contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Taoism

THE ART OF TRAVELING AND SIGHTSEEING

“Lieh-tzu used to love to travel and to see the sights. When his teacher Hu-tzu asked him what he found so enjoyable about traveling, Lieh-tzu said, ‘While other people travel to see the beauty of sights and surroundings, I enjoy seeing the way things change. To other sightseers, it may seem that I am like them, but the difference between us is that they see things whereas I see changes.’

“Hu-tzu said, ‘You think you are different from other travelers, but actually you are not. Although they are amused by sights and sounds, and you are fascinated by things that always change, you are both occupied with what is out there rather than what you experience inside. People who are attracted to the external world are always looking for something new and wonderful that will satisfy their senses. However, only people who look into themselves will find true satisfaction.’

“After this conversation, Lieh-tzu stopped traveling because he thought he had thoroughly misunderstood what it means to travel. Seeing this, Hu-tzu said to him, ‘Travel is such a wonderful experience! Especially when you forget you are traveling. Then you will enjoy whatever you see and do. Those who look into themselves when they travel will not think about what they see. In fact, there is no distinction between the viewer and the seen. You experience everything with the totality of yourself, so that every blade of grass, every mountain, every lake is alive and is a part of you. When there is no division between you and what is other, this is the ultimate experience of traveling.’”

Eva Wong Lieh-tzu: a Taoist Guide to Practical Living Boston & London: Shambhala, 2001

Eva Wong grew up bilingual in Hong Kong, is a practitioner of the Taoist arts and a well-known translator of Taoist and other Chinese texts. She writes, “before I had even heard of Taoism, the stories of the Lieh-tzu were familiar to me from my childhood readers … although my family was bilingual, I grew up in Chinese culture, and the Lieh-tzu gave me and my schoolmates kernels of wisdom packed in fables and proverbs. Even at age six and seven, we knew about the Old Fool who tried to move the mountains, the man who worried that the sky would fall, and the man who tried to chase down the sun”.

The Lieh-tzu is less well known to Westerners than Lao-Tzu’s Tao-Te-Ching or the work of Chuang-tzu. But for Eva Wong the voice of the Lieh-tzu is a friendly one, not that of an all-knowing sage or master. “It is the voice of someone who gives advice not because he is an expert, but because he has made mistakes and learned from them. It comes from a person who allows us to listen. He speaks, he pauses, and when we respond, he speaks again”.

Comparing the three great representatives of early Taoism, Eva Wong says that “Lao-tzu speaks as a sage”, and “when the lecture is over, there is no question period. It is up to us to understand him”. Chuang-tzu “is an eccentric who chuckles to himself and is not concerned about being understood. He “wanders in a world different to ours”, where “the ground of reality is always changing”. But “the Lieh-tzu is different. Lieh-tzu lives in our world. He talks about experiences we can understand … life and death, fortune and misfortune, gain and loss … friendship, human communication, dreams, reality and learning … it is as if someone gently shook us and woke us from a deep sleep … I am awed by Lao-tzu, baffled by Chuang-tzu, but I am never afraid of Lieh-tzu”.

RESTING IN BEING

Last autumn I worked with two on-line resources developed by Peter Russell (1). The first was a brief meditation course, which nudged me into a particularly easeful and surrendered meditative style. The second was a webinar series under the Science and Nonduality umbrella (2), Resting in Being. From this I picked up a helpful definition of nonduality (a translation of Sanskrit advaita). Going back to the time of the Upanishads (3), it invites us to think of ourselves as clay pots. If we look at two pots together (or any number) we find only one clay. Peter Russell describes the clay as ‘mind stuff’. Older Vedantic tradition uses the language of divinity, whilst Tantric Buddhists speak of ‘primordial nature’ (4). Russell is careful to distinguish nonduality from union, unity, or complete identity. My human relationship to the clay (mind stuff, primordial nature) is one of ‘not I not other than I’ (5). I am distinct but not separate.

This ground reality is ever-present and pervasive, yet oddly hard to recognize. No recognition is necessary for a successful human life, yet without it many people experience a sense of loss and alienation or intuit that something of consequence is missing. We invent grail quests and ladders to heaven, strategies for enlightenment or redemption, to address the perceived deficit. These in turn tend to become displacement mechanisms, deflecting us from the very goal we seek. The direct approach points us back to our immediate experience. Peter Russell uses words like ‘being’ and ‘awareness’ – suggesting indeed that that latter might also be turned into a doing word: ‘awareing’. Process terms better express both the movement of experience and the stillness within it. Ursula Le Guin does the same with ‘Taoing’ (6).

