I have written elsewhere here (Opening the ground) of the beginnings of my awareness of what really is, lying under the old apple trees in the orchard of my childhood home, as an unassailable refuge, a still place beyond thought or striving, there always.
Tara Brach writes,
[W]hen we look within, there is no entity, no mind-substance, no self, no thing we can identify. There is just awareness—open empty awareness. We can’t locate any center, nor can we find an edge to our experience. Unless we anchor ourselves again in thoughts, or grasp after desired sensations or feelings, we have nowhere to stand, no firm ground. This can be disconcerting, scary, incredibly mysterious. While there may be a profusion of activity—sounds, sensations, images—there is no thing to hold on to, no self behind the curtain managing things. This seeing of no thing is what the Tibetan teachers call “the supreme seeing.”
But this emptiness, this “no-thingness,” is not empty of life. Rather, empty awareness is full with presence, alive with knowing. The very nature of awareness is cognizance, a continuous knowing of the stream of experience. In this moment that you are reading, sounds are heard, vibration is felt, form and color are seen. This knowing happens instantaneously, spontaneously. Like a sunlit sky, awareness is radiant in cognizance and boundless enough to contain all life…
With practice, recognizing our natural awareness takes less and less of an effort or sense of doing. Rather than climbing up a hill to get a view, we are learning the art of relaxing back and wakefully inhabiting the whole vista. We look back into awareness and then simply let go into what is seen. We become more at home in awareness than in any story of a self who is falling short or on our way somewhere else. We are at home because we have seen and experienced firsthand the vast and shining presence that is the very source of our being.Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance, Ebury Digital 2012 (pp. 315, 317)
When I was in my early 20s, in company with a very close and trusted friend, I undertook a short series of trips over a couple of weeks, using 250mg doses of synthetic mescaline. These were powerful, even profound experiences, entirely sober and devoid of what would popularly be thought of as “psychedelic” effects. We covered pages and pages of lined foolscap notepaper with closely written notes and curious geometric diagrams recording our experiences. I mention these just here because the one phrase that kept recurring, wherever we travelled, was “no thing”. Whatever avenue we explored, whatever sunken lane of the mind we entered, led to “no thing”. We wrote it, over and over again, in our notes, labelled the centres of our many diagrams with carefully drawn arrows, “no thing”. We were at a loss to explain the utter, luminous profundity of this expression either to ourselves or to each other. But it was the source and ending of all that is, and of mind itself, that much was plain.
Of course outside of a conceptual framework beyond the ability of either of us to construct back then – we could not square what we had experienced with any religious or philosophical system then familiar to us – we could take this no further, and it slipped away, displaced by plans and desires, and the imperatives of everyday life.
I recall this psychochemical experiment now because the remembered experience forms, for me, a kind of bridge between my childhood experience slowly recovering from meningitis in that sunlit Sussex orchard, and the kind of meditative recognition Tara Brach describes in the passages quoted here, from the final chapter of Radical Acceptance. The (often unremembered, consciously) energy of these and similar experiences, both within and without any formal contemplative framework, are what I have lived for, really, all these years. Most certainly, they are home, beyond any thing.
One of the points I keep coming back to, and which attracts me so strongly to secular Buddhism, above other paths, is the way that these central events have always seemed to strike me outside of formal religious or intellectual disciplines, however deeply rooted in practice they now are. Emilia Fogelklou (she writes of herself in the third person):
But then one bright spring day – it was the 29th of May 1902 – while she sat preparing for her class under the trees in the backyard of Föreningsgatan 6, quietly, invisibly, there occurred the central event of her whole life. Without visions or the sound of speech or human mediation, in exceptionally wide-awake consciousness, she experienced the great releasing inward wonder. It was as if the ‘empty shell’ burst. All the weight and agony, all the feeling of unreality dropped away. She perceived living goodness, joy, light like a clear, irradiating, uplifting, enfolding, unequivocal reality from deep inside.
The first words which came to her – although they took a long time to come – were, ‘This is the great Mercifulness. This is God. Nothing else is so real as this.’ The child who had cried out in anguish and been silenced had now come inside the gates of Light. She had been delivered by a love that is greater than any human love. Struck dumb, amazed, she went quietly to her class, wondering that no one noticed that something had happened to her.Qfp 26.05 – Quaker faith & practice (5th edition) online, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain