Having understood this body to be [vulnerable] like a clay pot,
Having settled into this heart as if it were a citadel,
attack the King of Death with the sword of wisdom,
and protect what has been conquered by clinging to nothing.
– Dhammapada, verse 40.
Wisdom in our sorrowing world is urgently needed. How come we aren’t talking to each other about what it might be, and how it might be nurtured species-wide? Let’s entertain the possibility that wisdom is far more accessible than previous cultures have led us to believe. What if we discovered in this inquiry that every human body is wisdom?
Wisdom regarding death and dying can transform humanity’s unexplored anguish, which discharges itself in destructive emotions. The tensions wrought by unresolved core questions – those that every child encounters, and puts out of sight – make their way into our behaviour.
How come we aren’t asking, while we still have enough ‘nous’ to nurture the inquiry: “What kind of experience does the word ‘death’ point to? Can we have a taste of the view of death from the inside? What’s death going to be like, anyhow?” Mary Oliver asks this, in her poem When Death Comes: “(W)hat is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?”
Most adults have seen what it’s like from the ‘outside.’ A verse from the early Buddhist teachings puts it this way:
All too soon will this body will lie in the funeral home:
useless, without mind, like a meaningless stick of wood.
– Dhammapada, verse 41.
We see this fact, with the bodily eye; but the heart’s eye – longing for depth, not surfaces – intuits the possibility of insight into death, and the ending of anguish. Zen teacher Aitken Roshi used to speak of ‘dukkha’ (a name for the most fundamental human suffering) as ‘anguish.’
This Dhammapada ‘stick of wood’ verse, by the way, is even more stark in its literal rendering: “This body will lie on the ground,” it says. In the Buddha’s time, the body might simply be taken to a charnel yard, and be left to rot and disintegrate out in the open. ‘Discarded,’ the original verse says. I changed the context to reflect a common process in Western countries – funeral homes and crematoriums – but, to be matter-of-fact about it: at some stage, our bodies, too, are discarded – understandably.
It’s interesting, also, to reflect that ‘charnel’ means ‘flesh’ (carnal). Charnel grounds and houses are (or were) about the meaty side of death. There certainly is this side of things – the surface layers of human life. It would appear that there are few ‘flesh grounds’ these days; but, even so: this body is still (in some respects, at least) “like a clay pot.” It’s fragile. It’s breakable. It’s vulnerable to all kinds of misadventure. That is not fresh news, of course; but, how little – oh, how little in our entertainment-obsessed world – have we penetrated to the true significance of this, all the way to the heart of birth and death!?
So, how come we aren’t wondering more openly, together, “Who or what in us dies?” (Who Dies? by the way, is a title of another of Stephen Levine’s books.) We can’t lose, by this inquiry.
Who has done her own work –
Being endowed with virtue and insight,
firm in the Dhamma and a speaker of truth –
people hold such a one dear.
– Dhammapada, verse 217.
Well… that is: can’t lose anything but our fictions; which I acknowledge we mightily cling to, as to a damn good novel plot. However, do allow, please, the possibility of not clinging, realizing your true nature, and “settling into this heart as it were a citadel.” Entertain the possibility of being thereby being better equipped for the meaty dénouement on the final page. If you have experienced the citadel aspect of awareness, you’ll know that it is rock-solid – wondrously, beautifully immovable. And, it’s unconditional. It is beyond corruption.
Insight into death can not only penetrate to the heart of birth and death, but can establish the citadel, and secure the heart’s gains, because:
For one whose heart is without affliction and perplexity,
who has abandoned good and bad, who is awake, there is no fear.
– Dhammapada, verse 39.
I’m working in this project at unpacking – in contemporary terms – a remarkable possibility present in all of us: that when we meet the essence of death we find a jewel – one aspect of which is the citadel.
(All translations from the Dhammapada are translated from Pāli by Christopher J. Ash, unless otherwise attributed.)
