A Model of Experiencing

In the foreground of my experience is a burning, stabbing, pain in the left shoulder, radiating to just above the elbow and then further down into the index finger. The experience itself is beyond words, is what it is. Though I can describe it – burning, throbbing – words are not part of what I feel. The experience is unpleasant, and a moment ago I had a strong reaction of aversion. Along with that came thoughts of disapproval, anger, and generally wanting for the experience to not be there.

Now that I give myself to feeling it, though the unpleasantness is still there, there is very little to no rejection of the sensations. I can explore them further and, like a cluster of stars in the night sky, different places of discomfort group together to seemingly form a pattern. Aching in the left index finger, a stabbing pain just above the left shoulder blade, a similar pain in the middle of my back on the left side towards my buttocks. These three areas are connected, the discomfort clearly interdependent.

As soon as I let go of the aversion (or should I say: as soon as I am interested and the aversion fades away), I have opportunity to explore the sensations in their many facets. Suddenly I become aware of breathing and how the breath moves towards the pain in the shoulder. Aware of the movement of breath, I also become aware of new expectations and the mind becomes active: maybe this will take care of the pain. Aversion is flaring up a bit again and with it the desire to get rid of the discomfort.

The expectation that the pain go away makes it hard to feelingly be with it. I may not be able to get rid of this expectation, but I notice that what’s happening in the shoulder happens independently of desires. Could I allow it? Can I let it take its course? I notice that I now want for the breath to be there instead of allowing it to be there. I’m tempted to push it that way. Instead of allowing and reflecting, I expect and want for something specific to happen.

Then I drop into a different place, without doing. Suddenly, that peaceful darkness in my lower belly outshines all other sensation. Unmoved but holding it all together, it is the silence at the center of my experience, subtly but persistently radiant.

I realize that, though I describe these experiences as happening one after the other, they might as well happen at once: allowing and pushing, expecting and experiencing, being, stillness.

I’ve been working with an image lately that describes this process quite accurately. In this image Earth is the place of experiencing, drawn as a circle with a cross, the actuality of here and now. The Moon circling the Earth symbolizes momentum and mood. Together they circumambulate the Sun in an elegant dance.

  • The dynamic dance of the moon around earth and sun makes for a wild ride, easily causing serious nausea. It is just like that when I am swept away by emotions. Though I often seek that thrill and sometimes enjoy it, it more often than not is a source of much distress.
  • The experience of living on earth is constantly changing too, but her center of gravity provides a focal point that keeps me balanced in the midst of activity.
  • The heart of our solar system, like my lower belly, is a centering force and a source of joy beyond the pleasures of the dance of moon and earth.

Much of the time I seem to be dwelling on moon, being swept back and forth between expectation and disappointment, looking for pleasant experiences on earth: instant gratification. I’m happy when things go my way, while the unexpected throws me out of kilter: when I like what’s happening, I go for it, when I dislike it, I fight.

However: When I am able to move from  reacting to what is happening to the actual earthly experience, then I become grounded in the midst of movement, at home with earth. Things are still pleasant or unpleasant but I respond from a place of connection, engaging with the moment’s occurrences rather than reacting emotionally to their feeling tone.

Beyond the realm of like and dislike there is a place of being, unmoved by the moment’s moods. The quivering heart of the solar system, the sun, is not detached from daily life, but rather its collecting hub, holding it all together and flooding it with joy.

This radiant still-point is often hidden by clouds (especially if you live in New England). But that does not mean the sun is not there. Sight is but one way of perceiving what is. Taking time to come to living from the heart of the matter is crucial for well being. Not once a day but over and again. Because it is always here, it really doesn’t take any time to get to. Yet it does need practice or the cloud-cover will distract us. The entrance door is sensing, the felt and engaged awareness of our moment to moment experience – living on earth. From there we might awaken to that centering force which, like gravity, penetrates everything persistently with its radiance. I may call it being but, ultimately, it has no words or images and is largely a mystery to me (though only when thinking about it).

Images. Useful for reflection. Now it is time to leave the gallery of representations and plunge into living again, where sun and moon and earth and pain and joy are one in a continuous, vibrant, dance – nameless but known.

Of Wantings and Occurings

or
What I Feel Drawn To and What I’m Supposed To Do
An October Walk

I’m sitting at the base of my old friend the Ponderosa Pine,
off Chamisa Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
I want to be present, present for the tree touching my back,
present for the play of light and shadow on the pine needle covered forest floor.
Present to the wind brushing against my face.

I want to be still – but I’m not.

