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Meditations

When the Filters of Familiarity Fall Away
By Martin LeFevre
Mar 26, 2022, 10:16am

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The erstwhile meditation place along the creek that formed the previous periphery of town has become old. The decay of man pervades the area. Different phases of new construction lie on both sides of the creek, and the great sycamore I sat under for years has fallen.

However the foothills were clear today, and brilliant orange poppies were blooming in profusion on the plain below the bike path. The creek still flowed by musically, and a mourning dove still made its plaintive call late in the afternoon.

Though its former wildness is gone, for now it remains a good place to meditate. A mallard couple appeared, unperturbed by my presence, though the male kept a watchful eye as the female foraged in the shallows. Gratitude welled up within.

Even the most beautiful places on earth can become familiar and old. The human brain stores experience as memory, which can prevent truly seeing and experiencing the beauty of even a new place.

Experience and memory are assumed to be givens of the human condition, but that assumption has to be challenged at the root. Experience teaches little or nothing. We've had thousands of years of experience with war, yet war continues, as brutal as it has always been.

Computers have already surpassed humans in memory storage and retrieval, as well as their manipulation through so-called artificial intelligence. Yet capturing and sharing memories is still the cornerstone of relationship with family and friends. As anyone who takes pictures with their cell phone knows, unsolicited notices of a "new memory" appear out of the blue.

Some years ago, when I visited the Grand Canyon, I witnessed the most extreme example of the how the filters of familiarity prevent the perception of even the most overwhelming beauty. Like most people, I was awestruck at the first sight of the stupendous scale, the layers of geologic striation, the dizzying depths of the chasm, and the subtle play of color, light and shadow on the canyon walls for as far down and away as the eye could see.

A group of people walked up to the lookout where we were standing. They didn't stop talking, and in less than two minutes, someone said, "Ok, we've seen it, let's go get something to eat."

How can humans become so jaded with experience and memory that even in viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time someone may as well be literally blind?

It comes down to the filters of familiarity becoming so thick and dark that even the most astonishing beauty cannot shine through. If we're not careful as we age, the windows of perception become totally caked with experience and memory.

Passive awareness of the outer and inner movement in the moment gathers undirected attention, which effortlessly quiets the mind. Meditation is the cleansing of the windows of perception, and the spontaneous elimination of the filters of familiarity in undirected attention to what is, within and without.

One begins by simply delighting in the sensory awareness of nature, and allowing the same non-interfering awareness to come to one's thoughts and emotions as they arise.

In meditation, the first thing to end is the infinite regression of separation as the observer in passive, quickening awareness. Space, stillness and insight grow from all-inclusive attention.

In methodless meditation, the brain gathers effortless, undirected attention, which is entirely different than effortful concentration. As silence and awareness deepen, a state of insight ensues, in which even the duality between outer and inner falls away. (Which doesn't mean one becomes the tree, or loses the capability of distinguishing between objects.)

However trivial or petty a thought is (and all thoughts and ideas are essentially trivial), if one watches thoughts as they arise without judgment or choice, and the mind/brain falls quiets and there is peace. Perception widens and feeling deepens.

Memory and experience form the continuity of thought. They are the raw material of the mind as thought, and preclude the experiencing of Mind, the limitless sacredness, joy and love that permeates nature and the cosmos.

The known has to end for the unknown to be. The known is not merely useful and scientific knowledge, but psychological memory and emotional residue.

The daily death of the known in complete attention to the movement of the past within one opens the door to the unknown, which is our birthright as human beings.


Photo by Martin LeFevre


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Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. lefevremartin77@gmail.com


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

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