Category Archives: unknowing

No thing

 In Tara Brach’s True Refugeshe writes:

Looking back through history, and across many religious and spiritual traditions, we can recognize three archetypal gateways that appear again and again on the universal path of awakening. For me, the words that best capture the spirit of these gateways are “truth,” “love,” and “awareness.” Truth is the living reality that is revealed in the present moment; love is the felt sense of connectedness or oneness with all life; and awareness is the silent wakefulness behind all experience, the consciousness that is reading these words, listening to sounds, perceiving sensations and feelings. Each of these gateways is a fundamental part of who we are; each is a refuge because it is always here, embedded in our own being.

As she goes on to point out in more detail, Tara Brach has here re-ordered the classical Buddhist Three Refuges (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) to make more sense of the order in which most meditators encounter them. But awareness is more than meets the eye of anyone casually reading the words above. As Brach herself points out, in Radical Acceptance:

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.

We are in very strange territory here, approaching metaphysical assumptions that may not be easy to justify. But it has seemed to me, as long as I have been intentionally investigating these things, that open awareness is of more than our own personal being. Unconditioned awareness is, axiomatically it seems to me, not restricted to the personal. We come close to the ground of being itself, the luminous presence beneath all existence whatever, and we see it for a moment as it is. Even Sam Harris, who is not known for flights of metaphysical fancy, wrote, in Waking Up:

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.

Brach again:

[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…

The beauty and power of this cannot really be described, not least because words like beauty and power imply some kind of comparison with some thing which might be less beautiful, less powerful, and “no-thingness” is not any kind of thing, but the source of all that is. Lao Tzu was surely thinking of this when he wrote, “The unnamed is the source of everything in heaven & on earth. Not wanting anything to be different, [w]e see the inner essence.”

Begin again

There are so many things that hover at the edge of our conscious attention day in and day out – whether we are eating, going to sleep, waking from sleep, reading, writing an email – the shadows of war, famine, pestilence, extinction. The horsemen of the apocalypse seem to be our daily companions.

And yet this moment, this place of clear stillness, is what it always was. Hopes and fears, dreams, nightmares and reflections, they all rest in the ground of being that holds our planet, and our sun, and on beyond to before things began. We are not separate, any of us, from being. Even on this earth we are not invaders; we did not arrive from somewhere else. Each of us was born of parents who were born of parents too, and our bodies are formed from the stuff of this world. Our minds too. What we do, great or small, healing or harm, is part of the great pattern of cause and effect that holds our planet in its orbit. We may die – each of us, soon enough; our race too, eventually, however long we manage to hang on. Things do. There is nothing that is not impermanent.

This is not a call to passivity. It is a call, as Paul Kingsnorth pointed out recently in Tricycle, to witness. To sit still in this moment is the only place to begin. We cannot know what our place is in time until we realise that we cannot know. Things weave together, and each of us is woven into what comes to be. It isn’t, really it isn’t, given to us to choose the colour of our thread or its place in the pattern. What we do, though it may cost us all we have and are, is not within our free will, whatever we think that is. Only in the deep stillness of our unknowing shall we know how to act, and in that moment our action will not be a choice, but only where we are. Sit still, and touch the earth.

Bridges

I continually find myself drawn back to surrender. At times, the desire to relinquish the grasp of the self and fall back into the stream of becoming is almost painful, a sharp longing miles from any greed or physical hunger. It is like the need for solitude, in some ways – and in any case a degree of solitude seems to be necessary even for the inclination to begin.

But surrender to what, or to whom? In theistic terms the answer might be straightforward, but otherwise? A lay neuroscientific way to put it might be to suggest something like the left brain’s analytical, critical faculties giving way, for once, to the intuitive, creative pondering of the right brain – but I’m not sure this tells us much more than the idea of surrendering to God, except without the emotional and metaphysical baggage!

We seem to need a bridge between the human experience of, longing for, surrender, and that surrendered to. For intellectually, conceptually, anything we might surrender to seems lost in a bright mist, invisible to the mind’s eye. it would be fatally easy to take a shortcut, to fall on the one hand into new age woo woo, or on the other into some traditional religious formulation such as the indwelling Christ or the pure land of Amida Buddha.

