The Lovely Bones: Samadhi vs. the Time of the Clock


Clock, n.
         an instrument for measuring and recording time, especially by mechanical
         means: not designed to be worn or carried about

Clock, v.
         to strike sharply or heavily



It’s one of the greatest inventions of mankind. At first, it was oversized and ugly; only the wealthy could afford them. Since then, everyone came to own one, made into ornaments that speak of the qualities desired by those that wear them. What began as an exclusive possession came to be democratized, and collective life no longer had to be ruled by the the peal of bells or the squeal of sirens that marked the passage of time. Instead, a new Era emerged: the clock wormed itself into the bedroom and latched onto the bodies of millions across the face of the earth.

Sociologists would describe this as part of a larger transformation: the emergence of mass society where life came to be defined by the rhythm of the machine. Even night was colonized: time chopped into shifts to maximize profit in pursuit of the American Dream. So important was this that a universal standard was established at the "center" of the world (Greenwich Mean Time), and with this shift space was colonized as well: distant places and climes calibrated to a single machine.

Perhaps this is why dictionaries warn of the danger of the clock, noting that it should not be worn or carried. Perhaps it’s also why, as a verb, the word has come to be used to describe an assault. It’s almost as if somewhere (in the shadows, perhaps?) there’s evidence that the clock’s triumph brought a certain danger: that hidden in the folds of its precision, unseen demons lay in wait.

Constant Companion

But such are the demands of modern living, an alarm tucked away next to bedside lamps the world over. From that tiny corner, they exert their rule beginning with the simplest of rhythms, like when to go to bed and when to wake. From the moment one’s roused in the morning, an entire day’s activities are scheduled, a sliver of time accorded to each of many tasks, each competing with others for the attention and care that they deserve.

Depending upon temperament and constitution, one’s response to such a slate of activity will vary. Some will thrive on the manic action, not really feeling alive unless suffused by the movement of self and others. The anxious might seek comfort of an elaborate schedule, hoping their grid of expectations will control the chaos looming around the corner. Others more rebellious or free-spirited may flaunt the dictates of mechanical time, but they’ll also be forced to choose to between a begrudging accommodation or a life cut-off from the rhythm of modernity.

So pervasive is the force of the clock, some kind of agreement must be forged. Whether it’s is done consciously or not doesn’t really matter, since the result is the same: if one is to secure a place among the living, surrendering is an absolute necessity.


Which must be why "free" time becomes so precious, untainted by the demands of the clock and the kinds of expectations they bring. Even if scheduled, these moments are eagerly anticipated, treasured precisely because the clock’s imperative can (temporarily) be put on hold.

Various hobbies and activities come to fill this space – the pursuit of pleasure and diversion – an antidote to the exhaustion of working according to the imperative of the clock. For some, this might just be frivolous and light, joy for no purpose other than the production of feeling. Others may seek out cranked-up sensation, a dangerous remedy that can easily slide into addiction. Still others may develop elaborate avocations, creating another world that’s shaped by a logic different from the one they’re trying to escape.

In different ways, each gives voice to aspirations unable to find a home within the time of the clock. And whether recognized or not, they speak the language of the soul.


It’s no mistake they’re often described as an escape. Which is why it would also be wrong to dismiss them as unimportant, for there’s an unspoken secret that resides at their core (like a lighthouse caught in a bottle?). Despite the different forms they take, they provide an opportunity to make a connection with what’s normally dismissed, to commune with spirits too often presumed to already be dead.

Part of this is signaled by the etymology of "escape," pointing to a meaning that’s already forgotten, referring less to the impulse to travel than to what’s left behind: derived from the Latin excappare, "to get out of one’s cape, leave a pursuer with just one’s cape," where cape refers to a hooded cloak. In other words: to shed the garment that cloaks and hides since, beneath it, resides a shrouded truth.

