THE BUS IS ON IT’S WAY to a place on the edge of town. There’s an English class I agreed to do for a teacher who’s on holiday, so I’ve not been down this way before; just highway and the lake all along the left side, mile after mile of flat water. It’ll take 20 minutes; not many stops on this route, no interruptions so I can try to slow down everything in ‘mind’ and see how that goes. Focus on the breath, getting comfortable, sounds and movements all around and some memory suddenly presents itself, related to something I was thinking about earlier. It must have been one of those ‘in-between’ things – how did that happen? The mind finds the space between moments?
Then back to the rumble and noise of the bus and busy with the confused flow of thoughts, moving from one scenario to another, trying to get everything to quieten down. No good saying: I don’t want to have these thoughts, because the mind state of ‘not wanting’ causes me to become even more attached to the confusion and I cannot easily disengage from the activity. So, leave that be and look for that space between thoughts – find refuge in that quiet space – it’s the only way. And there it is, the space that’s absent of thought: the space-in-between.
So, the way out is to be found by looking for the space in between. It’s prepositional? Reminded of a line from Ajahn Munindo’s commentary on Dhammapada Verse 380: ‘… carefully feeling our way into, around, over and under, the many moments of obstruction, life teaches us how to let go….’ [NEW MOON – Wednesday 18th July 2012] On either side and all around is the ‘busy-ness’ of thought and outside is the bus speeding along. Depending on what’s going on, the focus can move through these items of thought like a bird flutters through a tree – and still I’m in the space-in-between.
The bus engine is in top gear and accelerating. There’s an irregular swaying and I can focus on that and see the inner landscape at the same time. Focus on one item of thought and at the same time there is sufficient focus on another item of thought to be able to see it’s possible to be focused on both at the same time. It moves and changes and there’s a bit more focus on one than the other but I am able to see awareness can be in two or more places at the same time or it’s an awareness of one item of thought that includes awareness of another.
There’s a curiosity about this because it helps in getting relief from pain. I can momentarily ease back from the thought of a painful, aching back muscle for example, thinking, if there’s awareness of the painful back muscle, there’s another awareness that knows this – what is this ‘other’ awareness? There’s that small in-between space again that allows me to consider this; I’m seeing it from somewhere else. The reaction to the pain may have caused me to stumble upon this secret; this space-in-between. I just didn’t know how to get to it before.
It means I can be engaged in some kind of attachment and at the same time be aware that it is happening. I have another location from which I can be focused and the thinking process surrounding that clinging scenario can be observed from that ‘other’ location. If it’s seen, the attachment is less demanding (or not demanding at all) and without anything to which it can adhere, it ceases to be – gradually it’s just not there anymore. This awareness can be applied to everything. It is possible to contemplate the state of the body and it is possible to contemplate the mind contemplating this. Given time and the right circumstances, the various characteristics of the constructed ‘self’ can be seen. And, beyond that, everything that led to this….
In the meantime, if it all gets swept away in the confused traffic of thought again, it’s reasonable to say, OK, time to be absent now and the space-in-between is always there. Bus is approaching my stop, I gather my things and get ready to get off.
[Image: detail from a photo by Louk Vreeswijk]