The following steps for cutting through unhealthy thinking are adapted from the work of Stanley Block; as presented, for example, in his book ‘Coming to Your Senses.’ This process helps in bringing deeper, spiritual work into daily life. It can be good for establishing the freshness of a ‘now-centred’ place, when you feel overwhelmed by a sub-personality’s repetitive, stressful patterns.
From the clear place that comes from this practice, you may be able to then turn toward the troublesome patterns with compassion: “Hello, Panicking One. I know you’re here.” (However, though I credit Block, I’ve heavily tampered with his method, so I don’t say I’m representing his process, here.) Finally, do this process as though it is play. Be a playful master of your own mind. Enjoy your inner work.
1. Recognize that you’re having negative thoughts, or an ‘overwhelmed’ process. It’s a part of you, not all of you. Give the experience some space. Start from being aware of your breathing, because it is a present-moment happening. You could say something like, “I am here, there is this body, and there is this painful process.” Breathe and include your arms and legs, and the middle of your body.
2. Then, say to yourself; “My thoughts are telling me that…( and summarise the negative thoughts.) Or, “I am experiencing the thought that … (state your negative thought).
3. Recognise that the thoughts are thoughts, and you are more than these patterns, by saying (simply), in an accepting manner (like a grandmother, who is humouring her boisterous grandchildren): “Those are only thoughts. That’s just what they do. I don’t have to follow them.” In Block’s terms, this prevents that negative thought from crossing over the mind-body connection; that is, of being embodied. They are presenting just one possible stance. In neurobiological terms, this is abandoning old neural pathways, and laying down new ones.
4. Having identified the pattern, and acknowledging that it is only a pattern of thought, now:Listen to your environment, to the background sounds. Feel the fabric of your clothes against your skin, feel the contact with your seat, or the ground, or the solid element below you. Feel the warmth of your body, your breathing, and your feet on the floor. In short come to your senses. Let your breathing be felt in your whole body, if you wish. Listen, touch, feel, smell, taste the bigger implicit dimension, the Now.
4. When the body tension lets up (showing that you have rested your I-System), then you have stopped the sub-personality’s thoughts from organising your body. You’ve restored some calm. Let the whole body have the result of the practice. Take it into every cell of your body, and down to the molecular and atomic levels. Enjoy the result – giving your body-mind this positive feedback. (This is based on Rick Hanson’s Taking in the Good.)
5. Now – only if you wish to – you are free to deal appropriately with the original thought without being hampered by body tension. You might, for example, empathetically listen to it, as though it were a small child whom you love. Or, perhaps now you are strong enough to do some ‘inner judge’ work – disengagement – or you’re ready to do some Focusing, or whatever is needed.
6. Repeat, and repeat, whenever needed.
I intended today to write about regret; but in the early afternoon, I gathered my materials together and I painted. At first the process felt a little mechanical, but very soon I found myself absorbed.
Amongst the interesting things I did was to make up a yucky mix that worked perfectly for the red eucalyptus stems in the painting. How does that happen? It looked awful as I mixed it, but I knew it was right; and it worked well, enlivening the whole canvas. I was now engaged, and seeing colours that were mysterious – like the blues which I invited into the black in the setting.
After I’ve painted, I find I’m sensitive to colours everywhere I go. Suddenly the rock-faces hereabouts turn up colours which I don’t usually see. The forests are showing a myriad of subtle greens, and tender reds in those same greens. The way the sunlight plays on the sandstone cliffs at sunset is fresh to me.
As I walked back to the house, from my studio, awake to the unfathomable being of the world, something rose up in me: a felt sense without words.
Going inside the house, I made a cup of tea, and sat down to invite that sense, to ‘say hello’ to, that ‘sense of something.’ Like all felt meanings, it was murky at first. It’s the kind of thing that, if I didn’t know better, I might say was ‘nothing,’ or at least unpromising. It could easily be dismissed by someone not familiar with what Eugene Gendlin calls ‘a felt sense.’ Or, if such a one could at least respect it, they might be satisfied with calling it ‘mysterious’ or ‘ineffable,’ and enquire no further.
