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Rockwell Kent: Meditation (1929)

" … merely MakingMantras all along."

While reading beneath one of our backyard ornamental crabapple trees, it occurred to me that reading works like meditation. It seems to focus attention away as well as within, into, and without, the purpose often in doubt. I was reading a biography of John Singer Sargent, but it hardly matters the reading matter's content, for any words might encourage identical contemplations or self-similar ones. However thoughtfully crafted, the book and its contents do not serve as the sole or even the primary purpose of reading. They serve as mere mantras for the focus. They exist as context.

I was raised to believe—or somehow convinced myself—that the book was the object, the stuff that Publishing produced, but I might have been mistaken.
A book serves more as a catalyst for some human experience; in this manner, it serves more as a presence than a purpose. It's never an end unto itself but a means by which one pursues other ends, often without ever catching them. A glimpse serves as adequate resolution. I pick up a book and quickly fall beneath its thrall. It seems to transport me, as that biography did, into eighteen-eighties Boston. I experienced a deep sense of presence there though I deeper down understood the sensation as "only" an illusion. I become history in those moments. I become a biography, not a mere witness but the sole possessor of an essence. I never once left my chair in the side yard there.

It occurred to me then that the book worked like a mantra, the repeated sound or phrase intended to help a meditator focus attention to experience expanded awareness. Just standing somewhere or sitting there, one gets subjected to a dizzying array of attention grabbers. Attentions follow whatever they follow, typically focusing randomly, gathering impressions. The meditator trains attention more narrowly, curiously to expand awareness. The mantra serves as the rhythm of the experience, its cadence. The mantra should properly seem meaningless, words without definition, sounds without firm referents. They're only there to encourage a context, a distinction between that focus and all other possible ones which might otherwise visit. The mantra carves out the space for contemplation.

A book works like this, too, though we might be excused if we failed to conclude this fact, for books might well serve many purposes, mantra-making merely one of them. It seems from here, or certainly seemed from beneath that crabapple tree, that I'd stumbled upon a significant property, a previously hidden purpose for the otherwise straightforward exercise of reading. I might focus on the book itself, thereby losing myself in it. Even that seems rather like a kind of contemplation. I might instead focus more on myself reading, even to the point of never quite comprehending whatever the author thought he was saying. This, too, seems representative of another kind of meditation, this one only varying by the object focused upon. In both cases, the book serves as catalyst, for it produces the context within which the otherworldly stuff emerges.

This writing and Publishing work takes on a different meaning if I embrace the notion that I might be MakingMantras. So much energy focused on figuring out content might have been unnecessary if the result was always supposed to primarily serve as catalyst. Should one emerge, the plot might have always been beside more significant points. Well crafted, a story won't necessarily get in the way of a reader's wandering mind. It won't constrict the reader's ability to transcend it, experience its subtler transformative features, repeatedly losing the thread and rediscovering it, engaging in the meditation that reading always entails. It might be that I was never really writing books but studiously unaware to the point of distraction that I was merely MakingMantras all along.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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