As a term, I find ‘resting in being’ useful in guiding me into contemplative awareing. I feel opened, energized and expanded. My centre of gravity shifts. I feel porous, spacious, held within the whole: here, now and home. The years of contemplative inquiry have boiled down to this. It is the stance I am taking away. My remaining sense of inquiry concerns the influence of this stance on the rest of my life and I will look at this in another post.

(1) Spirit of Now website peterrussell.com

(2) https://www.scienceandnonduality.com

(3) The Upanishads Introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, CA: Niligri Press, 2007 (2nd  ed.)

(4)  https://www.dharmaocean.org/

(5)  https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/book-review-not-i-not-other-than-i/

(6) Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way Boston & London: Shambhala, 1998 (New English version by Ursula K. LeGuin with the collaboration of J. P. Seaton)

A WAGER

“In the words of Shakespeare, ‘And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, a poet’s pen turns to shape them and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name’. All thought, feeling, sensation and perception give to airy nothing – this full, empty, luminous loving substance – a temporary name and form.

“The finite mind – thought, feeling, sensation and perception – is a temporary localization of infinite Consciousness, love and beauty. The three forms or three activities of the finite mind – thinking, feeling and perceiving – clothe this airy nothing, this luminous, empty, loving Presence, with their own particular qualities and limitations, making this airy nothing, this luminous, empty, loving substance, appear as thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions

“But in doing so, this luminous, empty, loving substance never ceases to be itself. It never becomes anything other than itself, such as an object, person, self or world. It simply modulates itself within its own infinite being, knowing itself in and as the forms of all experience, but never ceasing to be and know itself alone”. (1)

This is the proposition, or invitation, of The Direct Path, as presented by the teacher I am attending to most. The resource I am using has audio and book versions in one package. Passages like the one above are interwoven with guided meditations designed to reframe our experience through a careful introspection that is both precise and gentle. When listening, I am more focused on the meditations. When reading I am more focused on the passages, which work like a Lectio Divina – words to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Looking at key words closely, I can appreciate Shakespeare’s use of ‘imagination’ as a light-touch anticipation of Coleridge’s: “the primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation” (2).

At the level of the finite mind I have reached a stage of provisional assent to the Direct Path view. I don’t want to drown out any doubt with the urgent, monological discourse of a new ideology. I notice this tendency in the non-dual community, and I suspect it comes from an impatience with ambiguity and difficulties in holding a point of tension. For me, that would indicate a covert lack of confidence in my inquiry process. At the same time, I want to live from this kind of understanding. In my version, I feel like the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu, with the equivalent dilemma of wondering whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. I would say ‘both’ – not holding this view in a fundamentalist way, but strongly enough to live from.

So, I’m adopting the strategy of Blaise Pascal*, who in seventeenth century France decided to make a wager about God: “if God exists, he is infinitely incomprehensible. So human reasoning has no way of determining whether or not he exists. We cannot make up our minds on the basis of reasoning. But we must make up our minds. How is it to be done? Pascal suggests that adopting belief in God, and leading a Christian life, is the soundest bet. In event of winning the bet, an eternity of bliss is gained. In the event of losing the bet, the loss incurred is utterly insignificant. The alternative, – i.e. unbelief – can at best incur an utterly insignificant gain, at worst an immense loss.” (3)

I do not see myself facing the same consequences as Pascal, either in Earth or Heaven, from making a ‘wrong’ choice. But I adopt the strategy: making my existential choice and embracing what flows it.

*Blaise Pascal (1623-62) French mathematician, physicist, religious thinker and philosopher.

(1) Rupert Spira Transparent Body, Luminous World – The Tantric Yoga of Sensation and Perception Oxford: Sahaja Publications, 2016

(2) Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biographia Literaria: Or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions Dent: London, 1906 & 1956 (Everyman’s Library. Edited and with an introduction by George Watson)

(3) Thomas Mautner The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy London: Penguin, 1996

 

GUANYIN IN NOVEMBER

Six months ago I re-oriented my sacred space around an image of Guanyin, an eastern Sophia of Silk Road origin. She hears the cries of the world beyond sectarian boundaries, being equally at home with Buddhists, Taoists, Pagans and Gnostics.

