Zen Mirrors, Don't-Know Mind, and Blue Whales

Part One: Exploring don’t-know mind

Here’s a game you can play while in the state of ‘don’t-know mind.’ (no-mind)

Close your eyes and let your mind become silent; let it rest into don’t-know mind. Then let a little bit of knowing return. By letting just a hint of a thought arise you can trick yourself into believing that you are anything whatsoever. You can pretend that you are a cat, your best friend, or even God.

Don’t give away the fact that you are only pretending. Stay close to the state of ‘don’t-know mind’.

How far can you take this game?

Now pretend that you really are you. (Let just a hint of a “you-thought” arise.)

But then again maybe you aren’t really you? Maybe you are actually a butterfly or a blue whale.

Now you may start getting confused. So what or who are you?

Return to the state of don’t-know mind. (no-mind)

I love this state!

When you are done playing it is good to once again embrace your present personality and life situation.

What is the point of playing this game?

I suppose it is fun.

Part Two: Transcending the mind

The true don’t-know mind or enlightened mind is something more than the playful state described above.

It is not only silence or clarity of the mind, but rather it is no-mind or mind-transcended.

What does it mean to transcend the mind?

In order to understand what it means to transcend the mind, let’s compare it to transcending the body.

What does it mean to transcend the body (to be trans-physical)?

A rock is not trans-physical. It does not have a brain or a mind.

A human being is trans-physical. We have brains. We have minds.

You are trans-physical. You can control your body with your brain-mind. The average human being can:

i) Rest: You can sit down in a chair and not move. It takes no effort. It is relaxing.
ii) Move (controlled): You can easily stand up and go for a walk.
iii) Move (uncontrolled): You can let your hands move freely as you talk, or maybe you can even let your entire body dance wildly, completely uninhibited.

These are the three basic states of the transcended body: resting, moving (controlled), and moving (uncontrolled).

Likewise, there are three basic states of the transcended mind: silent mind (resting), thinking mind (controlled), and thinking mind (uncontrolled):

i) A silent mind means that there is no internal voice; it means that no images, symbols, or concepts arise. If the mind is transcended, then not thinking is effortless, just as resting your body in a chair is effortless. (You simply let it drop.)
ii) A thinking mind (controlled) means that thoughts are consciously guided.
iii) A thinking mind (uncontrolled) means that thoughts are consciously allowed to wander - such as when daydreaming or even thinking and vocalizing nonsensical babble.

These are the three basic states of the transcended mind. (Ken Wilber would say that there are more, but let’s keep this simple for now.)

So we see that a mind transcended is not necessarily silent.
Sometimes it is noisy.

Now there is a very old Zen metaphor that equates the enlightened mind with a perfectly polished mirror. When thoughts arise they are clearly reflected in the mirror; when no thoughts arise they are clearly not reflected in the mirror.

This is a beautiful metaphor. However, it doesn’t seem to me that this metaphor quite captures the nature of the enlightenment event. Enlightenment is more than seeing clearly. It is realizing that you are free – and realizing this is always an event. It is an event that takes place after years, perhaps lifetimes, of polishing your mirror.

Maybe we could add something to this mirror metaphor to make it more complete. We could say that the enlightenment event does not take place the moment you attain a perfectly polished mirror – that is only a precursor - but rather the enlightenment event takes place the moment you walk through the mirror’s frame and realize that there actually is no mirror, there is just empty space.

The enlightenment event takes place the moment you reach the surface, after spending years, perhaps lifetimes, climbing out of a deep and dark cave. It is realizing that you are finally free - you are even free to go back into the cave if you wish and help others find their way out.

The enlightenment event is like a dolphin crashing through the surface of the ocean and realizing it can fly . . .

And yet, none of this really matters while in the state of playful don’t-know mind, for after all maybe you are really just a butterfly pretending to be a blue whale pretending to be a butterfly.



  1. tricky.

    what time frame does the event happen in
    if there is no more timeframe?

  2. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for the great question. It feels like you’ve had this question for a long time. (I could be projecting.) By ‘event’, do you mean the enlightenment event? If so, who told you there is no more time-frame?

    I think we need to ask one of those deep, borderline meaningless philosophical questions. Get ready for it, here it comes. . .

    What is time?

    I want to talk about subjective time, not objective time. Forget about objective time for now. Who knows what objective time even means?

    Okay so we are talking about our subjective experience of time.

    I’ve noticed that most of us think of time like this: We imagine that the ‘now moment’ is moving from the past and into the future.

    ----------------Now Moment-------------->

    When time is imagined in this way the now is inevitably imagined as a point. And of course, aren't we supposed to live in this point-like-now- moment?

    No! The ‘now moment’ is not a point! Mathematically a point has no length, no duration. It is impossible to live in a point. Any attempt to live in a point will make you feel like you are boxing yourself in, cutting up reality into smaller and smaller moments, reducing experience ultimately to nothing whatsoever. This is hell. Thankfully living in a ‘point-like- now- moment’ is not really the point. The point is to notice that thoughts about the past and the future are included within the now. The now is not small or short. It is not large or long. It is just awareness itself. Ultimately, once you transcend the mind, living in the now should not feel restricting. (You should feel perfectly free to think about the past and about the future, knowing and feeling that those thoughts are happening right now, which is to say that they are subjectively happening. We don’t really need the word ‘now’ do we.)

    (It is important not to dwell on what has passed, and not to constantly live for the future but that is a separate issue for the latest self-help books to explore.)

    What I’m talking about is how we experience and think about subjective time.

    (Sorry if you’ve already got this stuff figured out, but I don’t know what you know so I’ll just ramble on and on.)

    Something else to notice is that the ‘now moment’ is not moving. It does not move through time. You are the center, you are the ‘now moment’. You are not moving anywhere. You have to be very stubborn to see this. You have to say to yourself, “I am the Witness or Experiencer, I am not moving!” What is moving? It is not this moment. What is moving or changing are your experiences. This flux of experience is time. Without experience, (which is to say without something that changes) there would be no subjective time. But this flux has no direction. The flux is not going anywhere, at least not subjectively as your experience. Things are just changing, that is all.

    So you are in the center, and things are changing around you, we call this change ‘time’ or ‘the flux of experience.’ Same thing.

    So what is the problem?

    When the enlightenment event occurs there are still lots of experiences, just perhaps no internal chattering. That has dropped for now. But there are still many experiences. Maybe you‘re watching some kids play soccer, and feeling a warm breeze move across your face, and listening to some pesky mosquito buzz about your ear. (Let’s keep this real.) There may be many experiences happening during the enlightenment event, and therefore subjective time persists.

    That was easy. I’m just glad you didn’t ask me about what happens to subjective time in deep dreamless sleep. Now that question is a little harder to answer. The easy answer is: don’t-know mind. The hard answer I’ll save for some objective future moment. Did this answer your question? Perhaps I should have asked you to clarify your question first. But I like rambling on and on so there you go. Thanks for reading Pete. Another question?