm struck by the visceral recognition of the transitory nature of all experience. Every thing that ever enters into our field of awareness will inevitably float away never to be seen from again. All of a sudden everything goes white. Or at least it feels like it. My eyes are closed, I’m not perceiving light, yet this bright, tingling sensation consumes me.
I’m now suspended in a vast, empty space of consciousness. The pain is still there but it's been relegated to the domain of thought. Just another experience conjured up by the mind, manifesting itself in the body. Which begs the question, if I am the one observing thoughts, if I am the one observing the body, who or what is the I doing this observing?
A question that's at the same time completely meaningless and yet gravely consequential. Most will dismiss as unanswerable. Some will spend their lives trying to understand. But in this split second, I came to know, to feel, to experience the answer in a way that decades of intellectualizing could never hope to achieve. Before I have a chance to ponder this any more I feel a slight trickle of air leaving my nose. Once more returning to my breath.
Diiiiiiing. The bell goes off. I slowly open my eyes. Crack my back. Uncross my legs. With a heightened awareness, increased focus, and deep insight gleaned, I re-enter the world from which I came.
Shoutout Roots and Water PR for facilitating the retreat that led to these musings