However, sitting alongside it, giving it some space and some kindly attention, in the way that I’ve learnt and practised over several decades, more could come there. Like a shy fawn, it could only peek out at first, but then come into view. The poet Ted Hughes has a piece called The Thought Fox that suggests the cautious, even wary, way a felt meaning emerges.
That’s why Gendlin called his practice Focusing – because when we give it the right kind of attention, this vague ‘something’ in the middle of the body goes from murky to clear (as when in the old SLR cameras the frosty circle of the centre of the lens went from blurry to clear when you got the correct focus.)
So, now, what came clear was an understanding which I haven’t been confident about, hitherto. It was this: what I had just been immersed in for that period, breathing in and out, painting, was an introduction to the radiance of being as it exists in my own body. It was revealed through the art of seeing. And, then I recalled that the artist Brett Whitely had once said that the only reason to paint is to learn to see.
I now had the words for the experience which occurred immediately after the painting session. “Radiance.” As I had come away from the studio, the radiance everywhere was intense. In one sense it dissolved all differences, revealing a deeper unity through the very ordinary miracle of seeing.
On the other hand, the radiance shone – from the inside out – in every leaf, every grass-blade, and even in the buildings about me. The pittosporum as I passed it; the concrete path where I walked; the tangled jasmine in the corner, the rough steps into the house were luminous.
I had intended to write something about ‘regret’: about the harmful things I’ve done, the hurts I’ve caused which I regret the most. Instead, I find myself back at the easel, marvelling at the black with phthalo blue, painted over a green-black underlay — at how the purples peek through, in the afternoon light. And, those tiny, yellow spots in the eucalyptus leaves. The red line around that edge, there.
Seeing is for developing the heart. It would also be strong, my regret, if I arrived at the end of my life without having learnt to sense the wonder of the ordinary. All my learnèd philosophy would have been just empty naming, if I hadn’t embodied it, thus to see the world afresh.
When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
By the hedge!
– Basho, trans. D.T. Suzuki (Japanese ‘nazuna’ could be translated ‘shepherd’s purse.’)
Translated from the Anguttara Nikaya; from the Book of the Ones, by Christopher J. Ash
“Practitioners, one does not enjoy the deathless who doesn’t enjoy mindfulness directed to the body. One enjoys the deathless who enjoys mindfulness directed to the body. The deathless has been enjoyed, by those who have enjoyed mindfulness directed to the body.
“Practitioners, one has fallen away from the deathless who has fallen away from mindfulness directed to the body. One hasn’t fallen away from the deathless who hasn’t fallen away from mindfulness directed to the body. One has neglected the deathless who has neglected mindfulness directed to the body. One is bent on the deathless who is bent on mindfulness directed to the body.
“Practitioners, one is heedless about the deathless who is heedless about mindfulness directed to the body. One is heedful of the deathless who is heedful of mindfulness directed to the body. One has forgotten the deathless who has forgotten mindfulness directed to the body. One hasn’t forgotten the deathless who hasn’t forgotten mindfulness directed to the body.
“Practitioners, one hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up the deathless who hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up mindfulness directed to the body. One has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up the deathless who has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up mindfulness directed to the body.
“Practitioners, one hasn’t recognized, fully comprehended, and realised the deathless who hasn’t recognized, fully comprehended, and realised mindfulness directed to the body. One has recognized, fully comprehended, and realised the deathless who has recognized, fully comprehended and realised mindfulness directed to the body.”
“(A Year to Live) is not simply about dying, but about the restoration of the heart, which occurs when we confront our life and death with mercy and awareness. It is an opportunity to resolve our denial of death as well as our denial of life in a year-long experiment in healing, joy, and revitalization.” – Stephen Levine, A Year to Live
Some people express a fear that thinking and journaling about death might invite death – physical death. That is one fear that will arise in this practice, but the primary purpose of this practice is to turn toward what we fear; to explore, feel, think, sense into, and know one’s actual relationship to this kind of life – the life of fear – as well as death. We help others when we help ourselves in this way, too.
