I heard a voice this morning.
Ah, you say, thatís a sign, isnít it? All ready! And youíre so young, too.
I canít say what it is. I heard a voice, thatís all. A young womanís voice, clear and well modulated. Maybe a singer, or an actor. I donít remember her words, only that they were not anything special. A casual comment, perhaps. The words are gone, and for that matter so is the direct memory. I remember only that I heard it, this morning, as I was lying almost awake and thinking about getting up for the day. You know, those lazy moments when the bed feels so good and you try to remember if thereís something important you have to get up for?
And then her voice.
Since Iíve been meditating, Iíve begun to be aware of my mind doing all sorts of things that I donít really intend. I "hear" fragments of sounds, sometimes music, sometimes words, or occasionally "see" something almost flash across my mind. They are always just the briefest of fragments. Iíve described the experience as like watching a deep, dark pool, with bubbles rising to the surface and bursting with these fragments. Random, unconnected to anything, even each other. During a retreat I attended once, I spoke about the experience to a teacher, and he suggested that I was very close to dozing off, and I might let in a little bit of stimulation by opening my eyes for a time. But I wasnít satisfied with his explanation. It seemed that I was onto something rather important, considering that the object of my meditation was to "awaken to what is." What is, is that Iím having these fragments of sensory experience bubble into my awareness, and Iím very curious about them.
What I think is that they are memory fragments. It seems that memories are not long, connected images running through the mind like videotapes. Some people have described memories as more like holograms, which donít occupy segmented little parts of the brain but are spread all over. People with brain damage can often recover lost memories, given enough time. Different parts of the brain take over the functions of damaged areas. So perhaps memories are broken up into these little fragments, and the connections between fragments are made on the flyóremember the last time you tried to remember something, an incident perhaps? "Itís on the tip of my tongue," you say, running the part of the videotape that you do remember over and over until it all, or mostly, returns to you.
My early-morning thing this morning was not unusual, actually. Often as I lie there half awake, I begin to dream. Iím not asleep, and yet Iím dreaming. They arenít full-blown dreams, but shallow little things just moments long. Iím convinced that my meditation experiences are similar, except that Iím sitting there on my cushion watching carefully. Iíve never been able to meditate in bed.
That voice this morning was unusual in that it wasnít the words that were important, it was the tone of the voice. Young, clear, and beautiful. Saying nothing, really. Just some words I donít even remember. Like the glimpse of a beautiful face.
Usually itís the words I notice when Iím meditating. Sometimes Iím aware that they are being spoken by a particular person (whom I can almost never identify), but I donít hear the voice so clearly. I might even hear a quality in the voice but not be able to make out the words. (That happens to me a lot during the day these days, with my diminished hearing. Someone speaks, and I can hear them but I cannot understand what they said. Usually when that happens, I replay in my head what I heard, and sometimes figure out what they said. Other times, I have to ask.)
Another difference between my dreams and my meditation: Dreams are frequently accompanied by emotions. Even if itís not a strong emotion, it is distinctive. On my cushion, thereís almost never any emotion. My suspicion is that when Iím asleep my emotional guard is down, the same way it is when I drink alcohol. When Iím meditating, Iím working. Itís not a concentration, but an "awake" kind of state. I try to stay alert, because so much of whatís happening in my mind is so usual, so familiar, that I donít usually notice it. In paying such close attention, I probably shut down my emotional faculties. Or shut off the conduit from the Limbic part of my brain. It isnít deliberate.
Other people Iíve talked to say that emotion is often a big part of their meditation experience. I donít know why it isnít for me.
But Iím curious about my experience this morning. I have no idea where the voice came from. It doesnít seem to have been the voice of any young woman I know these days. Itís possible that it was on television in the past day or so, and I just didnít noticeóconsciously, at least.
The mind is a mysterious thing. My mind is, anyway.
Donald Skiff, February 8, 2003