Today happened this.
We were lifting a big beam into the ceiling with the whole team. They are so heavy that seven people need to lift at the same time.
I was responsible for holding the security rope that made sure that the beam would not fall on everybody if something happened. When everybody tightened their feet under the beam in order to support it, one of the posts that was supporting another beam came loose and started to fall. These supporting posts are made out of metal, and are nine feet tall. I did not look at this post at that moment, but I heard a little, little noise of scratching metal on cement. So I turned around and saw this big metal post falling right in the direction of my head.
This scene happened in the construction site of a certain building on the land of the fruit tree nursery that is operated and run by the community here. It was told to me very recently by one of the students of meditation who is living and working here, and I left the story almost entirely in her own words, as there is no way to improve on how she told it. She had taken a course in meditation about one month before this happened.
Before I continue with the rest of the story, bear with me for a moment! First there are some things to understand about meditation, and about the mind.
When you want to meditate, you need to start to learn the mechanics of the mind. It’s not all that different from learning the mechanics of a car, which it is possible to drive all one’s life without knowing how its engine is built and how it works. There are some basic questions one can ask to begin with, such as:
How does your mind work?
How is the mind related to the body?
What is it that guides your actions?
To begin to answer these, there is a very useful analogy: the body and mind is like a self-driving car, and the software that invisibly controls it. The physical structure of the car, the metal frame, the paint, the seats, the wheels – you can compare all this to the physical body of any living being – bones, skin, fat, muscles, blood cells, and everything that makes up the physical body.
The software that is programmed to direct the car to start and stop, to turn left or right, to go in this direction or that direction – all automatic, all hidden – you can compare this to the mind, which tells the hand to scratch the head, the legs to to get up, sit down, the head to look left or right, the voice to speak, or stay silent.
Almost all of the time, it does it automatically, its inner workings hidden. Next time you scratch your head, pay attention – did you know before your hand moved what you were about to do? Or did it do it automatically?
Because the mind works like the software of a self-driving car, its most basic reactions tend to be universally similar, and predictable; except in certain rare cases.
What does someone do if you put a piece of red-hot iron in their hand? What if you are trapped in a small space like a church, and suddenly a giant marble column starts to fall straight towards your head?
There’s no need for me to answer these questions for you, you know yourself – these reactions are so automatic, so obvious, so universal.
Right now, note that the point I am making is not necessarily about whether the action is good or bad; it’s about what decides, who is driving, and how the action takes place.
Most of the time, all actions are nothing but automatic reactions to something – they may be good or bad, but they are not done with deliberate awareness and intention.
Unless, that is, you become a mechanic of the mind, open the engine of this self-driving car, or its box of electronics, and start to re-wire it to make it manual instead of automatic. This is the what meditation is about, this is what it is for.
All this in mind (!), let us return to the story that the new meditator is telling, as the post is about to fall on her head.
First I wanted to say something to tell somebody to catch the post, but it was too late, so I just said “whoh-“.
Then I wanted to go towards the post to catch it so it would not fall and break. But I saw in the same time, that if I wanted to catch the post, I would have to let go of the rope that I was holding to secure everybody holding the beam. So I could not let go.
Finally, all I did was to step one metre aside and let the post fall where I stood before. This was all happening in one second, maybe less.
I saw all those actions happen in the mind, but I did not see the fear that kind of squeezes your chest. There was no adrenaline afterwards, the thing that makes you feel every little cell of the body…there was just nothing, the same as if the post had fallen 10 meters away from me.
Earlier I said that the point I was making was not necessarily about whether the action was good or bad. Yet, here you can see how it is about this after all. The fact of what is driving the action, and how it is done – whether it is an automatic reaction, or with calculation and awareness – that is what allows you to choose, in the present moment, what kind of action you will take: good or bad; useful or useless; helpful or harmful.
If the subject of this story had not been so much in the habit of meditation, of making the mind sharp, aware and alert; first she would not have heard the sound that caused her to see the danger that threatened her in the first place. Second, her automatic reaction would surely have been to drop her rope and run to save herself, forgetting about the others. Imagine yourself in such a situation. Honestly, truly honestly, what could you have thought of, what could you have done?
Instead of which, she was able to calculate the effect of doing something like letting go of her rope, and to care enough for the safety of the other people that she did not put them at risk, even when she was in such danger. The risk was real, too; imagine if just at the moment she let it go, everyone holding the beam had no more strength to lift!
The most important and noteworthy thing of all is that, in all of this, there was no panic; not even a drop of fear.
If she had not trained her mind so strongly in the habit of meditation, it would have been impossible not to have fear in that moment.
A self-driving car goes wherever the driver tells it to go, it cannot do otherwise. When you see a huge metal post falling towards you, what can come in to the driver’s seat except fear?
This is what it means to be a mechanic of the mind; to hack it so that it works differently to how it did before; to make it manual – so that a choice can be made, a decision can be taken to do the wise thing; at the time when it matters most.
It is not something that is unreachable or impossible or far and away, either; just as, no matter how intimidating the engine of a car might look if you know nothing about it, it is not all that complicated when it is explained and the mystery removed. Remember that this meditator had taken her course in meditation only one month before this event took place. You do not have to be a 50-year-old yogi with levitating powers to be able to look into the mind, and alter the wiring.