One way to work with the fear of facing mortality is to keep grounded in our life as actually lived; that is, to know yourself intimately in all your daily, bodily-based changes. That’s why, in this work, I place an emphasis on mindfulness of the body; and knowing the body in the body – not simply as a concept.
“Before we can leave the body effortlessly we have to inhabit it fully. A remarkable means of heightening life as well as preparing for death is to enter the body wholeheartedly, sensation by sensation.” – Stephen Levine, A Year to Live
So, during the practice of A Year to Live, we can clarify the Buddha’s term ‘the deathless.’ It came to me forcefully several years back, with a radical clarity, that “There is no death.” I then undertook a period of review, to be sure that I was seeing right, which has included checking with accomplished Buddhist teachers. I wish to demonstrate this radical claim to you, during this project.
My understanding of the body is the other most radical shift in thinking during this inquiry. To dwell in the body intimately and fully only happens after a thorough training; because, this ‘dwelling’ not just about being in contact with bodily sensations and actions – the organism has much subtler dimensions than these surface processes.
Because the body is a local representative of true nature – it is the intelligence of the universe manifesting in specific ways, gross and subtle – we can resolve the question of who or what dies by knowing ourselves directly. And so, for me, the enquiry naturally deepens into an understanding of human nature as being more about ‘process’ than about ‘content.’ It’s more about how we are in the world, how we interact, and less about ‘what’ we are.
While I glimpsed, forty years ago, that I could say rightly, “I am not my body,” on the other hand, it is also the case, and is helpful to realize, “I am only my body.” This is not the body of modern medicine – a constructed thing, or a machine. The body is a way of knowing.
This experience-near, process-oriented way to think of ‘selfhood’ naturally leads to a different understanding of death. When we able to see the real issue in ‘death’ as the loss of our identifications with self-images, then this changes what is important about death and being human. We then know what matters about living.
The Deathless turns out to be surprisingly near; nearer than your breath.
“(T)he thought of death is… a powerful stimulus that brings me back to myself as the unique occasion for the search for the meaning of life, and it makes me recognize the importance of this very moment, as it highlights the real possibilities that are still before me.” – Herbert Guenther.
I want to share some of the gift that contemplating death brings. Here’s how I experience something that seems to resonate with what Guenther wrote, in this passage.
I can be sitting at a my computer, I can be in a cafe, I can be driving my car, or talking to my partner – and a pristine, all-encompassing space opens. The thought of death can bring this opening. The certainty of my death, or the uncertainty about ‘when, where or how’ I will die – or, likewise, the thought of the certainty of the death of my loved ones – these contemplations can bring such openings. These ideas are one kind of “powerful stimulus.”
With the opening of that ‘space,’ my positioned (and positioning) ‘self’ dies, just like that. Dissolves. If I rest into the ‘gap,’ it is another dimension of being. A knowing is purely present, without any seeking or orienting. Acquisitions have ceased. I’m simply aware of the quality of openness itself, with its measureless ‘ing-ing’ (Gendlin’s expression). And, if I don’t scramble – that is, if I don’t make boundlessness a problem – if I relax and trust it, sigh into this unknowing knowing, then there is a meaningfulness that exceeds any of the phrases about it.
(We’ll look later at the designations in this. The ‘self’ dissolves’; so who is resting into the gap? What do ‘I,’ ‘self,’ ‘person,’ and so on, mean? It’s about the process of designation and it’s relationship to experiencing. Well explore it, later.)
Now, Guenther’s “…brings me back to myself as the unique occasion for…” is sweet, because the boundless, empty, still (paradoxical) presence is full of the magic of living. It’s called ‘ordinary mind.’ And this magic unfolds. Hence: “…the importance of this very moment…”
With this invisible matrix informing them, concepts can return, or function, to be a part of the unfolding, a servant of the bigger life, which is full of meaningfulness. This is a matter of ‘not two.’ It’s not about something on one side called the conceptual present which is different from the still, luminous, non-conceptual openness\on the other side. Not at all. The stillness doesn’t reject concepts, and concepts can serve the still field of possibilities.