In the dominions of Mahayana Buddhism, she takes on the guise of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. But for me she is not fully defined by that identity. She is also a dragon lady, reflecting ancient beliefs in divine animal powers, “still with us in dreams and visions as representatives of the source of life … movers of the world”. She is the sacred mare, great mother goddess, roaming the wild fields of the earth. Arriving in China, she links with and transforms other goddesses, “the sea-goddesses of China’s many port cities, the tribal and mountain mothers who protect birth and children, and the dark female, valley spirit of the Taoists”.

On the evening of 2 November, I consulted the Guanyin oracle. I was given verse 81, ‘The Weary Travelers’ (1).

In late fall

Leaves fall from the oaks

And weary travelers leave like migratory birds.

Heaven will protect their journey.

It seems very suited to place and time. In the commentary, Guanyin asks me to “turn away from the busy world” so that “a new spring, blessed by heaven, emerges within for you and your loved ones”. I am offered the image of another journey – seemingly in company, metaphorically on wings – at a time of physical lassitude. There is a promise of blessing, or regeneration, that will also impact on my loved ones.

Guanyin cherishes and helps to awaken her devotees, always challenging us to return to the source and the way. “Her compassion and wisdom offer an exit from the compulsive worlds of greed, lust and power and a return to the true thought of the heart.” In my life, she forms part of a poetry of practice, a poetry that the heart demands, not linked to any external truth claim. As I wrote when I began this phase of my work (2), this is a matter of feeling and imagination, not of cosmology or belief. In this respect, I feel like Soren Kierkegaard, the religious existentialist who talked about loyalty to a ‘subjective truth’ of his own existence, facing the uncertainties of the world with passionate commitment to a way of life.

Throughout my six months of sitting before this altar and exploring Buddhism, the image of Guanyin has kept me both devoted and free-spirited. I have found a Buddhist sangha that I can be part of, but I am not a Buddhist and have no aspiration to make a formal commitment to Buddhism. As an Existentialist, I am a kind of doubting Gnostic, and the ancient Gnostics were people who attached themselves “to various symbol systems and ‘deconstructed’ them in order to orient us toward the gnosis”. My centre is my contemplative inquiry, over which the goddess of wisdom and compassion imaginatively presides. I continue to sit at her altar, and I will consult her oracle from time to time.

(1) Stephen Karcher The Kuan Yin Oracle: The Voice of the Goddess of Compassion London: Piatkus, 2009.  (NB I use the form Guanyin. Stephen Karcher uses Kuan Yin.)

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/sophia-and-guanyin/

 

GARY SNYDER: ‘WILD’

“The word wild is like a grey fox trotting off through the forest, ducking behind bushes, going in and out of site. Up close, first glance, it is ‘wild’ – then further into the woods next glance it’s ‘wyld’ and it recedes and it recedes via Old Norse villr and Old Tuetonic wilthijaz into a faint pre-Tuetonic ghweltijos which means, still, wild and maybe wooded (wald) and lurks back there with possible connections to will, to Latin silva (forest, sauvage) and to the Indo-European root ghwer, base of Latin ferus (feral, fierce), which swings us around to Thoreau’s ‘awful ferity’ shared by virtuous people and lovers. The Oxford English Dictionary has it this way:

Of animals – not tame, undomesticated, unruly

Of plants – not cultivated

Of land – uninhabited, uncultivated

Of foodcrops – produced or yielded without cultivation

Of societies – uncivilized, rude, resisting constituted government

Of individuals – unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, loose. “Wild and wanton widowes”, 1614

Of behavior – violent, destructive, cruel, unruly

Of behavior – artless, free, spontaneous. “Warble his native wood-notes wild” – John Milton

Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what – from a human standpoint – it is not. It cannot be seen by this approach for what is is. Turn it the other way:

Of animals – free agents, each with its own endowments, living in natural systems

Of plants – self-propagating, self-maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities

Of land – a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of non-human forces. Pristine.