According to the ancients, such escape is an example of Samadhi, the highest form of knowledge. Hobbies represent one of its "lesser" manifestations, but share it’s central trait: a single-minded absorption, in which the practitioner is enraptured as if in a trance. And it’s precisely this kind of entrancement that hobbyists (and others) pursue with such determination, fiercely protective of the bliss they’ve been able to capture during the moments they’ve been freed from the imperative of the clock.

Transitory Bliss

These "lesser" versions of Samadhi are classified according to the guna that predominates and ranked according to their degree of sanctity. At the bottom are Samadhis of the deluded mind (tamas) where the mind is absorbed in a blank, like sleep, a coma, or the states brought on by alcohol or drugs. Not surprisingly, it’s precisely this kind of numbness that’s being chased – like a drunken stupor – as if "real life" were too terrible to endure.

In Samadhis of the distracted mind (rajas) the mind is so engrossed in an activity or sensation – like sports or sex – that it temporarily forgets itself, calmed by the intensity of sensory experience. A negative version of this exists among those who become enveloped by an intense emotions, such as fear or pain. In fact many will try to chase them away with manic activity, hoping that the pain will disappear.

In Samadhis of the imaginative mind (sattva) the mind gets caught up in its own projections. These are the Samadhis of the inspired mind or genius as is often found in artists, philosophers and scientists. It also includes transient contact with the mystical that some are lucky enough to experience, although these usually fade away and disappear, leaving a feeling of desperation and helplessness in the face of what’s been lost.

What unites these "lesser" Samadhis is absorption of the mind: the mind forgets itself either through numbness, sensation, or imagination. In different ways, each produces a high, a peak experience that one might be tempted to describe as bliss. But because each is tied to something external, the experience can only be temporary: a high followed by a crash. The entrancement comes to an end with a cruel – and painful – return to the reality one so desperately tried to escape.

Mute Remembrance

Living in that absence is one definition of hell, haunted by a memory one’s unable or unwilling to forget. And for good reason, too. The "lesser" Samadhis work through an illusion, where an external object appears as one’s salvation. And by virtue of the power of that experience, an indelible imprint is left on the soul, one that seeks to revisit the past in order to be replenished.

This is how addictions and other dangerous behaviors are born. Either by chance or by fate, one happens upon Samadhi in one of its "lesser" forms and immediately becomes hooked. The high is unforgettable, and the low that follows only serves as a cruel reminder of what’s been lost. In this way, a pathway or channel comes to be formed – like a nadi – knowing only one way to get the sensation back.

However convinced we may be about the object of our salvation, the truth behind the illusion is this: the "object" serves as a stand-in for the part of the self that usually remains submerged – what some call the soul – and it’s through an encounter with the Other that a communion with this self is made. So intoxicating is the experience that some will breathe it in, as if the Other were prana, the breath of life itself; others might say it resembled an electric jolt or psychedelic trip that seared through one’s very being (tejas).

Whatever the variations may be, each signals contact with another world through an experience that transports one to the beyond (the sur-real).

Vata - Pitta - Kapha

Why is it that we’re drawn to certain hobbies or activities? Why is it that, only in certain situations, a soul connection is made?

Part of the answer may reside in our very constitution, the doshas that represent the circumstances of our birth woven into our physical being. It’s often assumed these merely represent different body types, but those familiar with Sanskrit will inform us that dosha comes from the same root as the English prefix "dys" (as in dysphoria); some translators even suggest that it refers to a shortcoming, impurity, or defect.

More importantly, these doshas are said to prevent the successful completion of the puja of sacrifice: either by interfering with its proper performance or contaminating its desired effect.

How these doshas came into being is rarely addressed, although they’re frequently said to reflect the qualities of our parents at the moment of birth. It’s also said that they may be related to other doshas, such as Ancestor Dosha, Evil Spirit Dosha, Black Magic Dosha, Malefic Planet Dosha, or Bad Karma Dosha. Far-fetched as this may seem, the 2,500 year old Ashtanga Hridaya that catalogs the "eight arms" of Ayurvedic medicine includes chapters on childhood afflictions and possession brought on by demons, although these have also been discredited by modern science claiming that they’re merely reflections of the superstitions said to be characteristic of that time.

