About seventeen years ago, I went through the University of Oregon’s desktop publishing program. An intensive weekend class was offered on marketing. I remember nothing specific about the topic from the class—I only remember the instructor, Michael Conklin. Something about his way of being struck me with such power that I spent the whole weekend trying to figure out what was different about him. The answer came late in the second day—the man was still inside. His mind was not busy at all. When a student asked a question, he fell completely quiet, but I could tell he was not accessing his memory files. When the answer came, it spoke not only to the question asked, but offered a much larger context. Later I learned that he is known as Lama Michael Conklin—he is a Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and he had undertaken a three-year retreat where he had clearly experienced what the mind is, and is not.
If the mind is not personal, if it is not “ours,” then what is its purpose? How do we best make use of it? Obviously it is an incredible tool, from the deepest intent to the most frivolous play. Awareness doesn’t care how it is used; it notices the wild array of mental activity without judgment, without comment. The comments all belong to our earth suit, and they take up an enormous amount of the mind’s creative capacity.
Although the mind cannot be found, we still need a way to communicate about what it can do, so we are forced to reify it, to turn it into a something. This-that-is not-a-something has a remarkable capacity that is usually tapped in an urgent situation: yesterday, when a car unexpectedly turned left in front of me, awareness noticed and instantly responded–stomped on the brakes, swerved into the right lane, and avoided an accident. There was no time for thinking. I acted natively and naturally from awareness, bypassing thought. All of us are able to do this, and have done so, repeated times in our lives.
When the mind stops commenting on every tiny change in its environment, space opens for naturally responding in any moment, not just the urgent ones. The response will arise out of the current context, without being weighed down, and slowed down, by thinking. Mind can then serve in its highest capacity, from impartial, clear awareness.
© Amrita Skye Blaine, 2012