I’ve mentioned the fairy tales class I’m taking, right? It was only five weeks long and this week is the last week. Right now I’m reading an essay by Aimee Bender called “Character Motivation.” She says,
In Murakami’s short story “The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day,” the main character is a writer. In describing the act of writing to a tightrope walker, he says, “What a writer is supposed to do is observe and observe and observe again, and put off making judgements to the last possible moment.” I think that is a beautiful description of writing; it lets the world be, but also there is a moment, finally of some kind of opinion. There is that moment, but to hold it off is a lovely and worthwhile goal.
Reading this brought to mind for me something that I actually think about not infrequently–in fact I may have mentioned it before. Back in 2004 I attended lecture by Soygal Rinpoche in Melbourne where he talked about the Eight Minds, or Consciousnesses. 1 through 5 are our sensory consciousnesses–eye consciousness, ear consciousness etc. 6 through 8, Rinpoche described as “Mental Consciousnesses,” and of these he said that 6 and 7 were active, while 8 was inactive.
The 6th consciousness he described (in my memory at least, I’ve never found it written or recorded in exactly the same way) as a consciousness of perceiving, of observation, of taking in. “It is broccoli. It is green, It has a texture, a taste.
The 7th consciousness was about judgment–but not necessarily in a good way–because it is about attaching a positive or negative value to the perceived thing. “I hate broccoli. It tastes bad to me.” The 7th consciousness inserts the “I” in a strong fashion.
The 7th consciousness is problematic. When we are very attached to our opinions, and our identity as opion-havers, we can create our own little prisons, and make ourselves unhappier. If “I hate broccoli” then I have created a world in which I must avoid broccoli, or at least have negative feelings whenever I am confronted by broccoli. My hatred of broccoli might even be so great as to poison my enjoyment of other things–a meal, or event in good company.
Soygal Rinpoche’s suggestion, then, was to elongate the 6th mind and thus delay the 7th. If one can slow or repeat the perception–“It’s broccoli,” keeping judgment and opinion at bay for an extra moment or so, then we buy ourselves some time to be alert for the negative thought and perhaps temper it in some manner. We exert a little more control over our own processes, and withhold some of that control from our wayward minds.
I believe, that with practice, I can sometimes retreat from the 7th and go back to the 6th–especially when I can feel the 7th exerting an influence that isn’t really beneficial. It does not benefit me to hate broccoli, or feel aversion to the pain of going to the gym, or dislike talking to stranger at a party. So I try to go back to the state of perception I try to simply observe, again, in greater detail–the physical sensation that I have defined as pain: where do I feel it? What is it’s intensity? What is the sensation of walking up to a person at a party, absent of the feeling that I myself have attached to it? Sometimes it works, and, over time, certain things become less disagreeable to me, and I am able to then navigate the world in a way that is less encumbered by my own “baggage.”
So Murakami’s words reminded me of this. Is this what he or Bender is talking about? I’d say the context is quite different and any the connection tenuous. However, when I see a few paragraphs of keen observation, absent of opinion, I think it allows me, as a reader, some life and activity that would otherwise be confined. As a writer, it might allow one to reach a different conclusion than one might have, and perhaps, having come to a conclusion, the writer decides to leave the spaciousness, or perhaps writer goes back and uses the discovered information, threading it in earlier, depending on the case. In this way, the writer is kind of like the mind that influences the process…