(Descartes' 1692 diagram of the brain and the eye.)

I've written here before about some related ideas surrounding the ideas of wholeness and presence. And how the idea of wholeness has taken on a sort of semi-mystical tinge since the 1960s that has probably held back its being taken seriously as a topic for exploration.

Personally to get away from the mumbo jumbo ideas and practices that tend to surround the use of the concept of wholeness, I prefer the more practical term pattern. Everything happens in a fully integrated pattern. This term gives you a better picture of what actually happens, that a wholeness is actually a pattern of interlinked things.

Having also spoken about meditation here, for a while it's seemed to me there are two important, different ways to approach patterns. When you look at the basic meditative schema, there's a foundation pattern of person-and-world, person-and-body, and it's the job of meditation to dissolve these divides by getting people to practice experiencing the events in the world and in their own body without reacting to them. By not reacting they're essentially refusing to honour any divide between themselves and the world around them.

Over time there's seemed (to me) something a bit wrong here. We're already undivided beings, so why would we need to practice being that? Even when we're acting in divided ways, we're undivided. So in a way the meditative idea is to learn to stop pretending you're something that you're not (to learn to stop living the 'illusion' of separateness the Buddhists are always talking about). But you wonder if it's a laboured way to go about things.

Because step back a bit and patterns are not about people staring out an individual things, even in a non-reactive ways. They're things like "having a lot of fun playing tennis", or "being engrossed in a movie". By still retaining that basic perceptual scene, like Descartes, of perception being this highly abstract process of people receiving sounds and smells and tastes etc., the meditative traditions seem to lose a lot of the actual colour of lived reality. When you're going about your normal life tasting, smelling and hearing things, you're not even thinking about these as separate activities - you're at a restaurant with friends, or at the beach, and these 'sensations' are all an indissociable part of those moments.

So take for example the common example given by meditators of the difficulty of sustaining one's attention on something, say a sound or sight. You might practice watching a candle flame, or feeling your touch of an object, or listening to the wind. And your attention wanders constantly, and you have to keep bringing it back to your object of attention. But at other times when you're not meditating your attention can be absolutely laser-focused, without yopu having to do a thing - like the example of being engrossed in a film. Maybe in the first instance the reason your attention wanders is because there's no actual meaningful pattern to that activity, it's an abstracted and artificial situation. And when you think about it 'attention' itself is a highly abstract idea, because when we attend to something it's again part of doing something much more simple, part of a much wider existential pattern, like enjoying ourselves at a party.

So as the LearningMethods people say, when you experience a feeling you don't like, or an emotion, in your awareness lay out the full pattern that you're living in that moment, and see where that feeling or emotion fits within that pattern. It will always be a pattern of things going on, not an isolated 'bad' feeling or bad emotion. For example a person with an anxiety disorder when they do this will suddenly notice that the feeling simply doesn't 'fit' in the situations they're experiencing it (prior to doing this they've been focused only on the feeling, in isolation from what's actually happening).

Or a simple 'physical' example - while standing lean forward, and feel the increased strain in your legs as you do. We all intuitively know what this feeling means, within that pattern - we're 'leaning forwards', so we can easily and automatically adjust by leaning back a bit, and the feeling goes. But at many other times, for example while sitting, we'll have feelings we don't like, and we won't do that - we'll extract the feeling out of the pattern of what we're doing and try to fix it in some way, on its own in isolation. So we lose the pattern. But it's always just there, if you can become aware of it.

Where I parted company with LM was in their insistence of going one step beyind the basic laying out of a pattern to then isolate the apparent idea which is 'causing' it. For LM all patterns are based in an idea. To me this is nonsense, ideas are just another part of a pattern, and in fact are like attention - when you look at them a bit more closely it's difficult to see in what way they exist at all. It's a word we've come to attach to a particular sort of excperience, usually one of detachment, and we've extrapolated that experience to mean there is this thing called an idea up in our heads. But it's really a myth, a persuasive fiction. Further logically it's completely impossible to have ideas as part of a pattern, and then as well to extract them out of the pattern and make them what drives the whole thing. You can't have a pattern, but then suddenly have individual parts with their own separate existence. Our ideas change all the time without us even paying any attention to them, as part of the wider patterns in our lives.

It will change your life absolutely to start to directly experience the patterns of the things you do and experience. No need to do a thing to experience this, the patterns are just there, happening at every moment. When you next feel an uncomfortable twang in the back or somewhere, at that moment notice also the wider pattern of what you're doing at that moment. I bet you'll find that twang absolutely makes sense within that wider pattern, and if you want to change it how you need to change the wider pattern will be immediately and intuitively obvious, just like the example of leaning forwards and feeling strain in your legs. You can stop all that fiddling and controlling which dominates so much of our days and stay out there in the world, living these much wider patterns.

[However it's not clear the meditative tradition is really wrong, it might just need one small addition. When something distracts a meditator from the object of their attention, rather than ignore it and re-focus their attention, they can add it to their object of attention. That way their attention doesn't waver, and at the same time their awareness broadens - 'distractions' are simply other simultaneous aspects of the same moment, and they'll keep automatically appearing so long as the awareness is narrowed. In reality 'we' are something that extends out into the world, infinitely - awareness is the infinite experience of being one with the world. It's not "I am aware", awareness includes what we call the I, as I've written about here before.

Conversely if you think about all of this in terms of patterns, ultimately you don't want to (impossibly) separate yourself out from a pattern to see how this connects with that, you just want to experience the entire pattern, simultaneously. Which is the same experience as extending meditation, just described.]


  1. Nick, what I would call "presence" is this awareness of the entire pattern, the whole context.


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