Of foodcrops – food supplies made available and sustainable by the natural excess and exuberance of wild plants in their growth and in the production of quantities of fruit and seeds

Of societies – societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societies which resist political and economic domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem

Of individuals – following local custom, style and etiquette without concern for the standards of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self-reliant, independent

Of behavior – freely resisting any oppression, confinement or exploitation. Far-out, outrageous, ‘bad’, admirable.

Of behavior – artless, free, spontaneous, unconditioned. Expressive, physical, openly sexual, ecstatic

Most of the senses in this second set of definitions come close to being how the Chinese define the term Dao, the way of Great Nature: eluding analysis, beyond categories, self-organizing, self-informing, playful, surprising, impermanent, insubstantial, independent, complete, orderly, unmediated, freely manifesting, self-authenticating, self-willed, complex, quite simple. Both empty and real at the same time. In some cases, we might call it sacred. It is not far from the Buddhist term Dharma with its original senses of forming and firming.”

Gary Snyder The Practice of the Wild Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1990

In a preface to the 2010 edition, Gary Snyder describes his path as “a kind of old time Buddhism which remains connected to animist and shamanist roots. Respect for all living beings is a basic part of that tradition. I have tried to teach others to meditate and enter into the wild areas of the mind. … Even language can be seen as a wild system”.

ALAN WATTS: WHO KNOWS?

“Every culture is based on assumptions so taken for granted so that they are barely conscious, and it is only when we study different cultures and languages that we become aware of them. Standard average European (SAE) languages, for example, have sentences so structures that the verb (event) must be set in motion by the noun (thing) – thereby posing a metaphysical problem as tricky, and probably as meaningless, as that of the relation of the mind to body. We cannot talk of ‘knowing’ without assuming that there is some ‘who’ or ‘what’ that knows, not realizing that this is nothing more than a grammatical convention.

“The supposition that knowing requires a knower is based on a linguistic and not an existential rule, as becomes obvious when we consider that raining requires no rainer and clouding no clouder. Thus, when a Chinese speaker receives a formal invitation, he may reply simply with the [single character] word ‘know’, indicating awareness of the event, which they may or may not attend”.

 

Alan Watts Tao: the watercourse way Souvenir Press: undated Amazon Kindle edition (with the collaboration of Al Chung-Liang Huang ; additional calligraphy by Lee Chih-chang)

SOPHIA AND GUANYIN

 

The Moon rising on the indigo sea,

A pearl like a seed.

Open your heart to compassion and change:

The protector will blossom there.

 

Sophia journeyed along the Silk Road to the wild west of China and became the Bodhisattva Guanyin*. In Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva vows to wake up and work for the happiness of sentient beings. At the point of entry to nirvana, or ‘no-wind’, where the hot winds of desire and compulsion are forever stilled, you choose to remain in the world of samsara, the world of illusions that we all inhabit, and fulfil your promised role. This pledge is inaugurated by the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, in which the Buddha’s disciple Avolokitesvara addresses another disciple, Shariputra. Guanyin emerges in history as Avolokitesvara’s female manifestation some hundreds of years later. Her emergence may well be owed to the influence of Sophia, who in that time and place is looked to as a Gnostic redeemer. I am grateful to Stephen Karcher for taking me through the history (1).

“Between 400-600 CE, various sects associated with the ‘great heresy’ of Gnosticism entered Northwest China, driven out of the Mediterranean area by the violent persecution of the Orthodox Church. Gnostics were not really heretic Christians; they were pseudo-Christian just as they were pseudo-Jewish and pseudo-Pagan. They represented an ancient strain of thought that attached itself to various symbol systems and ‘deconstructed’ them to orient us towards the gnosis or direct ‘acquaintance with the spirit’, a practice that may have originated in an old, pre-Rabbinic form of Jewish worship. This Gnostic stream flows through Manichean and Mandaean thought into the great melting pot of North West China, the beginning and end of the Silk Road. …  The Gnostic figure of Sophia the Redeemer who reaches out to awaken the divine spark in each being may have been the catalyst that produced Kuan Yin, the compassionate one, out of her male form Avolokitesvara”.

