Monthly Archives: July 2022

Freedom

“The freedom of love is based on the perennial renewal of love itself; it can actually grow. It is this simple: your whole life is a curriculum of love.” Jack Kornfield, No Time Like the Present.

Sitting still, to drop right back from the front of the mind, where your attention is so tightly engaged with reacting to the contents of thought and feeling, is to fall into the vastness of awareness itself. One becomes conscious of indefinable space, of a boundless clarity within which every thing, whether perception or sensation, thought or emotion simply appears, and resolves back into no thing, the ground of being itself, as transparent as the summer sky, and deeper than oceans. Wide awake, it is the source and the completion of all that is, and yet truly it is the clear emptiness long before any thing at all.

Jack Kornfield (ibid.) says that “spaciousness, love and awareness are intertwined.” He goes on, “It’s really simple. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, anything you give space to can be transformed. Whatever the situation, widen the space; remember vastness; allow ease and perspective. Spaciousness is the doorway to freedom. Your spacious heart is your true home.”

To awaken is to love

To awaken is to love, and in that love the tiresome need to put up and defend our views and opinions dissolves, and right there is an insight into things that nothing else compares with. We have to discover through personal experience how that insight, our faith and our intelligence all interrelate. For me, words and the effort to give expression to the truth continue to be of profound necessity in training. To awaken and not give expression to that awakening would be a contradiction. The struggle to find the words and the struggle to find the form our lives must take are the same struggle. I find it important to recognize that the way we represent training and enlightenment to ourselves and to others is influenced by our own existential needs. Those needs can give rise to many mistakes, yet if we engage them intimately, they impart a resonance of authenticity. How we represent the truth to ourselves and to others needs to be examined with sympathy, care and intellectual rigour. To me, this is part of what it means to cleanse the heart.

Daishin Morgan, Buddha Recognizes Buddha

I have often wondered how my instinct to put things into words might fit with the journey of awakening. I have not often had the opportunity directly to teach what I have found, nor am I a member of any institution within which publishing might be a normal and indispensable part of my life and work. So I have drifted, I suppose, into blogging. Small though my audience might be – oddly enough, it was much larger when I was blogging in a Christian context – at least I am making some effort perhaps “to give expression to the truth”.

As I have found myself increasingly at variance with institutional religion, Christian, Buddhist or whatever, and increasingly sceptical of its value either in the life of the spirit or in the life of society, so my naturally eremitical inclinations seem to have strengthened – dramatically so since the enforced isolation in which so many of us found ourselves during the earlier months of the recent pandemic. The opportunity for online fellowship and collegiality of one kind or another changes our expectations of community and communication almost daily.

Almost as an aside, I have to say how profoundly grateful I have been to Sam Harris’ Waking Up course, both as a tool for learning and exploration, and as a wholly open community of practice. I came to the course through reading Harris’ book Waking Up, having had no idea that such a thing existed, and discovered right from the introductory course that I had discovered exactly the non-religious, intellectually honest and ethically sound path I needed once I had laid down my Christian contemplative practice. Without some such place to hitch the wagon of my nascent practice of open awareness, I might have found it much more difficult to avoid losing the thread altogether, or else attaching myself to a some avowedly religious community merely in order to keep some structure in my spiritual life.

Harris’ approach, which can best be summed up in his own words (quoted here before), was exactly what I needed at that time:

Spirituality begins with a reverence for the ordinary that can lead us to insights and experiences that are anything but ordinary. And the conventional opposition between humility and hubris has no place here. Yes, the cosmos is vast and appears indifferent to our mortal schemes, but every present moment of consciousness is profound. In subjective terms, each of us is identical to the very principle that brings value to the universe. Experiencing this directly—not merely thinking about it—is the true beginning of spiritual life.

Sam Harris, Waking Up, p.206

The explorations I have chronicled here and in my other blogs will go on, of course – probably as long as I do – but at times it is hard to know quite what to write. Any attempt I make at direct description of spiritual experience is almost bound to descend into hyperbole or bathos, and to try and describe life in the light of awakening would probably end up more like poetry than anything else. Maybe the value of a blog like this then is merely to carry on trying to communicate a few insights from the path of practice itself: glimpses, perhaps, from some imagined railway.

The perfect centre

Each morning invites you to be open and aware, as spacious as the sky that passes through you, recognizing “the precious nature of each day,” in the words of the Dalai Lama. No matter how frenzied you feel, no matter how shoved and strangled by the rush of events, you are standing in a single exquisite moment. No matter where you are, no matter how lost, you are standing at the perfect center of four directions. No matter how off-kilter you feel, you are standing in a place of perfectly balanced forces. Even if you feel abandoned by all that might comfort you, you are held in the embrace of what you cannot see.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Tricycle, July 2022

This is not quietism, not a call to abandon compassion and justice, but a necessary gift of grace, of rest and healing, in these days of fear and loss.

A long time ago now, Bob Dylan wrote, “Everything passes/Everything changes/Just do what you think you should do…” Impermanence is the only constant. No thing exists as itself alone: there is only becoming, and the dance of dependencies, each upon all else.. To rest as the open awareness in which all this arises is peace, and life, and the light that is the very source and ground of what is.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

TS Eliot, Burnt Norton

Habit forming

The single most important thing I have done in all my years of contemplative practice is to make a habit of it. I am just as bad as anyone else, and much worse than many, at putting things off. If I didn’t have a set time, or at least a set place in the day’s events, to meditate, I wouldn’t. There would always be something else I’d need to just get done first, or a train of thought so involving that I’d just have to look up what else had been written about it before I settled down to sit.

Someone once wrote (I can’t remember who it was now) that the best kind of practice for each of us is the one we actually do. That’s entirely true. However good and effective a practice may be, it won’t be effective for us at all as long as it is left undone.

Reality is only what is. It cannot be what was, or what might be. It is only when we actually sit still that we can see. Everything else is just a picture, a synthesis the mind presents, like one of those painting-by-numbers outlines: something to help us get from here to there, wherever there might be, even when there is the place where we have intended to sit.

[R]eality is like a huge and all-encompassing ocean. There may be different kinds of fish and seaweed and rocks, but they’re all contained inside one ocean. In the same way, there’s just one awareness, with seemingly multiple objects inside of it. If you look closer, you’ll see that there are no independent objects or distinctions––there is nothing but this one awareness. If you push this understanding one step further, you’ll realize that since it is just one awareness, you cannot even it call “one” awareness. When you know that there are two awarenesses, then you can call this “one awareness.” But when there is no “two,” there is no “one” either. It just is.

Haemin Sunim, in Tricycle, January 2020

The ground in which we rest, Meister Eckhart’s Istigkeit, is nothing other than this light of open awareness that we find in stillness. Tara Brach:

[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