It was on a week long silent retreat, in March of 2010, that I was reading a few lines out of the book ” Nothing Personal ” by Nirmala. Nirmala clearly points out that thoughts are objects which are known by awareness, that of themselves, thoughts cannot have any sensory experience at all.
Somehow, in almost 10 years of meditation and Buddhist practice, I had missed this very fundamental point. What I had previously taken my self for – thoughts – must be mistaken. At first, the enormity of this fact escaped notice.
Moments later, placidly gazing at the half-moon hanging high in the cloudless sky, a disturbing thought occurred: if no thought ever had a sensory experience, then a thought has never seen anything.
So… what was watching the moon ?
I have never seen it…no one has ever seen it… or anything else ! Somehow, this developed into the most frightening contemplation, fear growing and building upon itself. The disturbance spread across consciousness like a hurricane, cold terror gripping the mind vise-like, heart pounding, thoughts racing wildly.
What to do ? Nowhere to go ! What to do ?
At that moment, the thing to do was to sit with the fear. Peer directly into it, take it apart, see it’s qualities of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self. And look at what was behind the fear – directly at the origins of the rouse.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, I ran like a scared dog. Ran to every calming technique I ever heard of (and there are many) to restore some equanimity. Years of practice had failed to bring presence of mind in the face of a sudden, unprecedented panic attack.
Hours later, after it was over, I realized I had missed a precious opportunity. I almost had seen into the nature of the self, and if that had happened, the self would have dissolved as the mirage of thought it always had been.
Thought had to trigger an immediate diversion, and it used the biggest one it had – fear.
But the impact of the resulting event was far too memorable to be ignored. (con’t)