An excerpt taken from “Mindfulness in Action” by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Mindfulness is a process of growth and maturing that happens gradually rather than suddenly. You may celebrate your birthday on a particular day, but this doesn’t mean that you suddenly go from being two years old to being three when you blow your candles out at your party. In growing up, there is a process of evolution and development. Meditation practice is a similar evolutionary process, one that takes place within you in accordance with your life situation.
There is a continuity in the journey. You being solidly, your progress solidly, and you evolve solidly. Don’t expect magic on the meditation cushion. The idea of a sudden magical “zap” is purely mythical.
In reality, nothing can save us from a state of chaos or confusion unless we have acknowledged it actually experienced it. Otherwise, even though we may be in the midst of chaos, we don’t even notice it, although we are subject to it. On the path of meditation, the first real glimpse of our confusion and the general chaos is when we begin to feel uncomfortable. We feel that something is a nuisance. Something is bugging us constantly.
What is that? Eventually we discover that we are the nuisance. We begin to see ourselves when we uncover all kinds of thought problems, emotional hang-ups, and physical problems in meditation. Before we work with anyone else, we have to deal with being a nuisance to ourselves. We have to pull ourselves together. We might get angry with ourselves, saying, “I could do better than this. What’s wrong with me? I seem to be getting worse. I’m going backward.” We might get angry with the whole world, including ourselves. Everything, the entire universe, becomes the expression of total insult. We have to relate to that experience rather than rejecting it. If you hope to be helpful to others, first you have to work with yourself.
The first steps, as you certainly know by this time, is to make friends with yourself. That is almost the motto of mindfulness experience. Making friends with yourself means accepting and acknowledging yourself. You work with subconscious gossip, fantasies, dreams – everything that comes up in your mind. And everything that you learn about yourself you bring back to the simple awareness of your body, your breath, and your thoughts.
Beginning to make friends with yourself brings relief and excitement. However, you should be careful not to get overly excited about your accomplishment. If last night’s homework assignment was done well, it doesn’t mean that you are finished with school. You are still a schoolboy or a schoolgirl. You have to come back to class, you have to work with your teacher, and you have to do more homework, precisely because you were successful. You have more work to do.
You begin to experience a greater sense of fundamental awareness. Such awareness acknowledges the boundaries of non-awareness, the boundaries of the wandering mind. You begin to realize the boundary and the contrast. Your mindfulness is taking place, and your confusion, your mindlessness, is also taking place. You see both, but you don’t make a big deal about it. You accept the whole situation as part of the basic overall awareness.
Now only are you mindful of your breath, your posture, and your thought process, you are also fundamentally aware. There is a quality of totality. You are aware of the the room; you are aware of the rug; you are aware of your meditation cushion; you are aware of what color hair you have; you are aware of what you did earlier that day. You are constantly aware of such things.
Beyond that there is nonverbal, nonconceptual awareness, an awareness that doesn’t rely on facts and figures. You discover fundamental, somewhat abstract level of awareness and of being. There is a feeling that “This is taking place. Something is happening right here.” A sense of being – experience without words, without terms, without concepts, and without visualization -takes place. It is unnamable. We can’t call it “consciousness” exactly, because consciousness implies that you are evaluating or conscious of sensory inputs. We can’t even really call it “awareness,” which could be misunderstood. It’s not simply awareness. It’s a state of being. Being what? It is just being without any qualification. Are you being Jack? Are you being Jill? Are you being Smith? One never knows.
This may sound rather vague, but the experience is not as vague as all that. You experience a powerful energy, a shock, the electricity of being pulled back into the present constantly: here, here, here. It’s happening. It’s really taking place.
There is an interesting dichotomy in this situation. On the one hand, we don’t know what it’s all about. On the other hand, there is enormous precision, directness, and understanding. That is the state of fundamental awareness, or insight. You being to see inside your mind on the level of nonverbal awareness. Nonverbal cognitive mind is functioning. You may say, “now I hear the traffic; now I hear the cuckoo clock. Now I hear my wristwatch ticking. Now I hear my boss yelling at me.” But you also have to say, “I hear, but I don’t hear at the same time.” Such totality is taking place. A very precise something or other is happening. That is the ultimate state of awareness. It is nonverbal, nonconceptual, and very electric. Is it neither ecstacy nor a state of dullness. Rather, a state of “here-ness” is taking place, which we have referred to earlier as nowness.
Nowness is this sense is very similar to the fourth moment, which was introduced in Chapter 8, “The Present Moment.” This term, “the fourth moment,” may sound more mystical than what is meant. You have the past, present, and future, which are the three moments. Then you have something else taking place, a gap in time, which is called the fourth moment. The fourth moment is not a far-out or extraordinary experience. It is a state of experience that doesn’t even belong to now. It doesn’t belong to what might be, either. It belongs to a non-category. We have to call it something, however. Thus, it is called the fourth moment. The fourth moment is the state of non-ego, going beyond the limitations of your habitual self. It is a very real experience, an overwhelming experience, in which nothing can be understood. It is sometimes called the knowledge of egoless insight. The experience comes at you rather than you searching for it.
You are able to work with yourself and your life on the basis of that experience, through the constant reminders arising in everyday life, all your little daily hassles. You forgot to pay the telephone bill, and the message from the phone company is getting heavier and heavier. They are about to turn off your phone and sue you. Your motorcycle is about to catch fire, because you are over-revving the engine. Your grandmother is dying. Your family is demanding your attention. You can’t afford to forget about them. All kinds of past and present reminders appear.
