Describing Interior Experience

There was a famous classical pianist named Glenn Gould. He’s famous for his recordings of Bach among other things. He’s also famous for being extremely unconventional. Anyway, he once said that he could teach everything there is to be taught about playing piano in an hour. The rest is just practice.

It can be much the same with meditation.Talking about meditation is also really, really difficult. How do you describe inner states of mind? I mean really? How could you explain to someone what it’s like to feel, say, angry, if you never had before? Well, everyone has felt angry, but how about this: how could you explain to someone what it feels like to fall in love if they never had?

In his socio-psychological theory, Francesco Alberoni states that falling in love is: “A process of the same nature as a religious or political conversion. People fall in love when they are ready to change, or to start a new life. Falling in love is a rapid process of destructuration-reorganization called the nascent state. In the nascent state, a state of pure creative energy, the individual loses his or her previous identity, and becomes highly fluid and capable of merging with another person to create a new “us,” a unit of two that is highly charged with solidarity and eroticism. The new couple realizes their dreams, aspirations, and unexpressed potential through one another, and develops a shared life project and common view of the world. Individuals in the nascent state put one another through tests, which if successful eventually give way to a solid love relationship, and the forming of new identities and life structures formed by the merging of the two individuals.”

Now really, if you didn’t know what it meant to fall in love, would that mean anything to you? Does it now?

Or how about a more poetic description of falling in love?
I can’t explain why I feel this way,
Every time you would come my way
I always tremble, feeling nervous,
It’s like I wanna fall down unconscious.
I don’t know what so special about you
That made me fall in love with you.
                  -Angelica Saranillo

A true lover is proved such by his pain of heart;
No sickness is there like sickness of heart.

Poetic descriptions are always about the heat, itchiness, obsession and just general agony of loving someone. From the point of view of someone who’s never been in love. It actually sounds kind of awful. When I was a young person I would read things like that and think, “What? That sound terrible. Why would anyone want that.” It really doesn’t give you any idea of what it’s like!

Love songs are wonderful and mysterious for people that never had the experience, and they are nostalgic for people that have.

There’s a similar value there for meditation. It’s great to have a roadmap for what you might experience. It’s great to know that you are a part of a community of meditators existing over millions of lives, thousands of miles, and centuries of time. You could never explain an inner state of mind like falling in love, or jhana, or mindfulness so well that a person could understand it, really understand it without experiencing it. But the best teachers can explain things in such a way that you recognize it when you experience it as well.

These signposts are helpful. And they also give you wonderful confidence in the path. You have an experience. Then you read the texts with fresh eyes and realize, “Ah! This is what they were pointing to.” And it gives you incredible energy for the work to take the next step.


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