Martine & Stephen


Recently I read a book called Born on a Blue Day about the life and experiences of an autistic savant, Daniel Tammet, who is gifted with a supportive family, a bright mind and the aspiration to learn and change.  What I found interesting in this book outside of the fact that it enables one to understand what it is like to have Asperger’s syndrome, is the way Daniel Tammet has a great ability to concentrate.  One might say that one of his difficulties is that he has too great a capacity to concentrate for hours at a time on a minute detail in his environment.  Because his ability is exclusive to anything else than that minute detail, this cuts him off from others and a more inclusive vision and encounter with the world.

In meditation we are told to concentrate but do we do this in an inclusive or an exclusive manner?  By exclusive manner, I mean concentrating on an object like the breath totally, trying to stop at the same time all thoughts, emotions, sensations or sounds.  I think that it is a difficult thing to do but it is not impossible to achieve, especially on a long silent retreat.  Often this seems to be the ultimate goal of meditators – total absorption.  But is this advisable in terms of daily living?  Would we then not cultivate being engrossed like Daniel Tammet in a certain thing to the detriment of a wider and more creative perspective?  Moreover, we would experience peace, like he does, because our mind would be unwavering; but in that state we would not, like Daniel Tammet, be able to connect with anything else.

For this reason, would it not be more useful to cultivate a concentration that is inclusive of everything in the moment?  Of course it might be less deep but it would compensate by making us more connected to life and its manifold activities.  Moreover being aware and accepting of the unpredictability and uncertainty of life would enable us to respond more creatively to life and its unreliability.  Possibly the middle way in meditation would be to focus on an object within a wide-open awareness.  Focusing on the object would anchor us but keeping a wide-open awareness in the background would allow us to be more in tune with life as it unfolds.

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