Try not to try

April 30th, 2016
by Chris

Being, at the most fundamental level, a mystic who bases everything else spiritual on peak unitive experience is a very frustrating position for a compulsive over-analyser (and that would fairly describe me). It is, in the first place, horrendously difficult to describe the experience to someone who hasn’t had it, and even my best efforts look like very bad descriptions to me. A poet would no doubt find it at least somewhat easier, but I’m not a poet; to someone with my basic mindset and upbringing, it’s a bit like trying to convey the experience of seeing (say) Turner’s “Rain, steam and speed” by enumerating the objects portrayed and describing the brush strokes. It doesn’t do the job at all well…

(For what it’s worth, Turner wonderfully captured a sense of an occasion using not words but paint there – it isn’t only poets who have a better way of conveying experience).

It’s also frustrating not being able to point to a set course of action which will reliably result in someone else having a similar experience – and I would dearly like to be able to. It frustrates people who listen to me or read me as well – “OK, Chris, you say this experience is better than sex, drugs and rock & roll – how do I experience that?”. Well over 40 years later, I still can’t point to anything which can be guaranteed. Yes, I can say that meditation and prayer and some forms of visualisatory practice can probably help (and once you’ve actually had a peak experience, these definitely seem to encourage more frequent and more easily reached unitive experiences), but nothing is guaranteed.

I think it might be well summed up by Ken Wilber in this clip, quoting (I think) Roshi; “enlightenment is an accident; meditation makes you accident prone”. He’s also, I think, on the money when he says meditating is not going to mean that God will grant you satori, instead¬†“it’s going to wear your ass out so that God can slip in”. I am not, on the whole, a fan of Wilber, who does the kind of Westernised syncretism of multiple Eastern paths which I gave up as a bad idea within ¬†a handful of years after starting to pursue any avenue possible which might perhaps result in a repeat of the initial experience (yes, it was that good), but here, he is eminently quotable.

For this compulsive over-analyser, the one thing which can completely end a nascent unitive experience, nipping it in the bud before it has had a chance to flower, is trying to analyse it while it’s still happening. It’s much like a problem I had when I was small, learning to catch; eventually my mother worked out that I was trying to calculate the trajectory of the ball using my conscious mind, and it was never fast enough. Only when I stopped thinking did I actually start catching things.

This prompted me to write, in a circle, “Try not to try” for someone who was asking very much this question. Well, he seemed to think it was also “on the money”, so I share it again…

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