Incomplete Sacrifice

Whatever the case may be, it’s also said that the Doshas are "disturbed" versions of the three vital essences necessary for the harmonious functioning of the universe: prana, tejas, and ojas. So, while it’s common to think of the doshas in terms of the predominance of certain elements over others – vata (ether and air), pitta (fire), kapha (water and earth) – this may be the surface appearance of more fundamental forces at work. One teacher describes it in this way:

According to an ancient analogy, prana is the life force that strings body, mind and spirit together like beads on a strand of breath. Prana is not air, although oxygen is one of its vehicles; prana is the force that causes the physical yukti [process] necessary to keep living beings alive. Tejas burns windows into the barriers that exist between the body, mind and spirit, permitting them to communicate and influence one another in spite of their differing planes of existence. Ojas is the subtle glue that cements the body, mind and spirit together, integrating them into a functioning individual.

Crucial are the ways these vital essences work to connect body, mind and spirit. All three are necessary for the maintenance of life, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual. Each contributes a different vital function, for life could not exist without even one of them: the forces of movement, force and stability; or kinetic energy (vata), potential energy (kapha), and the energy that converts one to the other (pitta).

It’s said that vata is the unstable form of Prana, pitta the reactive form of Tejas, and kapha the inert form of Ojas. In other words: if Prana is the life force that animates body, mind and spirit, vata is the form of Prana that is "unstable"; if Tejas is what burns the barriers between body, mind and spirit enabling them to communicate, pitta is the form of Tejas that is "reactive"; and if Ojas is the glue that integrates body, mind and spirit, kapha is the form of Ojas that is "dead."

A World Divided

The lesser Samadhis provides a glimpse of unification, temporarily overcoming the "disturbances" so often relegated to the dark, the impurities that undermine the integration of body, mind, and spirit. This is why the lesser Samadhis are so difficult to relinquish: they hint at a possibility that usually seems so out of reach, a taste of salvation in the absence of death. (Only after Susie follows the lighthouse beacon into the shadows, only then does she reach the Tree of Life.)

The trick is to harmonize the elements in our environments and in ourselves.

Which might be why the guiding principle in Ayurvedic therapy is the imperative of balancing the doshas that are disturbed by excess (e.g., kaphas overcome by a predominance of earth and water). Thus, the instablity of vata is balanced by the stabilizing elements, as well as the digestive force of fire; the reactivity of pitta is balanced by more calming elements, and channeled by those facilitating creativity, instead; the inertia of kapha is stimulated into action by the transformative power of fire and the movement of air.

It’s been said that our strengths are also our weaknesses, and the imbalances of our doshas give light to that truth. For each dosha is prone to its own version of excess and disease. And what is evident at the level of the  physical body holds true for the mental and spiritual, as well.


But when we reach that moment when our strength no longer serve us, more often than not, it’ll feel like a defeat. As if the world and all that was meaningful has come to an end. For all our hopes and aspirations will be denied and it’ll seem as if the world’s snubbing its nose at us and snickering behind our backs. Or, perhaps, what’s worse: indifferent to our fate.

When we reach this limit – wanting something that remains beyond our grasp – this is the moment of truth, whether we recognize it or not. For it signals the limit of the strengths we’ve come to rely on – our dosha – and we’re given an opportunity to balance the elements that have dominated our being, finding the complements that have been set aside as unnecessary or even "weak."

And through the violence of this defeat, another miracle happens: the barriers between body, mind, and spirit are broken, and a different sort of access is given to the soul. One that’s different than the lesser Samadhis to which we’ve become attached, and unbearably searing in its delivery of pain. For the soul contains a record of all that animates us, including the lives that have come before, a set of records that some call Akashic that contains the hidden knowledge of the universe and the nature of its creation.

For when the bottle is broken, a beacon emerges that brings light to the dark.