This won’t make sense right now, but we’ll explore later: how the unfolding happenings (’time’) are never outside (or, never leave) the implicit, the invisible (timeless) womb of reality. (They never fully form, either, into ‘somethings’. In a sense we are experiencing virtual reality, already.) This will make sense of the Buddhist idea of ‘the Deathless’.
But, I’m getting ahead of our content. Returning to Guenther:
“…the real possibilities that are still before me.” So, this moment, purely present as it is, is full of possibilities, unfolding, “out of” this implicate matrix. It’s a poor metaphor, given what I’ve said about ‘not two,’ but refer back to your present, undivided momentary experience, and you’ll get a ‘feel’ for this. This ‘matrix’ concept is difficult to experience directly at first. Just get a holistic feel of it, be experiential about it, and in time it’ll gel. It will be integral to understanding how the Nikāya Buddha can say, “The attentive do not die.”
This no-inside/outside, always-happening unfolding includes the person who is aware, who is “the unique occasion” for the bigger life’s unfolding possibilities. What magic is that! I’m sometimes drunk on the wonder of it. It makes me laugh, and it calls Rumi to mind: “I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way. Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.” (Coleman Barks trans.)
Herbert Guenther: “…the thought of death is rather a powerful stimulus that brings me back to myself as the unique occasion for the search for the meaning of life…”
What kind if meaning of life can Guenther be speaking about? Often people live as though death is the negation of meaning. The question is how to whole-heartedly include our consciousness of death, and to find what meaning is present in that inclusion. Of course, the meaning of life is itself a living, not at all satisfying as mere belief. When the Dalai Lama was asked, at a teaching: “What is the meaning of life?” he shrugged his shoulders and said: “I don’t know.” What kind of ‘don’t know’ is that? How do we live it, feel it, know it intimately? And, how do we relate to our loved ones, once this is digested thoroughly?
If it is truly living ‘don’t know,’ it is a luminous matter. If it is a ‘don’t know’ perfumed with avoidance, it’s a dull, and dulling, quality of awareness. But, lived, it is openness of Being.
This is something worth unpacking slowly, as I will do throughout this project. Perhaps, these aren’t two, the evanescence of life and life’s value. Avoid the thought of death, and we live a false version of life. When the haiku poet Issa Kobayashi (1763 – 1828) alluded to the traditional teaching that this is a “dewdrop world,” in his poem written on the death of his daughter, he may have been thinking of the Diamond Sutra’s famous last verse:
“This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence:
Like a dewdrop, a bubble; like a flash of lightning,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”
Yet, Issa brought this great matter home to the ever-so-human fact that love always perfectly has a natural hurt implicit implicit in its vibrant life. He wrote:
this world of dew
is, yes, a world of dew.
Issa’s poem was life living itself forward in a new way. He doesn’t recoil from intimacy with the dewdrop world. It suggests that even in the face of his daughter’s death Issa knows her life is (in Mary Oliver’s way of saying) “one wild and precious life.”
My dear hero Gene Gendlin has died, naturally at the age of 90. It was several days ago, and I have been unable to write a word during this time. Now I’ve found something to say, and want to share it with you. (Apologies to those of you who may get a double posting.)
A week ago, I heard that he was dying, so I was readied for the final word. But, when that news came, I suddenly felt something I didn’t expect. Of course I cried, and felt the inevitable loss. But I felt something else, and when I checked in, I heard myself say with gentle certainty, “I’m standing on my own two feet, now.” And, I felt them connected to the immeasurable earth. I want to share a little of the background to that moment.
About twenty years ago, I said to a Buddhist friend, “I’m going to explore what the West has to offer.” He said to me, “Do you really think they have anything?” He meant ‘anything worth while.’ Now, these years later, I can say to my friend, “Oh, I’m so happy that, with the help of Eugene Gendlin’s amazing ‘Philosophy of the Implicit,’ I feel I’ve come home to the West, where I began, and where, culturally speaking, I belong.
