As a buddhist practitioner, I have more than 18 years experience in Zen meditation, almost on a daily basis. When I prepare to meditate at home, I pour in a glass of cold water, place one of the dining table chairs next to the glass, with the table to the right of me and facing one of the book cabinets. I put my phone next to me with Insight Timer started up. Then I meditate for 20 minutes.
Of course, this little ritual puts my body and unconscious mind in the meditation mood. It seems that the body and unconscious mind cannot be spoken to in a direct manner, and that they need the ritual, to understand: “ah, it looks like Ton will start meditating soon”.
In the book Zen in the Art of Archery (1953), the concept of “it” is alluded upon. This true story is about the German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel, who undergoes a formal training by an archery master in Japan around 1920–1924. The pupil asks the zen master: “when should I release my fingers so that the arrow gets launched?” The Japanes archery master answers in what seems an angry voice: “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.”
As I see it, our body and unconscious mind learn by example, cannot be instructed by the conscious mind directly. This second self seems to know no language, does not understand language, apart from a few words. The second self is like a dog or chimpansee. Our conscious mind, or, to be more precise, the mind that speaks, thinks in language, or reads, is only a small part of who we are.
In the book The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) the author Timothy Gallway speaks of “our body” and “second self”. When we practise serving, we can, with the help of a tennis pro, consciously move our arm a few times in the right swing. After that, we should, according to Gallway, let our body do the work during the practise. When we hit the net or shoot the tennis ball out of the court, we should not get angry at ourself, but without judgement only notice “too hard”, or “too high, please aim lower”.
It seems that when we get impatient with ourself, our inner game is disturbed, worried. It is like our animal-like second self gets scared when we punish it too hard. Then, following this angst, it stiffens and does not feel free to express itself. It is like training a dog. When the dog makes a mistake during the training, we should not get angry at it, this would only make the dog worried.
So, in tennis, when we try to control all our moves, we also stiffen and this results in wrong shots.
The primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa had developped the “Cognitive Tradeoff Hypothesis”. This theory is derived from years of research with chimpanzees.
As Matsuzawa has discovered, the working memory (short term memory) of chimpanzees is much higher than that of humans. He claims that this is caused by the fact that humans use and understand language. The language capacity uses a large part of our brain, that in chimpanzees is utilized by working memory.
Again, in this scientific work, we see that the part of our self that uses and understands language, is a different layer and can be viewed seperately from our unconscious mind and our body.