The ground under my buttocks is cool.
The cool makes itself known, it wants to be present too.
As does the wind, the sound of wind and trees in their interplay.
Now the sound of an airplane.
And then my doubts: is what I’m doing useful?

My eyes are searching – for what? An answer?
They are not seeing the trees – now they are. Barely.
When I look at a tree and see the tree,
why does it seem to me that I’m still not seeing it?
Because I’m caught in my mind, caught in wanting to see the tree.

Breathing makes itself known now as my eyes close.
It seems to me that I am locked into this individualized mind.
Now I hear voices from other hikers.
What makes itself known: voices,
the sound of the wind, the feel of the wind on my ear, cold,
the green of the tiny, wiggling sprout of a pine in front of me,
breathing, doubt, ridicule.
Is this self-involved? I don’t know! It looks like it.
Breathing… Pain in my knee, itch, and I scratch.

The thought that I want to be completely connected to nature,
to the tree in my back, absorbed in that.
Knowing his presence, and I guess wanting him to know mine.
And I wish there was a way for me to know that the tree knows I am here.
For how many decades have I been looking for this.
For what?
A simple response from my mother: yes I see you?
A simple response from nature: yes I feel you?
To belong.

The ground under me, the tree in my back, the wind on my cheeks,
for someone to say: yes I know you are here, I’m aware of you.
Searching – my eyes are searching.
Is this why my senses are so keen?
I’m looking out, I’m feeling out, I’m hearing out,
and thinking out for this voice that says: yes you are here and you are received.
My mother? God? Nature? My father?

Is it useful to ponder all these things?
I tend to think it would be better to just be present in my belly,
in that place that is just fine, but the next moment I’m pulled out by longing,
pulled out by aversion, and drawn out by confusion.
I seem to think that I should be able to be completely with the wind on my nose
and the call of the crow.

But fickle is attention, going every which way.
I want to control it.
In this thinking mind going every which way I have this idea or image
of what it means to be present.
These longings going every which way are not part of this idea.

How much I want to tweak my experience.
But am I not supposed to be fully present,
connected to the woods, connected to the ground?
I’m not supposed to be thinking about things.
Breathing.
This is not about me, this is about a process of consciousness.
Doubt.

Wanting – and then immediately the thought: I shouldn’t be wanting.
But I am, it is!
The sound of the wind again in the trees, in my ears,
brushing of wind against my ears.
Should I stop my mind from wandering?
Can I? Should I? I don’t know.
I think I should, and I think I shouldn’t.
I think I would be happier,
I think I shouldn’t have any preferences.
That’s all thinking has to offer: contradictory options.

I want to stop myself from wanting, but I cannot. When I want, I want.
I cannot even stop myself from wanting to stop myself from wanting.
But if I can know these wantings right away, that feels right.

I can turn my attention to the floor, to the ground under my feet,
feeling it, hearing it – and there is complete peace in that.
There is peace in my belly, so silent and sweet.
There is peace in seeing, so beautiful.
Even the pain in my knee is peace.

But I refuse to make peace with wanting.
It is so unpleasant – so alluring.

I long for absorption in concentration, one pointed awareness.
But if there is any absorption,
it is in the multitude of directions I feel drawn to, pulled to.

Walking now, I hear my steps.
I am passing by a snag, I am passing by all these trees,
I can feel the longing in my eyes,
I can feel my gaze bouncing back as it were and I see not the tree but myself,
my longing, my wanting, my desire for a particular experience,
my desire to be one.

And I hate myself for having that desire,
I despise myself for not being able to do it, to be one,
and I am amazed by all of this.
So much confusion!
Grateful to awaken to this too.

I look at the trees like a hungry ghost, wanting something, some satisfaction.
It is as though the hunger in my eyes, my hunger, makes it impossible to see
– but maybe that is just another idea, because
here I see a tree, here I see a snag, I see the trail
and there is wanting, like fog over it all,
lifting for moments of clarity
– that is not nothing.

Meditation (or Sensory Awareness for that matter) as I understand it, means to connect, being connected in a nonreactive way. This is not a passive state, it is full participation, non-manipulating participation. To be aware of something means to be engaged with it. There cannot be awareness without engagement. I can engage by fully embracing what is there, respecting “the other’s” presence because it is present just as “I” am. Pain in my left shoulder. Uncomfortable – but here it is. A fly on my forehead – irritating – but here it is. Brushing it away is fine too. Now I can hear her buzzing around my head – not much less irritating. Now the fly is sitting on my pants I can see it but I cannot feel it – not irritating. I look at it and in that moment I see that it is here just like I am here. No story necessary.