Beacon of Light

The imperative of "balancing" is often insufficient to goad us into taking the path that’s best for us, bound as we are to the lesser Samadhis that have brought us a taste of delight. According to those trained in the wisdom of the ancients, the only way to relinquish a Samadhi is to replace it with another, preferably one that is more spiritually advanced.

Hence, those stuck in a Samadhi of delusion are encouraged to take on an activity of some sort. Whether that be physical exercise or a hobby doesn’t really matter since the inertia of tamas will be replaced by rajasic movement. Similarly, those stuck in a Samadhi of distraction are encouraged to develop their creativity, thereby replacing their rajasic fixation with the fluidity and imagination of sattva.

Those who’ve been caught in Samadhis of the imaginative mind – whether it be a tortured artist or someone haunted by a mystical experience – will have to make the transition to the "higher" Samadhis that can, ultimately, neutralize our karmas and end the cycles of birth and death. The first (focused or single-pointed Samadhi) is used to uncover the secrets of the cosmos and the psyche by focusing on an object until its cosmic truth is revealed. The second and highest (Samadhi of the calmed mind) relinquishes all objects and focuses, instead, on stilling consciousness on all levels. This practice is necessary for transcending the external world and opens the path for the realization of the Self.

Faced with a Choice

This kind of practice isn’t easy. More often than not, it’s only after reaching wit’s end that an effort is made to replace one kind of Samadhi with another, precisely because the torture of absence has grown too large. And it’s in that moment, at the threshold of a pain that can barely be endured, when the most important decision is made.

Do I return to an old (and lesser) Samadhi or can I make a different choice?

In facing this decision, vatas are generally the most anxious and therefore most in need of faith and support; pittas are more stubborn and most in need of a dose of humility and persuasion; and because kaphas are haunted by immobility, they’re most in need of strict guidance on how they can move from where they’re stuck.

The mark of a monster or fool is the unwillingness to change, no matter the cost to oneself and others, even after an exit has been pointed out to them. It may feel like it requires too much work but, in the end, there’s really little choice: either return to the highs – and lows – of a previous existence or pursue the promise that’s only been glimpsed in the lesser Samadhi to which one’s so desperately attached.

Clock Work

All of this is hidden by the imperative of the clock that imposes another set of responsibilities upon those trying to secure a place for themselves in the world. And with those obligations come headaches and suffering of another sort, none of which can be dismissed, because they too are real.

And yet, the language used to describe one’s pain and yearning taps into the very same source that gives birth to the Samadhi experience. If we pay attention, we’ll come to notice how its language reflects an experience from a different time, how today’s anguish echoes one more ancient, perhaps even forgotten. In this way, another set of clues is provided to set us upon the path.

Is it justice for which we battle, a society in which each person is accorded a place of dignity and worth? Is it the prospect of love denied that sends one to the edge, yearning for a promise that’s never kept? Is it the fear of violence that forever looms around the corner, robbed of the sense of safety necessary for securing a place for oneself on the face of the earth? Whatever the words and sentiments, this is the language of the soul. And while the lesser Samadhis calm these agitations through illusion, it’s only the "higher" practices that will finally put them to rest.

If this seems daunting, we shouldn’t lose hope. Even Vishnu, Preserver of the Universe, took on different forms during the course of his life, not all of them as regal as he’s normally portrayed. Like the ten Mahadevis, his ten avatars identify a path of transformation that’s fit for a king. In his ninth avatar, for example, Vishnu threw off the trappings of royalty and became none other than the Buddha himself. It’s an unusual turn of events, particularly since each of his previous incarnations had all been about Lakshmi, his consort and his lover. And yet, it’s this incarnation that paves the road for the universe’s renewal. For it’s the tenth avatar, Kalki, who defeats the demon of darkness, finally bringing an end to the age of strife.

If a God can throw off the mantel of Responsibility, leave his protective Palace, and confront the face of Suffering instead – following Buddha’s path – then the rest of us certainly have the chance to make that change, as well.


~ by mistified on January 17, 2012.

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