POSTCARD#474: I’ve been looking through my old notebooks, hard-to-read handwriting, scribbled in urgency many years ago – the stream of consciousness, where everything seemed to carry meaning. Not enough space to outline the vast wholeness. This was before our days of phone cameras and scanners. No internet, only books in the library, photocopies for a charge per page. It was all heavy and slow but this was normal for us, we didn’t know anything different. No email, no text-messaging, etc. Only letters folded into an envelope, lick-stick-on stamp… thump, and post in the mail box, then wait for days for a reply…
I left the West in 1982 and that’s how things were then, very different from the East. I used to like to select a postcard to send, a picture on one side; blue sky, a beach, palm trees and on the other side; space for the address, exotic stamps, and not much room left to write. Minimalist choice of words to express what you want to say to the other person, to read and reflect on the present moment and how it is there and then, compared with how it is here and now, in this different place and time. Then stamp… thump, post in the mail box, and there was no reply, usually. The postcard message is a statement… this is how things are. The present moment stretching out into the future and back into the past.
A prevailing sense of Self, of course, running through every part of the configuration – leading to unwholesome attachment to all kinds of unhappy mental states. That’s how it was in Northern Europe, the belief in the self was encouraged. We were not taught about meditation, and structuring the mind in order to see the ‘self’ is a fiction the mind creates. Instead we just muddled along and I could see something was not quite right, but most of the time I was living in a dream; the deluded not-knowing state and random karma: ‘a tangled skein of thread, a woven nest of birds, a thicket of bamboo and reeds…’ The thinking thing gets a hold, loves it, hates it; tries to control it, tries to figure it out.
But I found the way out, I was lucky enough to have a friend and got a few books that helped me understand. Also, meditation where the self is seen for what it is; it appears sometimes, holding on to Mind and Body and if you don’t let it get attached, then it’s gone: “… the ‘I’ exists conceptually, dependent on mind and body, not an entity in itself (Dalai Lama). So the Buddha, the Dalai Lama and other enlightened beings are saying, there is no self. That’s how it is if you’ve reached “… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha) “— SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca).
For the rest of us still engaged in unhelpful attachment, it’s hard to let go of our years of conditioning. My difficulty with practising ‘no-self’ had been extricating myself from the Judeo-Christian conditioning that assumes the existence of an eternal soul. It still haunts me some nights but I’m okay about that now. I understand everything that arises, ceases. “All dharmas (phenomena) arise in dependence upon other dharmas: ‘if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.’” In other words; if you can accurately remove the cause, then the suffering falls away.
Often it takes place in an unexpected way, the problem is gone and in its place an empty space – the strangeness of it, a luminosity and awareness of immensity. Sometimes it happens if I’m in a dangerous situation say, fast moving traffic behaving in a wild sort of way, I look into the mind and there is this stretched-out present moment! I’m excited and watchful. A trembling awakenedness, it’s like that place,” the zone,” that athletes refer to – not always reachable but I’ve been there, and understand better now, the meaning of the word, ‘śūnyatā,’ when the little sense of ‘me’ is gone and there is only consciousness.
There are different ways of understanding the word ‘consciousness’ and describing the experience, Ajahn Sumedho calls it ‘unsupported consciousness, an awareness that’s different from the basic functions of consciousness,’ when you are interacting with the world; distant from the usual state of simply being aware of what’s going on in the body/mind.
And beyond all of that is the unsupported consciousness. It’s there that my curiosity is drawn. The thinking mind disappears, no boundaries, a non-conceptual experience… an omnipresent consciousness all through the centuries of present ‘moment-ness’ and there’s so much more to be said about this.
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