Once born, Guanyin takes on non-Buddhist characteristics local to the region, including powers such as that of the Mare associated with the K’un Field in the I Ching. She has strong Dragon associations. “These animal powers are still with us in dreams and visions as representatives of the sources of life. They speak with gigantic voices, the movers of the world”. She is also “clothed in the mystery of the Tao, the Taoist valley spirit or ongoing process of the real that nourishes all the myriad beings. … There are many images for this: flowing water, the uncarved block, child, female, mother, valley spirit, dark door, empty vessel, for it is the womb of creation. We can open this space within ourselves and return to the source of all things … [When] we have become empty within, we can return to the source and … watch the Tao shaping the universe out of chaos, while yin and yang continually transform it. When we grasp this process, our whole identity becomes fluid. We become like a spirit, a shen”.

Karcher concludes: “Born from this great spiritual melting pot, partaking of its many traditions, Kuan Yin, the One Who Sees and Hears the Cries of the World, walked forth among the beings she vowed to cherish and enlighten, breaking all sectarian boundaries. She is equally at home with Buddhists, Taoists, Pagans and Gnostics. The stories of her miracles of healing, deliverance and enlightenment have proliferated in East and West. Her compassion and wisdom offer an exit from the compulsive worlds of greed, lust and power and a return to the true thought of the heart.”

One of my attractions to this story is that it identifies the spiritual traditions that have at different times, and indeed the same time, influenced my heart and imagination: Gnosticism, Buddhism, Paganism and Taoism. By implication, it excludes the ones that haven’t: the essentially God fearing Abrahamic traditions and God drunken Vedic ones, including their ‘non-dualist’ presentations. This is a matter of feeling and imagination, not of cosmology or belief. Although I can’t make a complete assimilation of Sophia and Guanyin, their iconography does, for me, help to bind these influences together. “Return to the true thought of the heart” is not a bad summary. I have bought a statue of Guanyin, as a birthday present to myself for later this month. In this statue she sits on a crescent moon, playful and androgynous. It is the note that I am looking for.

  • I use the form Guanyin. Stephen Karcher uses Kuan Yin.

(1) Stephen Karcher The Kuan Yin Oracle: The Voice of the Goddess of Compassion London: Piatkus, 2009

 

HEADLESS ZEN?

“Let go of emptiness and come back to the brambly forest. Riding backwards on the ox, drunken and singing, who could dislike the misty rain pattering on your bamboo raincoat and hat.” Chan Master Hongzhi.

Recently I came across Susan Blackmore’s Zen and the Art of Consciousness (1). Blackmore, though not a Buddhist, works experientially within the Chan tradition (Chan being a Taoist influenced form of Chinese Buddhism, and the precursor of Japanese Zen). It’s how she does her first-person, subjective lifeworld inquiry into consciousness, which she also studies as a cognitive scientist. The book shows her working through ten questions, starting with: ‘Am I conscious now’?

Question 3 is ‘Who is asking the question? Here she brings in Douglas Harding of the Headless Way* and uses some of his experiments. I worked with these last year. I didn’t maintain an ongoing connection with the Headless family for long, mostly because of Harding’s tilt towards self-identification with/as the One cosmic consciousness, as the means dis-identification from ‘self’ at the human level. I’ve discovered that I can’t align myself with it. I don’t want to be God. Yet the ‘headless’ experience and its value have stayed with me. After completing my first Headless Way* pointing experiment, I reported: “pointing out – ‘curtains, folds, blueness, a crack showing light. Right arm. Flesh, tattoos, patterning. Pointing in: nothing: a relief, really, and a joy.” As that work continued, the joy only grew when the exterior view rushed in to fill the space. I say ‘view’ rather than ‘world’ because the world I perceive is a co-creation of the (presumed) outside world and my own (presumed) senses. A bat would have a completely different experience. Still, there was a sense of ‘everything’ filling my nothing at the centre.

Blackmore’s version is this. She describes meditating and looking towards a flower bed. “I paid open attention to everything I could see and hear, and in the space at the top of my shoulders I found no head, only forget-me-nots. I looked for the self who was looking at the forget-me-nots, and simply became them. It was very simple; very obvious”. Blackmore’s subsequent understanding – “what I see is what I am’ – does not as I read it make ‘I am God’ cosmic consciousness claims. Indeed, she is influenced by the philosopher Dan Dennett, who thinks of ‘consciousness’ itself as not just a reification (turning a process into a substance) but an altogether redundant idea. He’s the opposite kind of monist to Douglas Harding.

Some people like to have a line to follow. I like openness, and the possibility of multiple perspectives. I like the gleeful return to the commonsense world indicated by the 12th century Master Hongzhi above. It’s in Blackmore’s book, as part of feedback from her own Chan teacher at a time when she was in relentless pursuit of the problem of consciousness, and may have needed some rebalancing and lightening up in her role as sentient being. I also like the Interbeing approach mapped out in Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on the Heart Sutra (2) and more recent works such as his Love Letter to the Earth (3), with ‘We are the Earth’ as its first section and ‘Healing Steps’ as the second.

I will give the last word to a member of the Headless Way community. This is in the form of a poem by Colin Oliver called the Oneness of Things (4), which for me captures the ‘headless’ experience seamlessly, and – as only poets can – finds room for all of the above:

The sun low over the beach:

shining wires of dune grass,

stones and the shadows of stones.

On the shoreline, the rush of foam

mirrored in the wet sand.

In the oneness of things

I am nowhere in sight.

 

* www.headless.org/

(1) Susan Blackmore Zen and the Art of Consciousness, Oneworld Publications, 2014 (ebook edition)

(2) Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1988

(3) Thich Nhat Hanh Love Letter to the Earth, Berkeley, CA: Parallex Press, 2013

(4) Colin Oliver Nothing but this Moment: selected poems London: Shollond Trust, 2013

SELF AND FULLNESS

In my last post, I discussed an understanding of ‘self’ that draws of the work of Piero Ferrucci *. The same author offers a practice called self-identification. Whilst having similarities with practices from some eastern traditions and their derivatives, this western, Sophian, approach, has a loyalty to human personhood, avoiding the potentially dissociative doctrines of no-self or a purely transcendent ‘I AM’.

Ferrucci says: “the self is the part of us that can watch any content of the psyche without getting caught up in its atmosphere.” The idea is simply to dis-identify from the contents of consciousness and identify with consciousness itself.

SELF-IDENTIFICATION PRACTICE

  1. Become aware of your body

For some time just notice in a neutral way – and without trying to change them – all the physical sensations you can be conscious of: e.g. contact of your body with the chair you are sitting on, your feet with the ground, of your clothes with your skin. Be aware of your breathing.

When you have explored your physical sensations long enough, leave them and go on to the next step.

  1. Become aware of your feelings

What feeling are you experiencing right now? And what are the main feelings you experience recurrently in your life? Consider both the apparently positive and negative ones: love and irritation; jealousy and tenderness; depression and elation … Do not judge. Just view your usual feelings with the objective attitude of a scientific investigatory taking an inventory.

When you are satisfied, shift your attention from this area to the next step.

  1. Turn your attention to your desires

Adopting the same impartial attitude as before, review the main desires which take turns in motivating your life. Often you may well be identified with one or the other of these, but now you simply consider them, side by side.

Finally, leave your desires and continue with the next step.

  1. Observe the world of your thoughts

As soon as a thought emerges, watch it until another one takes its place, then another one, and so on. If you think that you are not having any thoughts, realize that this too is a thought. Watch your stream of consciousness as it flows by: memories, opinions, nonsense, arguments, images.

Do this for a couple of minutes, then dismiss this realm as well from observation.

  1. The observer – the one who has been watching your sensations, feelings, desires and thoughts – is not the same as the object it observes. Who is it that has been observing all these realms? It is your self. It is not an image or a thought; it is that essence which has been observing all these realms and yet is distinct from all of them. And you are that being. Say inwardly: ‘I am the self, a centre of pure consciousness’.

Seek to realize this for about two minutes.

In this definition,  ‘the self’ is our underlying experience of  “crystal clear, limpid consciousness”. Learning to elicit the experience in full may take a while, but we are that self all the time. Experiencing the self does not mean blotting out all the other contents of consciousness. Feelings and thoughts may still be coming and going, but now they are in the background of awareness. While the self is by definition pure inner silence, it does not necessarily take us away from our everyday moods and activities. On the contrary, “it can increasingly manifest an effective presence and self-reliance. in daily life”.

Further possibilities unfold as we increase our self-awareness in this sense. Ferrucci says that as pure consciousness gains in clarity and fullness, we “make a direct approach to the creative vitality at the very source of our being”. The ways in which people describe this vary with time and place, language and culture. In ancient China, philosophers spoke of the Tao, whilst warning against attempts to define it. In the Pagan Roman Empire, Plotinus described an experience that seemed “unbounded” and “totally immeasurable”. A millennium later in Christian England, Julian of Norwich wrote: “Our Lord opened my spiritual eye and showed me my soul in the middle of my heart, and I saw the soul was as wide as if it were an infinite world, as if it were a blessed kingdom.”

In my own experience, I have for quite a while had a sense of being ‘living presence in a field of living presence’. The ‘emptiness’ of pure consciousness becomes a ‘fullness’. I profoundly belong. I am energetically alive. I sense freedom and capacity. I feel distinctive within a larger field, yet with fluid and porous boundaries. I am opened to I-Thou relationship and the possibility of reciprocal recognition, personhood’s greatest gift.

As a contemplative exercise,  I find self-identification –  leading  on to a ‘fullness’ or ‘just being’ phase’ – profoundly valuable. It takes me half an hour and it seeds clarity and fullness in my daily life.

 

*Piero Ferrucci What we may be: the vision and techniques of psychosynthesis Wellingborough: Crucible, 1989

 

GROUNDED

Where do I stand with contemplative Druidry, this Lammas-tide?

My recent Headless Way (1) experience has had the force of a conversion, and I have to re-draw my internal maps.  Interestingly, I now find myself grounded with tendonitis in my left heel. I probably haven’t experienced an actual rupture, and so I am likely to be grounded for “weeks rather than months”. Still, ample space for managing transformation.

One of the things I am doing is to look back at key steps on the way. For instance, in my introduction to Contemplative Druidry (2), I talked of “practices that support a fuller presence within the stream of passing experience … contemplation in its fullest sense enables a transfigured here-and-now, and the dissolving of subject/object distinctions within it”. I mentioned how the contemplation of a wild rose on the banks of the Tweed had triggered such a dissolving, and how this had morphed into a blissful peak experience lasting for some weeks. But I was also clear that such an experience should be framed as an occasional grace, pointing beyond self as commonly understood, and not accessible at will.

This perfectly illustrates why Douglas Harding’s style of Headless Seeing has been a game changer for me. The core experience is readily accessible – i can recognise my true nature, the greater I, at will, through simple Seeing. I am no longer a seeker. In a form of brief contemplative practice,  I see clear awake space and capacity for the world. Since there is no doubt or issue about what I see, the open questions concern capacity for the world. In my human life, in place and time, what capacity do I manifest? Where do I put my energy?

Here I stand, spiritually committed to a contemporary iteration of the Sophia perennis known as the Headless Way.  In terms of ancient wisdom, I’ve understood that there are two continuing lines of tradition that relevantly sustain me. Their pull is largely intuitive and emotional rather than via actual doctrines. One is Christian Gnosticism, theist and often dualist though it may be. The other is the interweaving of Taoist and Chan Buddhist culture in China. There are people and writings in other traditions that I also value, but those are ones I look at with most care.

I do not, now, expect to be in business with any kind of Shamanism, or to have a practitioner relationship with the British/Irish ‘indigenous’ spirituality of any ethnic group or from any pre-Christian period. Of course I continue to be blessed by a level of knowledge and appreciation; they are part of me, in that sense. But that’s as far as it goes. I have let go of my role as a mentor on the OBOD distance learning course (3). I could continue to understand and support people, very congruently, but for me the difference between their practitioner lives and mine has grown too great over the last six months or so. I couldn’t carry on. It didn’t seem right.

On the other hand, what we do in contemplative Druidry is different. Following our learning from Contemplative Druidry our practices support a modern (romantic? post-modern?) ‘nature mysticism’ revolving around forms of lean ritual, group meditation, being/walking in nature and creative arts. I’m entirely up for this, whether it continues under the name of Druidry or not. This is something to work through with my companions in that arena.

The time to leave an activity is when I am no longer learning or contributing. But I want to be accurate in my assessments, and to avoid errors stemming from the force of change, especially letting go of things that I would do better to keep and re-integrate into a new whole.  A time of joy and breakthrough, needing careful navigation.

(1)  Headless Way http://www.headless.org

(2) James Nichol (2014) Contemplative Druidry: people, practice and potential Amazon/KDP (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm Deep peace of the quiet Earth: the nature mysticism of Druidry)

(3) Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) http://www.druidry.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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