My philosophical journey began as a seventeen-year-old, where I discovered Socrates and meditation, in the same year. Socrates’ love of wisdom and his bravery blew me away. But then, very soon after, I discovered Buddhism, and so – because they had accessible methods (with mindfulness and meditation), I began a (so far) fifty year excursion into Buddhist practice; and at some stage became a Buddhist teacher. So, it was significant to want to go West. I eventually felt the call of the culture that I had stood in, as a child, unknowingly.
‘Going West,’ for me, initially meant studying psychotherapy, and becoming a psychotherapist. Something practical. But that introduced me to Focusing. And, with the help of Bev Stevenson, Nada Lou, and my trainer Ann Weiser Cornell, I became a Focusing trainer.
Then, about twelve years ago, came one of the first teleconferences I did with Gene. It was organised by my (later) mentor Rob Parker, and its topic (if I remember rightly) was on the primacy of the body. There Gene said something which viscerally turned my reality inside out. I suddenly experientially realised that perception doesn’t give me a basis for ‘being.’
Someone said to me, today, that they hadn’t realised that they had a particular dependency, until the object of that dependency was suddenly not there. And that was what it was like, for me, in respect of perception. Gene said something about perception being derived from a more fundamental interaction-first life-process; and suddenly (in this little pokey office in North Sydney), I literally ‘saw’ without any dependency on perception. I felt released.
To explain a eye-sight seeing which rests on a felt ocean of implicit knowing would take an entire essay, but that’s what it was like. That says it. (That experience helped me understand many of the historical Buddha’s enigmatic comments.) I contacted Mary straight away, and she passed my joy and gratitude on to Gene, and conveyed that he was delighted. That was the beginning of my immersion in A Process Model.
From then on, I realised that I had two spiritual paths; two completely complementary paths. And that has remained so. So, it’s with this gratitude to a spiritual mentor, that I live in the memory of Gene.
Again and again, since then, in the teleconference courses that Ann has run, I have put the ‘alone edge’ of my expanding understanding to Gene, and his ‘Amen’ had me sighing with relief each time. They were like the checking questions the Zen teacher asks:
There’s a deeper presence than perception. “Amen.”
At the limit, stillness and movement are not two. “Amen.”
‘Body-en’ is a way of saying ‘mind.’ “Amen.”
(This last one, only a few months ago, settled a puzzle for me that had been around since I was four years old! It has opened up vistas for me.)
So, I got to depend on those courses. Was it my need for the good male authority, given the appalling violence of my upbringing? Sure. Compared to what my father said about my mind, to hear Gene say with affection how he loved my questions – of course that was healing. And, Gene’s kindness, his humour, his concern for the welfare of humanity – all that, too, I came to depend on it. And, Gene also introduced us in a very practical way (Focusing) to some of finest of the riches which the West has to offer.
He did this by pointing us back to the primacy of body. This is a very healing thing to do. Gene was a supreme healer. He sent us back to our own experience, encouraging us to inquire there, and especially to inquire kindly; to love philosophy, and to find in our own bodies the body that Socrates learned from.
Last week, in the days before he died, I watched (yet again) the TAE video that Nada gave me twenty years ago, where Gene says:
“There is the absolutely best laboratory – as far as we know, at least – in the whole cosmos; which you can have access to; because the absolute best laboratory in the whole cosmos – which has a direct line into… whatever everything is… that’s a human being.”
– Eugene T. Gendlin, at the opening to Gems from Gene, Tape 5 of Thinking at the Edge (a five tape VHS series)
May the exhausted world find this ever-available refreshment. (I hear him saying, “Amen.”) Thanks, Gene.
Since ‘once upon a time,’ time has interested me. I had a vision which depressed me as a teenager. I thought: Having been born, there is the time before I was born; and there will be a time after my death. These two times are endless, and they’re also out of reach of present ‘me.’ They are are kind of silence, either side of the noisy present.