But, given that these attempts to frame a clearly spiritual experience are trying to get at something beyond mere cultural personification, they may in fact be attempts at bridging the gap, at carrying some kind of message to the courts of reason from out in the coastlands of the spirit.

In an interview, Taitetsu Unno once said,

The way I understand it, the historical Buddha, like you and me, had physical form, was born, and was destined to die. But the content of his being did not die and continues to live. And that is immeasurable life. And not only life. Because it brings us to awakening, it is also immeasurable light. We call it Amida.

Even Dewdrops Fall: An interview with Taitetsu Unno, Tricycle, Summer 1995

If we are happy to let “the content of… being” rest as the underlying, existential ground, rather than ascribing to it some individual essence or soul (which I doubt Taitetsu Unno would have meant in this context) then we do have something a bit more like a bridge, perhaps. The immeasurable, unknowable isness which precedes all things, illuminates and gives life to all beings, is given a name.

Satya Robyn:

As foolish beings, it is easier for us to form a relationship with unlimited light when we give this light a form, a story and a gender. Sometimes we connect with this light through an enlightened human being, as was the case with Jesus or with Shakyamuni Buddha. Sometimes we connect with it through a relationship with a more mystical figure, such as Amitabha Buddha or the bodhisattva Quan Shi Yin. A mystical Buddha has the ability to appear in whatever form is most valuable to the seeker.

Behind our human spiritual teachers and our mystical figures is the light, and the light itself is beyond gender…

Satya Robyn, Coming Home: refuge in Pureland Buddhism

In a way, practice itself, in whatever tradition – given that we who practise are frail, temporary, limited beings anyway – is no more than a bridge over the incoming tide, at the estuary of the spirit. Beyond is the limitless sea that bears us all.

[also published on Silent Assemblies]

The empty field

Hongzhi Zhengjue wrote:

The field of boundless emptiness is what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness. Utter emptiness has no image, upright independence does not rely on anything. Just expand and illuminate the original truth unconcerned by external conditions. Accordingly we are told to realize that not a single thing exists. In this field birth and death do not appear…

Enacting and fulfilling the way of non-mind, finally you can rest. Proceeding you are able to guide the assembly. With thoughts clear, sitting silently, wander into the center of the circle of wonder. This is how you must penetrate and study…

The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection. When you have fathomed this you cannot be turned around by external causes and conditions. This empty, wide open mind is subtly and correctly illuminating. Spacious and content, without confusion from inner thoughts of grasping, effectively overcome habitual behavior and realize the self that is not possessed by emotions.

Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi (Tuttle Library Of Enlightenment)

Increasingly it seems to me that sitting quietly is the only thing needed: everything else finds its source in boundless emptiness. As the Tao Te Ching reads:

Something that contains everything,
Quiet and still, pure and deep;
Here before heaven and earth,
Alone and unchanging
Like a mother bringing up her children
Formless, it completes all things.

Not knowing its real name,
We call it the Way.

Tao Te Ching, ch. 25

There really isn’t anything to find, and yet a whole lifetime searching is well spent. This “being there” (Heidegger’s Dasein?) is perfectly complete, containing no thing. What else could we need?

Lost in hope

Hope, in the conventional sense, is, as we have seen in the last couple of posts here, generally tied to a sense of outcome. We hope something will turn out all right; we hope something else will not happen. Cynthia Bourgeault points out that what she terms mystical hope is not tied in this way. It has a life of its own, “without reference to external circumstances and conditions.”

I have noticed myself that, at least after some years of steady contemplative practice, the experience of what we think of as “loss” – serious accident, illness, bereavement, loss of livelihood, money, or status, for instance – is not accompanied by a loss of hope at the deepest level. Of course, hope in a good outcome is lost – the worst has happened, something is irretrievably broken – but underneath it all there is what feels for all the world like some kind of certainty. Beneath the quicksand is a solid ground, the bedrock of what is. As the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk saw (Habakkuk 3.17-19) though all else fails, at the end there is something more like presence than anything else.

In a long article in Tricycle Magazine, Kurt Spellmeyer reminds us that the Buddha’s illumination came only after the most profound experience of helplessness, when he was so starved and dehydrated that had a passing village girl not brought him rice and milk, he might very well not have lived the night. This, like Habakkuk’s prophecy, may or may not be historical, but it contains as profound a truth: only at the very end of conventional hope, even in our own survival, can we find that which is beyond any result or outcome, beyond any thing whatever.

This brings us, of course, to the thought of our own death. Here is the ultimate helplessness: at the end we shall be bereft of everything, even of the ability to draw the next breath. There will be no more chances, nothing to decide. Richmond Lewis, in a coma from which he was not expected to recover, had a vision of his own death very similar to experiences I have had of being close to physical death, which he memorably described as “dissolv[ing] into light”.

What could this mean? Is it a comforting(?) illusion? An artifact of failing neural circuitry? It isn’t possible, of course, to answer such a question in a way that would satisfy a scientific researcher. We are describing an experience, a “something that it is like to be”, in Thomas Nagel’s words. It does not admit of experimental verification, or if it did, the experimental subject would be in no position to report on the outcome of the experiment! But as an experience, it is as definite and actual as any: far more so than almost any other. But an experience of what?

The nearest expression of it that I can find is that it is an experience of absolute unknowing, of pure isness.

Tara Brach writes, of “the open, wakeful emptiness of awareness”:

[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)

It seems to me that that “vast and shining presence” is not only the light into which we dissolve, but the ground of our being itself – and our death merely the letting go into what is seen. I hope so.

Hope against hope

I had been intending to write a follow-up to yesterday’s post, Hopeless?, when it occurred to me that I had written just such a post five years ago, on my old blog, covering the same subject, using some of the same sources, almost exactly, if you will make allowance for rather more overtly Christian language that I would probably use today. It is worth remembering, in this context, how closely parallel the Jesus Prayer and the Nembutsu are, as I suggested yesterday. Here it is:

——

In her luminous little book Mystical HopeCynthia Bourgeault writes of the difference between the mystical hope of her title and the standard, upbeat product that is tied to outcome: “I hope I get the job.” “I hope they have a good time on holiday.” “I hope Jill finds her cat.” “I hope the biopsy is clear…” If we are dependent on “regular hope”, she asks, where does that leave us when it turns out to be cancer, when our friends disappear on their holiday in the Andes?

Bourgeault goes on point out that there seems to be quite another kind of hope “that is a complete reversal of our usual way of looking at things. Beneath the ‘upbeat’ kind of hope that parts the sea and pulls rabbits out of hats, this other hope weaves its way as a quiet, even ironic counterpoint.” She goes on to quote the prophet Habakkuk, who at the end of a long passage of calamity and grief, suddenly breaks into song:

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
   and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
   and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
   and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   and makes me tread upon the heights. 

Habakkuk 3.17-19

Here is a hope that in no way depends upon outcomes; a hope that lifts us up in spite of the worst, that leads us, with Job, closer to God the more “hopeless” the circumstances. It can be found too in the writings of William Leddra, Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Irina Ratushinskaya… But how? Where could such a hope come from, that sings even in the mouth of the furnace?

Cynthia Bourgeault suggests three observations we might make about this seemingly indestructible hope, which she calls mystical hope:

  1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.
  2. It has something to do with presence – not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.
  3. It bears fruit within us at the psychological level in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction: an “unbearable lightness of being.” But mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within.

Bourgeault remarks that one more quality might be added to the characteristics of mystical hope: that it is in some sense atemporal – out of time. “For some reason or another,” she says, “the experience pulls us out of the linear stream of hours and days… and imbues the moment we are actually in with an unexpected vividness and fullness. It is as if we had been transported, for the duration, into a wider field of presence, a direct encounter with Being itself.”

Thomas Merton (whom Cynthia Bourgeault also quotes here) writes:

At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it, we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

As Cynthia Bourgeault recognises, this awareness, whether sudden or gradual, of the “last, irreducible, secret center of the heart where God alone penetrates” (Mansur al-Hallaj) may come out of a clear blue sky as well as out of the storm. But perhaps I might be permitted to make a small observation from my own experience: it seems to be in times of absolute inner poverty, when almost all worldly satisfactions and securities have been withdrawn by pain and circumstance, when realistically there is no hope at all of the upbeat variety left, that these moments of clarity and presence most often manifest. Perhaps this is the sheer mercy of God coming to us when there is nothing else left to us, but there does seem to be one other factor involved here, and to me it seems to be crucial to understand this. Regular, faithful practice appears to be in some way essential. Now please hear me: I am not saying that practice will put us in control these moments of illumination – they are pure grace – nor that practice will somehow bring them about. But practice will open our hearts to their possibility; it will dim the incessant clamour of thought and grasping, to the point where we can glimpse the initial glimmer of that inner light, and stand still and watch.

Another point occurs to me. If we look at what I have just written about inner poverty, and the lack of satisfaction and security, and about pain and straitened circumstances, one has almost a recipe for classical asceticism, for hair shirts, hunger and scourging, for enforced celibacy and for the enclosed life. This is, it seems to me, to misunderstand the mercy of God. It may very well be that God grants to those who have nothing else to look forward to but pain and lack, these radiant glimpses of glory, but to attempt to force God’s hand by artificially producing the external conditions of divorce, disability or the concentration camp seems to me to be foolishness, to put it as charitably as I am able. But practice, the “white martyrdom” of faithful and unremitting prayer, is another matter entirely, one where the Jesus Prayer, “hallowed by two millennia of Christian practice… consistently singled out… as the most powerful prayer a Christian can pray” (Bourgeault, op cit.), seems perfectly fitted to our path, not only as a means of hesychasm, of stilling the heart, but simply as a prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.


——

I wrote the above text at a time when I was beginning to be seriously ill with a heart problem, and it seemed to me to be as clear an answer to my own questions as I could find. I would still stand by it today. Hope lies in the emptying of self, the abandonment of “regular hope” in the “objectless awareness” (Bourgeault) of contemplation. Perhaps Pema Chödrön (see her passage quoted in Hopeless?) has a point after all.

Reckless

The heart is a reckless thing, full of love and tenderness, not counting the cost of the risks it takes. It is the ego, the kludge we think is ourself, with its thoughts and its calculations, its appearances to be kept up, its scores to be settled, that will not let it sing. But the ego is a lash-up, a phoney self, a bundle of shadows. It does not even stay true to itself from one moment to the next.

It takes some training to equate complete letting go with comfort. But in fact, “nothing to hold on to” is the root of happiness. There’s a sense of freedom when we accept that we’re not in control. Pointing ourselves toward what we would most like to avoid makes our barriers and shields permeable.

Pema Chödrön – Tricycle, Winter 2001

And in fact we are not in control. All that is in control here is cause and effect, dependent origination. Take away the dream of control, and you find yourself at rest in the very ground of being, the isness that is before becoming. That is the heart’s true home, the healing of things in themselves.

We are not what we think we are, ever. We are paradox, human. We are bombu, scraps of foolishness on a changing wind. And we live in the middle, somewhere, in the muddle. Until the light dissolves us, there is nowhere else to be. Chödrön again:

The fact is that we spend a long time in the middle. This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be. Resting here completely—steadfastly experiencing the clarity of the present moment—is called enlightenment.

Istigkeit

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 26.05Quaker faith & practice (5th edition) online, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

An open question

It is coming to seem to me that one of the essential qualities of any contemplative practice is just an open attention to what is, without any prejudice whatsoever. The central question (which can well be asked as, “What is this?”) must remain in perfect unknowing: there must be no sense that an answer is expected, still less that a particular kind of answer is expected, one that supports a conclusion already arrived at either by discursive thought or by the acceptance of dogma or authority.

Ask, “What is this?,” then open yourself completely to what you “hear” in the silence that follows… Pay total attention to the polyphony of the birds and wind outside, the occasional plane that flies overhead, the patter of rain on a window. Listen carefully, and notice how listening is not just an opening of the mind but an opening of the heart, a vital concern or care for the world, the source of what we call compassion or love.

Stephen Batchelor, The Art of Solitude

It is just so impossible to enter into this attention when you are worried about the implications – if you are a theist, and you fear a non-theist answer, or an atheist, and you fear a metaphysical conclusion. Answers and conclusions are chimeras anyway, but the practice must be free of them for all that, free from what we might call “heresy anxiety”. The song of Batchelor’s birds, or the hedge at the bottom of the garden where they sing, or the isness that they are in themselves – what is this?