The World is Phenomenal
Wow, the route to this Into the Centre was a twisty one indeed! Dar and I had a great two days with a friend last weekend, including what seems, for the three of us, to be a need to dig deeply into the reasons, ever again, for our continuing and deepening relationship. I remember sitting there, watching the interplay and dialogue between us, and thinking, "This is like a tennis match." I recognize now that we were focused on phenomena.
On the way up to Port Elgin, I was listening to an mp3 file of old Ram Dass lectures. He suggested doing a Buddhist exercise designed to get you to the point of noticing your essence - your Soul, if you will. I've spelled out a lot of this in my free booklet, The Watcher ( download here) and even more in my book, Living Life in Growing Orbits.
The game Ram Dass suggested (which I call "Watching the Filters,") is to begin by noticing all the sounds around you. "Whoa! I sure wasn't hearing that a moment ago!"
If you think about it, the motor sound from the furnace I'm now hearing was there, vibrating my eardrum, prior to my noticing it. (Yes, a tree falling in a deserted forest still makes a noise.) So, who or what is it that chose to "not attend," then "attend" to the previously unheard sound? Buddhists would posit, and I agree, that this observer is our Soul, our true essence. It is "that which hears," or sees, or feels the sounds, sights and feelings. And the part of you that asks, "What do I think of this idea?" is this same Soul or essence.
This essence or energy makes up everything in the universe, including us. So, in a sense Dar and our friend and I were having a conversation, but it was really the same essence, in three admittedly lovely forms, talking to itself. The only way that the energy of the universe can talk with itself is through incarnation. We become humans in order to have a way–a vehicle for interaction.
The vehicle itself–the world, jobs, careers, dramas, events–all are phenomena. Stuff.
A client just left. His son has the label schizophrenic ("Hi. I'm schizophrenic." "Oh, hi. I'm Wayne!") hung about him, and dad has spent the last two weeks obsessing about his son spending his rent on CDs. Dad plotted several bail-out manoeuvres, for use when his son got threatened with eviction. In the mean time, dad has not been in much contact at all with his wife; she ended up spending the last two weeks watching dad obsess. Dad was in his head, playing with his thoughts, which are all phenomena.
The punch line: dad gets to his son's place, and the son had worked the whole thing out with his landlord. We could argue that dad just wasted 2 weeks. We would win that argument. About all that was ever required of dad was that he show up with an open heart and see what was happening. All of his obsessing accomplished exactly nothing.
Or, as my favourite poet, Rumi, put it:
We seem to be sitting still, but we're actually moving, and the fantasies of phenomena are sliding through us like ideas through curtains... We can't know what the divine intelligence has in mind! Who am I, standing in the midst of this thought-traffic?"
Ram Dass sees the work of incarnation as learning to "still the mind"—to simply be present while observing the thoughts that come and go. Attach yourself to one of them, and you lose yourself. Now, what might this mean?
- If you attach to your body, (see the past few instalments of the Bodywork section) you become that which you judge about your body. So, every pound, blemish, scar, your age, whatever, becomes the focus of your life.
- If you attach to your relationships - then the mood of the partner, or a sex act, or an arched eyebrow, or a remark becomes the focus of your life.
- If you focus on your job, then the direction of the work, the mood of your boss, the acceptance or rejection (seemingly) of your ideas becomes the focus of your life.
If you bring your attention to the Watcher, to the place where we simply are that which observes, all of these attachments become what they really are - ideas floating through you like poop through a goose.
None of it is real, you see. It's all phenomena. Nothing is anything other than how you choose to see it.
That text from Rumi comes from a long narrative piece about a frog and a mouse. The gist of the story is that the mouse is like the body - dense (in more ways than one) needy, wanting contact with the frog, which is Soul. The body is so needy that it decides that there must be a permanent bond between it and the Soul. Rumi describes the true nature of incarnation and Soul. Let me quote a bit, as the mouse speaks:
Isn't there some way we can be in touch? A messenger? Some reminder?
The two friends decided that the answer was a long a longing! string, with one end tied to the mouse's foot and the other to the frog's, so that by pulling on it their secret connection might be remembered and the two could meet, as the soul does with the body.
The froglike soul often escapes from the body and soars in the happy water. Then the mouse body pulls on the string, and the soul thinks, Damn. I have to go back on the riverbank and talk with that scatterbrained mouse!
You'll hear more about this when you really wake up, on Resurrection day!
So the mouse and the frog tied the string, even though the frog had a hunch some tangling was to come.
If we but choose to notice the phenomena that flit through our minds, and let them flit through - if we but choose to sit witness with our intimate friends and watch as their attachments flit through - we have a chance to let go of each of them in turn, and simply be.
At the end of the day, say, with Dar - I don't want to possess her, or direct her. I don't want to bite on her dramas, nor on mine. I want to see, truly see, what I am clinging to, and softly let it go. I want to tug on the string of my soul, and talk unceasingly with that which is truly I. I can even be in awe that my soul will come when I tug, despite my Soul's knowing that the tugs come from "that scatterbrained Wayne!"
In relationship with my friends, I am relating to myself. They are I and I am they. Their dramas are my dramas. I can spend my life fixating on one after another, feeling crappy, changing nothing, whining, complaining, or feeling helpless. Or, I can let go of the attachment, bring myself into the present moment, and simply be - in my body, in the world, but not "of the world."
I return, again and again, to my loving friends, as I would return to myself. I offer them a reminder about letting go, and when I begin to cling, they can remind me. I see god in them, and in me, and everything is as it is and as it should be. My deepest desire is to be a witness, to them, to me, of life itself. And even that desire I choose to let go of. The depth of enlightened action is to hold nothing while witnessing everything.
Because in the end, at the end, as my toes curl up and I breathe my last, it's just me and my frog. And then, it's just the frog. And then, it's just . . .
The Phoenix Business Focus
You are, and Aren't Your Work
The business focus regarding attachments and phenomena is sort of obvious. As you might expect, there's going to be a paradox. It's this, I am, and I am not, what I do.
I am what I do in this sense: I want the words and actions I perform to always reflect what I value. There was a prayer I used to say before preaching: "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God." Thus, all that I do should be totally reflective of my calling. Any incongruity for politics' sake will lead down a path I would wisely choose not to follow. Nor, on the same hand, would I work so hard as to hurt myself, as this would violate my being fully of service.
The paradox is that, this being said, I am not my work. As soon as I identify with my work, or with anything else external (my body, my salary, my possessions, my relationships) I am no longer free. I, by attaching myself to my work, am saying that a judgement about my work is actually about me as a being. This would be totally counter-productive. I produce work - I am not my work.
In the end, if I learn this lesson, I produce work out of my vocational self-understanding. It is consistent with my deeply held understandings of the workings of the cosmos. As my work becomes "real," it will be judged. I need to be able to step back from the judgement, hear it, think about it, and in that may perhaps choose to do my work differently. I will not, however, identify myself with the work.
My choice is to watch the movement of the thoughts I think and to let each, in turn, go. I may choose to re-evaluate my direction. I will be clear that my vocational and enlightenment needs take precedence over all else.