My childhood vision saw the ‘past’ and the ‘future’ as not telling me anything about the meaning of the time I am in NOW. Yet, it feels as though the time that I am in now is over-shadowed by those other times; and is meaningless, without their inclusion. As it stands, I am in this no-person’s zone of time between birth and death. Some philosophers think that the idea that time will continue after us, gives us meaning. I have noticed that unconscious narrative, myself; but I think it is a false support.
The way I thought of it, back then, I didn’t exist in the time before, just as I will not exist in the time that follows my death. (Notice the blind belief in ‘existence and non-existence?) In other words, the time before ‘me’ and the time after ‘me’ are both without me. Sound familiar? There’s a nothing before, and a nothing after,from the point of view of my identity. The thinker imagines that there was something there, but ‘I’ wasn’t, and also, ‘I’ wont be.
Later in my life, I knew that time concepts were useful, but, still, when I investigated – as a meditator can – when I investigated what ‘time’ was, I couldn’t find it in this default way that I had imagined it to be.
This experience – my bleak childhood vision of time – is not new, of course. Some people see these dilemmas and decide that time doesn’t exist, except as some kind of social agreement. They say, “Time is just a concept.” Yet others continue to believe that time and space are independent realities, but they don’t explain how that could be – and where exactly time and space could be located. (See that? What space and time would you put space and time in? What would found them?)
Of course, if time and space are the very fabric of being, then you and I are time-space. But, what kind of time is that? As Einstein showed us, it can’t be clock-time. And, anyhow, who lives in line with that? Time’s dynamics are rarely said to be satisfying to people. Time is usually said to be some kind of commodity: in short supply at one time, and too much of it at other times.
And, time is always in danger of running out. See! Mr. Death carries an hour-glass. This is the biggest problem with our intimacy with time – if time is closer to me than my breath, I can’t control it. No unrefined ego-system is happy with this. How will I make peace with the experience of time?
Despite the difficulties this last approach presents, I do look for time in my experiencing, though – and not in the concepts derived from experiencing. So, what aspects of accessible experiencing are we pointing toward, with our ‘time’ phrases?
So, is the answer to the tensions of time a kind of hedonist ‘seize the day’ approach, as some suggest? To these people the time ‘in the middle’ is all that is important. It is all that we can grasp, and grasp it we must, in our own way. Such a vision has the danger of strengthening narcissism, though. The middle time – my life between birth and death – is unconsciously identified as identical to my mentality. The objective vision of ‘time and space’ being ‘somewhere’ out there, slips over into solipsism. And, here, the ego feels also continues to feel alone.
So, this egoic ‘seize the day’ vision – a compensatory and imaginary one, notice – brings conflict. I need the vision of ‘my now,’ and yet it is never at rest with itself. Furthermore, the world as I experience it doesn’t co-operate in affirming the centrality of my ego’s seize-the-now project.
However, no matter how interesting, even engrossing, the three-separate-times version of ‘time’ is to us, explored interminably in our thoughts, it is simply a made-up story with no unmediated, experiential evidence for it. What do we have evidence for? This ‘whole life process’ that is going on without mediation of concepts. Our concepts point back to the holistic flow of all that is, to the holomovement. (Bohm)
I say this, realising that I must speak tentatively and provisionally about ‘life’ and ‘going on,’ and ‘flow.’ If not used in zig-zag with the non-conceptual, these ideas can become the horns of the bull which gores us. But, I can – on the basis of the flowing practice of mindfulness of the body – let these phrases point back to the intimacy of my Suchness. They gesture toward the immeasurable aliveness of being-at-all.
