Monday, February 1, 2016

Windows to Being in Itself

Windows to Being in Itself
I try to meditate at least once a day. When I calm my breathing and let my attention soften to the present moment, I usually begin to feel at ease, at least more so than I was before meditating. But recently I've had an experience in meditation that I've found difficult to put into words, and I want to try explaining it in this post.

When I meditate and focus on my breath, sometimes everything but my breath seems to fade away. It's as if my breath were the only thing that existed in the universe, or at least as if everything else were just an "aspect" or a "shadow" of that breath. This works for anything I focus my attention on: a patch of stucco, a thought, a mood, or even another person. The boundaries defining that focus for my attention become the edges of being: outside it, nothing seems to exist in any meaningful sense. My entire existence gets wrapped up inside that object of focus; it becomes my world.
Taken at face value, what I just said is nonsense. However, there is some philosophical precedent for the thoughts I'm trying to express. Ludwig Wittgenstein, specifically, had some remarks to offer in the notebooks he kept while writing the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
"As a thing among things, each thing is equally insignificant; as a world each one equally significant.
If I have been contemplating the stove, and then I am told: but now all you know is the stove, my result does indeed seem trivial. For this represents the matter as if I had studied the stove as one among the many things in the world. But if I was contemplating the stove it was my world, and everything else colourless by contrast with it.
(Something good about the whole, but bad in details)
For it is equally possible to take the bare present image as the worthless momentary picture in the whole temporal world, and as the true world among shadows.
When I look at my breath "as a world," it becomes limitlessly significant. Its "limits" (its edges, where the breath stops and other things start) don't matter; they might as well not exist. My focus goes entirely within those edges, and I "dive into" my breath rather than see it "as a thing among things."
Moreover, as I pointed out in my most recent metaphysical worldview, things in the world have "forms" in common with other things: you and I are both human, I and my dog are both mammals, both my body and my computer are material. Moreover, you can just as easily say that humanity "shows itself" in both you and I as say that you and I "are" human. The forms we share in common with each other show themselves in whatever things "display" those forms. And while "humanity," "mammal-ness"," and "materiality" are forms like this, so are "color/coloredness," "space," "time," or even "being." When I focus on something in meditation, I think I stop seeing whatever I focus on in meditation as just that thing, and instead I see whatever forms show themselves through it. My breath isn't just a breath; it also "shows forth" air, matter, space, time, and existence. The icon I look at while meditating likewise displays the forms of color, shape, time, space, and so on. Whatever I look at then becomes no longer a thing that exists but instead a display of existence. I see the statue in light of its being instead of in light of its statue-hood.
To put it a little more visually, it's as if my object of focus is a vase that contains water, and when I lose myself in it, the vase goes away and I just see the water. It's also like when you gaze at the sky and the clouds suddenly go away and you can see off into the endless reaches of the heavens. In the dichotomy of substance and form (not exactly the same kind of "form" as above), the form goes away and I only see the substance. The matter of existence loses all the vessels which contain it, and I just see the matter as matter.
Eighteenth-century scientist and visionary Emanuel Swedenborg also gives a cool description of this phenomenon. In the spiritual world, there are two main principles in heaven: the heavenly/celestial and the spiritual. As far as I can sum it up here, the celestial part of heaven is existence in its own light, whereas the spiritual part of heaven is just a reflection of that existence. For Swedenborg, love and good are features of the celestial principle and truth is of the spiritual principle. When you stop thinking, you can see being as being or love as love without the veil of thoughts to get in the way. For Swedenborg, to reach the highest level of heaven is to accustom your mind to the celestial principle in this life, where everything becomes a means to God--the ultimate reality--instead of an end in itself. Wittgenstein puts the same idea a little differently in his notebooks: "To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter." Facts--existence as I perceive, think, or reflect on it--don't give the world in itself. The world in itself is God, inwardly vaster than any limitation or demarcation. in D&C 29's language, God is endless, meaning that there are no edges or "ends" to his being. He is the infinite within the finite, the "bigger inside" in any outside.


  1. Hey I really enjoy reading your blog. I didn't realize you have aspergers and my brother has it too and I've suggested that he read your blog.

    1. Thanks! Be sure to tell him to check out my "Introspecting Autism" blog too. There's a link to the right, but I'll also post a link right here: