That which plainly is

Perhaps the most important [thing] is that awakened awareness is not a state of mind; whereas mental states, no matter how exalted, come and go, awakened awareness exists prior to all passing states, as the ground of being in which all experiences arise and pass away. As I suggested earlier, it’s like space or air in this regard; without it, experiences would not occur…

Awakened awareness answers this question by providing a global, expansive, all-inclusive perspective in which the apparent center drops away and everything is welcomed for what it is, without being interpreted in terms of how it benefits or threatens the separate self. Not only that, but awakened awareness confers the realization that what’s looking out through these eyes and what’s being looked at, the apparent subject and the apparent object, are actually just expressions of the same limitless, uninterrupted, undivided field that’s inherently awake, luminous, and filled with love.

Stephen Bodian, Beyond Mindfulness, pp.28; 40-41

A statement like this risks raising hackles on the one hand on those who distrust metaphysics, and on the other on those who distrust language that tends towards the nontheist. There can be a sense of threat in a statement like this from Pema Chödrön:

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold… Non-theism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves… Nontheism is finally realizing there is no babysitter you can count on.

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, p.53 (Kindle edition)

Practice inevitably involves walking out on some thin existential ice, and it is necessary to trust, somehow, that either the ice will bear your weight, or the practice itself will keep you from falling through. But trust is essential: panic can be disastrous, in much the same way that a bad trip can be the disastrous outcome of an experiment with psychedelics, only here there is no drug to wear off.

It is here that the concretising tendency of religion is such a comfort – especially when, maybe unexpectedly, confronted with grief or mortality. Here is Chödrön’s “hand to hold”: the cosmic babysitter when the monsters begin to close in.

But is metaphysics just religion intellectualised? There are metaphysical underpinnings in any religion, however deeply hidden they may be; and at least some religion may be metaphysics mythologised, made relatable.

But there is more to all this than a kind of psychological empiricism, or you would not be reading these words, any more than I would have written them, I suspect. As Stephen Bodian points out, the ground of being, “the limitless, formless, all-pervasive essence of what is” (ibid., p.102) is identical to the awareness within which experience itself arises. The unceasingness of that in utter experience is the end of faith, in both senses of the word “end”: that destination beyond which it is no longer necessary to believe, since one is at rest in that which plainly is.

[also posted on my other blog Silent Assemblies]

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