Everything is Phenomenal — it’s a moment-by-moment experiencing, not a fixed thing. You can’t get a handle on it — but you can begin to notice, let go, and return to your essence.
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One of our friends here in Costa Rica likes to be provocative. He knows that I (seemingly) can’t resist a good old Trump conversation, and he’s well-versed at probing.
Darbella and I were heading to a play rehearsal, and that’s when he started. I bit, and off he and I went, despite our need to leave. I got a bit wound up, but fortunately was also able to watch the interplay and dialogue between us.
I was thinking, “This is like a tennis match.” I recognize now that we were focused on phenomena.
Not so long ago, I was listening to some old Ram Dass lectures. RD suggested doing a Buddhist exercise designed to get you to the point of noticing your essence — your essential nature if you will.
Ram Dass suggested a little exercise — one I call “Watching Your Filters.” Give it a try.
Begin by noticing what you are hearing. After a minute, focus in on really hearing all the sounds around you.
Correct. But imprecise.
If you think about it, the sounds you are now hearing were there — were vibrating your eardrums — prior to your noticing (paying attention to) them. So, ask yourself: “Who or what is it that chose to “not attend,” then “attend” to the previously unheard sound?
Buddhists would posit that we each have within us an observer, which might be thought of as our true essence. It is “that which hears,” or sees, or feels all of the sounds, sights and feelings.
Pure essence, pure observation.
This essence or awareness makes up everything in the universe, including us. So, in a sense, as Dar and our friend and I were having the Trump conversation, it was actually the same essence talking to itself.
To put that another way: the energy of the universe talks with itself by incarnating. Becoming humans is how “life” has a way — a vehicle — for interacting with itself.
The “field” in which this essence interacts, is everything else — the world, our jobs, careers, dramas, events… AND our bodies. All of this — this “everything else” — is phenomena. Stuff — meaningless stuff.
A client story: this guy had a son, and the son had the label schizophrenic (“Hi. I’m schizophrenic.” “Oh, hi. I’m Wayne!”) hung on him. The dad had spent the two weeks obsessing about how his son had spent his rent on CDs.
The dad described several bail-out manoeuvres he’d devised — thought up — to “help” his son beat getting evicted. And the dad had spent 2 weeks not talking with his wife, and she had spent two weeks watching the dad obsess.
The dad’s obsession was all in his head; his thoughts were not real. They were all phenomena.
The punch line: a few days later, the dad went to his son’s place, and the son had worked the whole thing out with his landlord. No drama, no eviction, just more phenomena.
We could argue that dad had wasted 2 weeks. We would be right. A more “essential” (as opposed to game-playing) response from dad would have been that he engage with an open heart and see what was actually 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 be present while observing that thoughts “come and go.” If you attach yourself to any of them, you lose yourself.
Now, what might this mean?
- If you attach to your body, then your interpretation of your body becomes “true” — and the only way you see your body. “I can’t do this” becomes your reality. Every pound, blemish, scar, your age, whatever, becomes the focus of your life.
- If you attach to your relationships, then your interpretation of the mood of your partner, or a perceived slight, or an arched eyebrow, or a remark, becomes “true,” and the focus of your life.
- If you attach to your job, then your interpretation of the direction of the work, the mood of your boss, the acceptance or rejection (seemingly) of your ideas becomes “true,” and the focus of your life.
If you bring your attention to the Watcher — to the essence — to the place where all that we are is “that which observes,” all of your attachments become what they really are — no-thing but ideas floating through you like poop through a goose.
Nothing 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 stands for the body — dense (in more ways than one) needy, wanting contact with the frog, which is free-flowing essence (or what Rumi calls divine intelligence.)
The body is so needy that it decides that it must have a permanent bond between it and this essence.
Rumi describes the true nature of incarnation and essence. Let me quote a bit, as the mouse speaks:
Again, the mouse, “Friend, I’m made from the ground, and for the ground. You’re of the water.
I’m always standing on the bank calling to you.
Have mercy. I can’t follow you into the water.
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 that 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 choose to notice the phenomena that flit through our minds — and then just choose to let them flit through — if we choose to sit as a witness with our friends and watch as their attachments flit through — we then have a chance to let go of each of them in turn, and simply be.
For example, with Darbella — I don’t want to possess her, or direct her. I don’t want to bite on her dramas, nor do I want to bite 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 essence, and talk unceasingly with that which is truly “I”. I stand in awe that my essence comes when I tug on that weird string, despite my eseence knowing that the tugs come from “that scatterbrained Wayne!”
As I relate with my friends, I relate to myself. They are I and I am they. Their dramas are my dramas. I can spend my life fixating on the drama, feeling crappy, changing nothing, whining, complaining, or feeling helpless. Or, I can let go of my attachment to phenomena, 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 myself. I offer myself a reminder about letting go. As to Darbella and my friends, I can choose to see their essence — and then, everything is as it is and as it should be.
My deepest desire is to be a witness, to them, to me, and a witness of life itself. And I can even let go of that desire — if I choose to.
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…