Normalcy by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- "When we read about other people's meditation experiences, we tend to like to read about the really dramatic ones: The meditator's awareness leaves his body, and goes wandering around, sees all kinds of visions. Or a meditator discovers a sense of oneness with everything she sees. Everything is beautiful, luminous. These things sound very impressive, something we'd like to try too. But you have to look a little further into their stories, and you realize that those kinds of extreme experiences are things that have to be remedied. They're problems. They actually get in the way of the goal. When meditators have experiences like that, their teacher if they have a good meditation teacher will say, "Okay, you've got to get over that; you've got to get past that. The weird stuff is not what it's all about."
Here it's good to remember two things. One: Sila, ordinarily translated as "virtue,"is one of the requisites for meditation. Sila also means normalcy. You're trying to develop a state of normalcy in your actions, where you're not deviating from harmless behavior. You're not going off into extremes of harmful behavior because you're trying to establish a pattern that will carry into your meditation. You want to keep the mind in a state of normalcy as well, where it's not going to the extremes.
Why do we tend to fall into extremes? In some cases it's because we want a larger sense of self. We're tired of being finite people and want a taste of the infinite. In others, we want to annihilate ourselves. We become one with the tree so that the tree can take over. We become one with the wall so that the wall can take over. We want to blot out our experience of who we are and who we've been.<snip>
The second point to remember is that we're practicing the middle way. We're trying to stay away from extremes of eternalism, where you expand to become one with the universe around you, and annihilation, where you want yourself to be annihilated, say, as a little drop of water that gets totally swallowed up by the ocean. Instead, we're trying to find a place where you can stand in the middle, in a state of normalcy. The mind isn't going up, isn't going down. It's just right here. But it's very solidly right here, very clearly right here. We're looking for the clarity.
You try to develop a state of normalcy where the mind can stay still and calm in the face of what it likes, in the face of what it doesn't like. If that sounds too dull, we may want to try to force something unusual, like obliterating all distinctions between subject and object. But look carefully at that desire. There may be a strong but subtle sense of aversion underlying it, or a strong but subtle sense of passion. It's not the way of the path. Those passions and aversions are the things you've got to learn how to see and uproot.
So when you find your mind leaning in those directions, remind yourself that this is not the path. You're leaning off to one side or another. When you're on the path, you're trying to stay on the middle way right here. It may not seem very impressive. But again, we're not here to impress anybody; we're here to see things clearly. And the strength of the path doesn't come from pushing things. It comes from allowing the state of normalcy to get constant. You get here and you just don't budge, don't budge. In this way, the strength develops.
So keep this in mind. We're trying to work on a state of normalcy. This is how the practice of the precepts shades into the practice of concentration. And then it shades into discernment, because you see the normal way of the mind. It's normally been creating suffering, but you can see a deeper state of normalcy, a state of true well-being that's very, very subtle, which comes when you're not creating suffering anymore. So you've got to see the normal habits of the mind that have been creating suffering before you can undo them, let go of them. Only then can you uncover normalcy in the deeper sense.
So what we are doing is something very normal. What's unusual about it is that we're trying to maintain this state of normalcy as consistently as we can throughout the day. That's really extraordinary. It's the consistency that makes it special."