Then, will I find evidence for the usual kind of ‘time,’ anywhere? The time-space duo is an assumption brought in to explain this beginningless, ‘evolving’ life. A useful convention, which we avoid getting snagged by. If we let words mean what they do in us, we can ask, ‘How does the word ‘time’ work, when held up against our immediate ‘alive-ing’ (experiencing). Then, the narratives, the stories, the imaginings, and so on, are themselves all included in the holomovement of this going-on life, aren’t they? And a fresh meaning of the term ‘time’ can come in its use in situations, mysterious and related to the immeasurable life we are.
Why mysterious? Because time’s root is in the ‘Ing-ing’ (Gendlin), which is the movement of a stillness. And you and I, when we live this, are beings who are Such (beyond conception).
Well, I’ll never! And I thought a body was just a bit of skin and meat on bones. But, I thought that back when I lived in the no-person’s now, between ‘birth and death.’
A Fictional Conversation
“What does that mean, that you’ve ‘done what had to be done’?”
“You sound like you mean, ‘Because, after all, in life there is always more?’ And, of course, I’d agree with that.”
“I was thinking something like that.”
“Yes. I didn’t mean in my personal life. As you say, it’s onward leading. To say what I mean might be difficult, but… nevertheless, I stand by it.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s because I sense it, that I mean it.”
(Laughs). “In your body.”
“So… I know I mean something like this… It’s important in life, and it makes sense of our being born, that there needs to be a fundamental change in the mind during one’s lifetime – a change at the root. It’s a change which makes sense of everything.
“When I was a young person, as I became an adult, I couldn’t accept the values of our forebears. I could no longer accept their traditions and explanations. Their beliefs in rituals and gods couldn’t satisfy my inquiring mind. Why is life the way it is, so full of frustration and difficulties? Why were we born into the situation we are in?”
“Like, ‘Why is there birth?’”
“Well, that wasn’t a big deal, for me. Rather, why is one person beautiful and another not. Why are some poor and others not? Or, some are without limbs, while others have their bodies entire. These things even started to bother me when I was just a little child. I couldn’t make sense of it.”
“But, that’s because of karma isn’t it? Do something ugly, you end up ugly.”
“Well, I don’t accept that; and that’s part of what had to be ‘done.’ To see our opinions, ideas, views, and theories and speculations in perspective – to see their limited nature.”
“Ah! So you’re talking about realising the non-conceptual dimension. But, to ‘do what is to be done’ – these two things don’t seem to go together.”
“To ‘do what has to be done’ implies a law of some sort. And it implies some personal responsibility. All that’s culture. Whereas, what can’t be conceived seems to negate that.”
“When I was in the King’s Court, and long before I left for a life of freedom myself, it seemed that way for me.”
“Perhaps it was that I had all my needs worldly needs satisfied – that is one thing. But more importantly, with his being a contemplative, my son presented me with an entirely different way to think of my life. And, I saw him living the life that kept him in harmony with what is.
“I saw the change in him, and I listened. I reflected long (mostly silently) upon his words; and that, most of all, because he was speaking from experience, not tradition. I had the privilege of access to someone who had done what had to be done.”
“That is, whenever he came home, you had that access.”
“Which he frequently did. He didn’t forget us. But then when he wasn’t in our country, I had the opportunity to look around me and reflect in myself, for myself – on my own. There is a saying that ‘little trees don’t grow well under big ones.’ It was helpful, to me, that he would wander.
“But to return to your question… And the matter of doing what has to be done. The non-conceptual neither affirms nor negates. It doesn’t stand against the personal. Only concepts can do that.
“But, let me pause… I think this line of thought takes us away from the field of ‘this’; ‘this’ which we have here, which can lead us. So, let us come back to this: the sense of completeness. That’s it. That’s what I mean. The non-conceptual has its own unfolding order; and part of what ‘has to be done’ is that the seeker turns away from self-interest and puts herself under that – that intimate kind of law.”
“Living it in the body.”
“Then, also, another part of ‘done what had to be done’ is to not give up on the tasks that such an enquiry presents you with. Once begun, you’ve got to walk the road all the way, and not give up on what you know inwardly to be the way.”
“Oh. I see what you mean.”
“Maybe you do.”