HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Making Contact with the True Self
Whether we’re in touch with this ‘true self’ or not depends on how many external stimuli our senses are taking in from the world around us, and on how much activity there is going on in our minds. If there is a lot of noise, movement and activity taking place around us then we can’t help but give our attention to it; and in the same way, when there is a lot of ‘inner noise’ taking place we have to give our attention to that too. And when our attention is completely absorbed in this way—either by external stimuli on their own, such as when we watch TV; by ‘inner noise’ on its own, such as when we daydream; or by both of them at the same time—it’s impossible for us to be in contact with our ‘true self’ to any degree, in the same way, that it’s impossible to see a cinema screen in itself when it’s full of dancing images. Being in contact with our ‘true self’ is a state of attention less-ness, when our minds are completely empty.
What we have to do if we want to get into contact with this part of ourselves is, therefore, to withdraw our attention from these things. And this is, of course, what we do when we meditate: first of all, we remove ourselves from external stimuli, by sitting in a quiet room and closing our eyes. And then there’s only ‘inner noise’ standing between us and consciousness-in-itself, which we try to quieten by concentrating on a mantra or on our breathing. If we manage to stop the inner noise (and therefore stop our attention being absorbed in it) pure consciousness immerses us and we become our true selves.
And this brings us back to the most serious problem caused by the massive amount of external stimuli (including noise) which our senses are bombarded with in the modern world, and by the intensified ‘inner noise’ which modern life generates. It’s not just a question of completely closing yourself off to external stimuli and shutting down ‘inner noise’ so that you can experience a state of total immersion in pure consciousness. It’s possible to have a foot in both camps, so to speak—to live a normal life in the world, being exposed to external stimuli and experiencing inner noise, and at the same time still be rooted in your real self. That is, it’s possible to be partially immersed in consciousness-in-itself, and for your attention to be partially absorbed by external stimuli and inner talk. But this can only happen when there is just a moderate degree of both of the latter.
It would probably have been quite easy for our ancestors to live in this way, because they weren’t exposed to a lot of external stimuli and because their lives were relatively slow-paced and stress-free, which would have meant that their attention needn’t have been completely absorbed by external stimuli and inner talk. Perhaps this even partly explains why native peoples seem to possess a natural contentment which modern city dwellers have lost—because their more sedate lives mean that they’re able to be in touch with the ground of their being as they go about their lives and that they can therefore continually experience something of the bliss of which is the nature of consciousness-in-itself.
For us, however, this has become very difficult. There’s always so much noise and activity both inside and outside us that our attention is always completely absorbed so that we can’t be in contact with our real selves. We spend all our time living outside ourselves, lost in the external world of activity and stimuli or in the inner world of our own thoughts. We’re like a person who plans to go away for a few days but finds so much to occupy them in the place they go to that they never go home again, and never again experience the peace and contentment which lie there. This is certainly one of the reasons why so many people nowadays seem to live in a state of dissatisfaction—because they’ve lost touch with the natural happiness inside them. That natural happiness has been buried underneath a storm of external stimuli and what Meister Eckhart called ‘the storm of inward thought’.
As a result of this, it’s essential for us, in the modern world, to go out of our way to cultivate silence ourselves. Circumstances may oblige us to live in cities, and our jobs may be stressful and demanding, but we’re still free to remove ourselves from external stimuli and to try to quieten our minds by meditating, going out into the countryside, or just by sitting quietly in our rooms. We don’t have to fill our free time with attention-absorbing distractions like TV and computer games, which take us even further away from ourselves. We should do the opposite: stop our attention being absorbed like this so that we can find ourselves again.
We need silence and stillness to become our true selves and to be truly happy. ‘Be still,’ said Jesus, ‘and know that I am God.’ But he might have added, ‘and know that you are God.’