Many problematic situations or even a general state of turmoil may arise in your life. When you look closely at where the problems came from and what they are all about, you may begin to experience the fourth moment. Problems come and problems go, but still remain problematic. That may seem like a cryptic statement, but in that enigma you may encounter the fourth moment. Even when you appear to have solved it, a problem remains a problem. Nothing dissolves into a love-and lighty beautiful creamy honey lotus lake. The problems remain potent, slightly painful, and sour – as if the world, the universe, were staring at you with a disapproving look. You haven’t been quite as good or as wakeful as you should be. The world gives you that look of disapproval. When the sun shines, it looks at you. When the rooster cries cock-a-doodle-doo, it is saying the same thing. When someone’s car honks, when the telephone rings, they are saying the same thing. There are ironic mockeries all over the place.
It is not that the devil is against you and trying to destroy you. It is not that some magicians have put a spell on you and are trying to get at you. Rather, the world is very powerfully in a subtle way trying to remind you to remember your fourth moment – the fourth moment.
That moment is the essence of insight and awareness. Experience becomes so real and precise that it transcends any reference point of any doctrine that you are practicing. Whether you are practicing mindfulness, Christianity, Buddhism, or psychology, you are practicing life. In fact, ironically, you find that you can’t escape. You find that life is practicing you. It becomes so real and obvious.
Experiencing the fourth moment is quite important in the development of meditative awareness. At this point in your journey on the path of mindfulness, everything in your life begins to haunt you. Sometimes the haunting process takes the form of pleasurable confirmation. Sometimes it is painful and threatening. There is the feeling of a ghost haunting you all the time. You can’t get rid of it; you can’t even call someone to exorcise it. That state of insight and simultaneously of being haunted is the experience of the fourth moment.
You feel that you are sitting and camping on the razor’s edge, making campfires quite happily, yet knowing that you are on the razor’s edge. You can’t quite settle down and relax and build your campfire, yet you still stay on that point, on that spot.
That state of hauntedness is the state of ego, actually. Somebody in your internal mental family, some part of your being, is beginning to complain that they are getting uncomfortable messages. The awareness of the fourth moment cannot materialize until there is that slight tinge of being haunted by your own egotism. The hauntedness of ego and the egoless insight work together. That is what creates our experience.
On the whole, we should regard our practice and our journey as experiential rather than as being based on programmed stages of development. At the moment you may be following a particular program of practice and study. You’ve made it to the first level, and now you want to progress to the second level, which begins on September 2. Although we do all kinds of things in that fashion, we should understand that in reality our experience isn’t programmable in that way. Often students try to examine themselves so that they know where they are on the path of meditation, but this doesn’t seem to work. We have no way of knowing where we are in our practice or how we are doing on the path of mindfulness, as far as some standard evaluation is concerned. However, we do know that we started on a journey, that the journey is continuing, and that the journey takes time and requires real commitment to our individual experience.
Experience cannot happen unless both black and white, sweet and sour, work together. Otherwise, you are just absorbed into the sweet, or you are absorbed into the sour, and there is no experience. You have no way of working with yourself at all.
We should be a little circumspect, however, when we use the term experience, to describe our journey on the path of meditation. Conventionally speaking, when you refer to a future experience, you have an idea and an expectation, some premonition of what the experience might be. Somebody tells you about it; you know roughly what it is and you prepare for it. You wait for that experience to come to you. When it does, you exert yourself to full experience whatever arises. In this scenario, everything is quite predictable.
But the experience of the fourth moment is not a programmable experience at all. It is an unconditioned experience that comes from the unconscious mind. This underlying consciousness, or the unconscious, is an abstract state of mind, a state of literal thinking that doesn’t have to be formulated yet. It is an ape instinct or a radar instinct. In fact, we don’t know where this experience comes from. It just comes. There is no point in trying to track it back to a source. The fourth moment doesn’t come from anywhere. It simply exists.
It is as if you are taking a cold shower, and suddenly hot burning water starts to come out of the showerhead. It is so instant and so real. For a moment, when the hot water first hits your body, you still think it’s cold. Then you begin to feel that something is not quite right with that particular coldness. It begins to burn you. It is unprogrammed experience, where you simultaneously experience hot and cold water, each in its own individuality.
The present is the third moment. It has a sense of presence. You might say, “I can feel your presence.” Or “I can feel the presence of the light when it’s turned on. Now there is no darkness.” The present provides security: you know where you are, right here. You keep your flastlight in your pocket. If you encounter darkness, you take out your flastlight and shine the light to show yourself where you are going. You feel enormous relief, created by that little spot of light in front of you.
The fourth moment, on the other hand, is a state of totality and total awareness that doesn’t need assurance. It is happening. It is there. You feel the totality. You perceive not only the beam of light from the flashlight but also the space all around you at the same time. The fourth moment is a much larger version of the present.
The experience of the fourth moment sharpens your intelligence. Without this experience of egoless insight, you may just accept things naively, and such naivete may be the basis for self-deception. You turn on the cold water, and your expect everything to be okay. Everything seems predictable. You are not prepared for any reminders. Then this little twist of hot water takes place. Whenever there is that kind of reminder, everything becomes very real. If you don’t have any reminders, you are at the mercy of chaos and confusion. The sitting practice of meditation provides constant reminders, and that is why it is so important. It boils down to that.
Watch the trailer for Crazy Wisdom, a documentary on Chogyam Trungpa: