In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light,
and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
At Public School 202 in Brooklyn, I had Mrs. Braverman for music appreciation. The class met in the school assembly hall, where Mrs. Braverman taught us to memorize classical pieces by matching word rhymes to the melody. I listened to her but was feeling sad as usual. I stared down at the floor and said to myself, C’mon already, Mrs. Braverman, let’s get it over with. I was still feeling bad about my mother’s death and being sent to the orphan home. Little did I know what was about to happen.
As I sat there in the assembly hall, slumped in my seat, I was staring at a beam of sunlight that shone on the head of the girl just in front of me. I saw that the sun had moved a little bit, and now a bright beam of light was falling across the lap of my corduroy knickers. I bent forward and the sun hit me directly in the face. I leaned back and noticed that rays of the sun were starting to come in through the large windows of the assembly hall. As I continued to watch the light, I began to sense a joyful feeling in my chest that I had never felt before.
Mrs. Braverman continued to crank the handle of the portable RCA Victorola, explaining that the record she was about to play was the “Morning Movement” from The Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Greig. She went on to tell us how Peer Gynt, who lived high in the Alps, would get up every day at dawn to look at the sunrise over the distant peaks. At the right moment, he would raise his arms up to heaven and the valley below would fill with bright rays of golden sunshine, as though Peer Gynt himself had given a command. How great, I thought. I really loved the story and began to sing loudly in time with the music along with the other kids:
Morning is breaking and Peer Gynt is waking;
Morning from Peer Gynt by Greig.
I was so happy. I stood up and raised my arms as Peer Gynt did, concentrated on the light shining in from the big windows and began swaying with the music, which filled my head and heart. All of a sudden, the entire assembly hall turned bright; everything and everybody was glowing in a golden light. My head filled with a tangible, vibrating feeling that I could actually hear. It sounded like a million fireflies were in my brain. My whole body was shaking and glowing.
For the first time in my life, I was truly happy and completely peaceful. I looked into the bright light and smiled, and something in that golden light knew how I felt and breathed love back into my heart. I kept singing:
Morning is breaking and Peer Gynt is waking . . .
After being discharged from military service, I spent several years doing work that I felt was not at all suited to my nature. I quickly discovered that most of the commercial world fell into this category- especially the advertising business. It’s not that I had moral or other misgivings about business; in fact, some of it was fun, and some of my coworkers became friends. It’s just that the work didn’t feel natural; it was always a struggle. I couldn’t seem to find the rhythm, the “bounce” of the business. As Ella Fitzgerald sings, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I learned early on that I’d never be able to do the “business boogy.”
How was I to bring deeper meaning to my daily work? Something a coworker said when I showed him some drawings I’d done in Central Park gave me a clue to the direction my life might be needing to take. After studying my sketches, this commercial artist said, “Now I know why you’re unhappy working in business. You’re a flower trying to grow in a vegetable garden.”
I asked him to explain. He took me to the window, pointed to an interesting-looking five-story building, and said, “There’s your garden.” He was pointing at the Art Students League of New York, a building that was to become my home for the next three years.
From the first day I set foot in “The League,” as it had come to be known, I knew I had found a sort of spiritual home. Art seemed so natural that I felt a warm glow within. The perfume of the Presence lingered in the hallways and classrooms for the entire three years of my attendance. I was happy. This indeed was my garden. It was infused with a mysterious beauty that would arrive unexpectedly and silence my mind for days.
One day, while having lunch in the League cafeteria, I mentioned these periods of silence to a friend. It was in the context of a conversation about Zen. This man was a Zen meditator, and I felt comfortable speaking about my “significant event” with him. When I had finished, he smiled, picked up the book sitting next to him, and handed it to me. It was a pocket edition of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.
“Here, read this; it will tell you more than I can about that experience,” he said, adding, “What you’ve been experiencing is what Zen is all about.”
Since I was unfamiliar with the principles of Zen, I wasn’t sure what he meant. These periods of Silence had come and gone on their own for many years. I had always assumed that this was the way it was for everyone, just as I’d assumed (wrongly, it turns out) that all of the children in Mrs. Braverman’s music appreciation class had experienced the “significant event” in the same manner that I had. “After all,” I reasoned, “this must be who people listen to music.”
I read the book my friend had lent me. Hadn’t the transformation of Siddhartha come at the moment of his deepest despair, as had mine? The Presence in the light that had smiled at me during Mrs. Braverman’s music class many years earlier was the same eternal Presence that Siddhartha had experienced when he studied the glowing net of pearls.
After reading Siddhartha for the third time, I took up meditation. From then on, I stayed with the practice in one form or another-even after leaving art school, and while pursuing the demanding career of a filmmaker. During those times, I always felt that familiar silence. It has never abandoned me.
Over the years, I established a reputation as a filmmaker and wrote, directed, and produced children’s educational films for television. For a number of these films, I managed to win prestigious awards. In 1976, after winning an Academy Award for “Best Live Action Short Film” (Angel and Big Joe), I felt I had achieved enough in the outer world and decided to turn my full attention inward and address the life of the soul.
The search to discover my true identity had nagged me even in the middle of directing a film. The question Who am I? was with me when I went to sleep at night and when I awoke the next morning. I fervently needed a change in lifestyle that would reduce outward distractions while giving me an opportunity to settle deeply within myself. I decided on early retirement in order to have time to go more deeply into meditation, an aspect of my life that had long been my central focus. My wife, Jeannie, and I had visited France many years before and we loved the bucolic countryside.
In 1982, at the age of fifty, following a twenty-two year career in film and television, I retired to a small farmhouse in the Loire Valley, in central France. Jeannie created a flower garden that a visitor from New York described as “to die for.” I painted, studied, meditated, and began creating the exercises that were to eventually become part of this book–first by using myself as a guinea pig and then by experimenting on unsuspecting guests:
Me: What happens when you put your full attention in the space two feet in front of your body?
Guest: Okay . . . whew . . . hey, what did you do?
Me: I did nothing; you just shifted your attention from the world of thought to the physical universe, and you woke up to your potential.
What was encouraging was that the results of these Attention Exercises were uniform. Each shift of attention away from thought brought with it a sense of relief–an ending of tension and stress. Maybe, I surmised, this could work as a sort of calming therapy.
Over the next several years, I continued to create similar Attention Exercises, and each one again seemed to achieve uniform results as described above. My reading of J. Krishnamurti–especially his dialogues with the noted physicist Dr. David Bohm, and the brief but illuminating chats I later had with both of them–confirmed what I had learned in my experiments. The practice of choiceless awareness, which Krishnamurti recommended, brought an ending to thought during those periods.
This made sense to me because, if anything, thought is a choice-making “machine.” When there is no work for this machine to do–no choices available to make–it just shuts down and waits for another choice to come along. If choiceless awareness is continued with a certain vigor, the conditioned movement that propels uncontrolled thought (mind chatter) may in some way atrophy, resulting in a fundamental change to the conditioned mind. Thought would still be available when it was needed for an appropriate purpose, such as building a house or changing a flat tire, but it would fall silent when not needed.
All of the longing for love present in the human heart is really a deep yearning to move from form to the unity of reality called Life. This is our true nature; it is who and what we really are.
But why, I wondered, did infinite life create–then apparently limit–itself as form? I waited silently. A few minutes later, the reply rushed into my brain: In order to know itself! Life, being one, had no other way to know its own existence, just as an eye has no way of seeing itself without a mirror. The human mind, I suddenly realized, is the mirror in which life can reflect upon itself. At that moment, I saw that the entire purpose of human existence is to facilitate the awakening of life to itself as eternal consciousness.
The question remained: Was it possible to use my experience as a “pointer” to indicate to others what I had discovered? I hoped that those who truly seek freedom would take this information, look for themselves, and discover that the freedom they seek is already within them; that it is only a matter of turning the attention inward to discover this.
It was the stark reality of this personal experience of transformation that fueled the possibility of transformation in others and would energize the continued pursuit of a deep and sustained inquiry.
One day, I realized upon waking that, to pursue and share the truth of this inquiry with others, a wider venue than my little village was necessary. During the last few years in France, I had created a manual of Attention Exercises. If they were to be useful as a therapeutic tool, as I had envisioned, I needed to do more work. For this reason, and the fact that Jeannie’s parents were aging and she wanted to live closer to them, we decided it was time to return to the States.
One night, I awoke in the early dawn to find my body shaking and vibrating. I knew that something extraordinary was about to happen. Getting out of bed quietly so as not to awaken Jeannie, I went into the kitchen. I was not exactly sure what to do, so I got a pad and pencil, sat down, and waited silently. One half hour passed before it occurred to me that this might have something to do with the notion of Total Freedom that had seemed to possess me lately. With this thought, I suddenly began writing furiously:
Freedom is always total. Partial freedom, which is anything less than total freedom, is not true freedom. Freedom is not related to structure. Form, whether psychological or physical, must always have a structure, which is necessary to sustain human life. The human body is a physical structure that is maintained psychologically.
A human being can never be completely free of structure. There can be more structure or less structure, but there can never be a complete absence of structure. Because Total Freedom means to be totally free of structure, it represents the death of the individual. Total Freedom from structure is death.
With that sentence, I died! Life completely disappeared. The structure of my entire psychological consciousness vanished. I’m not sure how long this period lasted; probably no more than a few minutes, but it might just as well have been a few thousand years. For that entire period, there was a gap of utter nothingness.
For some time afterward, the following question continued to arise: What actually had died that night? I knew that, in that interlude, every vestige of my consciousness had vanished. Gone. In one instant, nonbeing had replaced being! What had remained was absence. In that experience, even the subtle center, which had continued after my most recent previous experience, had disappeared. It became clear that all of the notions that contributed to my sense of being Bertram W. Salzman had died.
Immediately upon the occupation of my mind by the silent cosmos, the bogus personality of Bertram had vacated. Because there never really was an individual who existed in the first place, whatever had happened was simply an activity of the infinite. Individual transformation seemed to be but an illusory movement of the cosmos, an eternal transformation that takes place everywhere and in every moment.
My lifelong search has revealed that the truth of our ultimate destiny lies dormant within us. Yet, like seeds that contain the knowledge of their ultimate flowering, we remain unaware of this knowledge. To flourish, our inner seed must be nourished with spiritual light. This light is conveyed through the energy of our attention, which flows and nurtures our souls. Its fount is the silent, eternal Source of all life, which unveils itself only in the absence of nontruth-at a time when the mind is completely still.
Talks with Students
Questioner: I’ve tried many methods to achieve happiness, but none of them have been successful. What should I do to get rid of my personal problems and become truly happy?
B. W. Salzman: As long as you identify with the gross mind you may never get rid of problems or the lingering feeling of unhappiness. The gross mind itself is the problem. Egocentric thinking will always clash with all of the other apparent egocentric gross minds you come into contact with, and conflict will be the result.
The solution to solving all problems is to abandon the gross mind, which is the repository of all problems. If you live in the subtle mind, problems will no longer be solved through confrontation, but through an innate sense of grace and intuition. And, because problems will no longer be perceived as “personal,” their existence will no longer be accompanied by a sense of unhappiness.
The subtle mind has always been available to all of humanity, yet it only rarely manifests because the foreground noise, based on thought, has dominated the mental structure. Just as the silence of the desert always exists, even when a radio is played in its midst, the subtle mind always exists in the background, regardless of the “noise” of thought. Throughout the centuries people have gained insight into the nature of this phenomenon and have come upon ways to silence thought and access the subtle mind.
Q: What is it that stops us, right now, from realizing the peace of our real nature?
BWS: It is the cycle of compulsive thinking, which is dominated by a false sense of identity. This compulsive movement of thought is the nature of the gross mind. Attention (focused awareness) emanates from a higher source, beyond thought, and has the power, when energetically brought to bear on this compulsive movement, to bring it to an end. As a result, thought, and with it the entire mind, is transformed from a gross to a subtle quality.
Q: I’ve read that it’s important that we live “in the now.” Is this an actual state of mind?
BWS: Reference to “the now” can only be made in relation to ideas of past or future. Since neither of these ideas exists outside of thought, the concept of “now” is equally untrue.
Q: Is there anything I can do, such as a change in lifestyle, etc., that will help accelerate my experience of the subtle mind?
BWS: The subtle mind is always present, no matter what activity you’re engaged in. Substituting activities or making changes in one’s lifestyle is rarely necessary, though it is helpful to engage in activities that don’t foster compulsive thinking or behavior.
Q: What’s the difference between the Attention Exercises you recommend and traditional meditation?
BWS: Traditional meditation is usually on an object. Because of this, the false subject (the “me”) continues to function indefinitely. By using attention to step out of the role of subject, you immediately see that both subject and object (you and the world) depend on each other for their existence. When you’re perceiving through the subtle mind, it becomes clear that subject and object are both concepts that result from dualistic thinking.
Q: Turning down the mind is not always easy-especially when problems arise. It seems to be the only place to go for answers.
BWS: Affairs of the heart and the spirit are matters of feeling or intuition. You’re better off asking your pocket calculator about the meaning of life than asking thought; at least the calculator won’t mislead you. The material world is thought’s arena. Serious questions concerning the inner life are beyond the limited capacity of thought, which is restricted to ideas and opinions. Thought can recite poems about what life is, or offer scientific descriptions of what life may be, but in the end it will fail to arrive at the heart of the matter. Whatever you may “think” will never be Truth; at best it will be theory or speculation. In matters of the Spirit, trust your heart rather than the opinions of others, including mine.
Q: Are you implying that there are two minds?
BWS: Not at all. The subtle and gross minds are only aspects of the unmanifest Source, which is who we are in truth. The subtle mind is that aspect of mind that is in natural harmony with the physical universe. The gross, egocentric mind governs the life of the apparent “individual.” Transformation occurs when the gross mind experientially encounters the intelligence and harmony of the eternal Source and is rendered subtle. Remember, these are just aspects of the one unmanifest Source from which they emerged.
Q: What about the kind of selfless love of which Jesus spoke? How does this connect with the notion of the subtle mind?
BWS: It connects in a very direct way. Wholeness is basic to the quality of the subtle mind. Treating others as you would have them treat you is a reality rather than an aphorism. The first and last step in human transformation would be from the naturally competitive sense of the gross mind to the naturally cooperative sense of the subtle mind; from the prevailing state of “mine is mine” to an enlightened state of “mine is thine.” In other words, the transformed state makes it entirely natural for people to cooperate with one another, since this sense of natural cooperation has its basis in unity and love.
Pointers on the Ways
Inner transformation is the movement from the “I am me”-oriented consciousness, which is based on a self-centered individual, to the “I Am” consciousness, which is selfless, universally oriented consciousness.
All war, hate, fear, and anxiety–in short, all suffering of humankind–is due only to the ignorance of our divine nature. Inner transformation is nothing more than awakening to this divine nature, which is naturally inherent within us.
Only by turning our attention to our real nature will we be awakened to a greater reality. That which we already are is that which we seek. However, this must be put into practice and directly experienced.
The Breaking of Conditioning
When we see the illusory and insubstantial nature of all of existence, then the ending of time takes place, and with it the ending of all accumulated knowledge (the past).
To test this proposition, we need only imagine “deleting” all of our knowledge that currently exists in the form of words and concepts and see what occurs.
The Way to Enlightenment
All ideas and concepts about yourself are false and are responsible for creating the illusion that keeps you from actually being who you really are, right now. Actually seeing this truth is the expression of enlightenment.
Enlightenment is knowing that, other than a few thousand years of other people’s explanations about life, you know absolutely nothing!
Transformation and the Subtle Mind
The transformation from the gross mind to the subtle mind provides a much greater context to our lives. Then, all of humanity becomes our family and we are no longer limited to a particular race, religion, or community.
This transformation brings with it an intuitive way of being that is untouched by the divided nature of thought. It is all-inclusive and reveals the only true “common ground” between all of existence.
Our True Nature
Living in the subtle mind will enable you to discover your own perfection and the perfection of the entire world. It cannot be otherwise, because perfection is your very nature.
Wake up! Live in the subtle mind right now. The joy of your perfection will permeate the hearts of those around you. They cannot resist it because it is their nature also.
You arrived in this world wrapped in perfection. By turning your attention inward, you can recover that subtle flawlessness which you always are.
The worrisome ego is nothing more than a bogus “you.” See the truth of this condition this very moment and your joyous nature will inundate every part of your life.
The Power of Attention
Without awareness there is no world to be seen. Awareness allows us to view the spectacle of life through the eyes of God.
No matter what kinds of illusions the gross mind creates, these instantly vanish when viewed through the divine power of attention.
Attention (focused awareness) turned outward creates this apparent world. When it is turned inward, we are able to perceive the eternal, unmanifest source of “what is.”
By turning your vision inward, you will see that God has always been right here. Where else could the divine reside?
Only when attention is removed from its obsession with thought can it operate with full power as a healing agent. The gross mind, because of its mechanical nature, will always respond to commands you give it, in the same way that applying the brakes will stop a car. The only difference is that, in this case, the energy of attention is the driver.
The benefits of these exercises are twofold: they help to resolve the problem of overactive thought, which in turn provides a sense of relative peace and calm. More importantly, they also give us the tools to move into the much greater space of pure awareness, the perspective from which apparent problems are still viewed but are no longer “owned” as one owns personal property. It is in this state that we truly awaken to the full implications of our humanity.
Why This Works
The twenty-one exercises in this book make use of the transformative power of awareness known as “attention,” and their application calls for an introverted and intensified use of one’s attentiveness. As Carl Jung has suggested, the introverted mind carries within it an inherent “self-liberating power.” When the full power of attention is brought to bear, in a concentrated manner, it has the ability to bring the content of the mind into order. When thought is in order, a reality that is vast and timeless becomes available to us. This is sometimes called “Presence,” “the Now,” or “the Timeless State.” I simply use the words “subtle mind.”
About This Exercise
This is the primary exercise that you’ll use throughout the program. The Locate/Be Still procedure should be done just before beginning any exercise. The sequence is very important and must be followed. (The words “Locate/Be Still” are purposely set in italics to remind you.
1. Take several deep breaths, then silently but emphatically say to yourself, Slow down, slow down, be still! Wait silently for several moments to allow the mind to become quiet.
2. Project your attention to a spot about two feet in front of your face. Without looking down, notice that you can see several parts of your body, such as arms and legs.
3. Notice that your peripheral vision has broadened to include the objects in the room. Open your peripheral vision still more widely and notice the adjacent walls. This is called “Open Attention.”
4. Keeping your head still and with gentle Open Attention, slowly study the objects in the room. Include the object you call your body, which has now fallen into your field of vision.
5. Without turning your head become aware of the space behind your body.
6. Sit for fifteen minutes with this effortless Open Attention, keeping your peripheral vision as widely open as possible. Pay particular attention to how silent the space is!
From Being a Buddha on Broadway, by Bertram W. Salzman. Copyright © 2004 by Bertram W. Salzman.