pointers can be perilous

Perilous?  Why?  Because it’s so easy to forget that so-called ‘pointers’ are made-up stories that never tell the whole story; they can never open up the whole view.  Why?  Because, like all thoughts, they are limited.  They may be briefly effective as an antidote to another outworn concept; they may shift our focus to a new story that seems to expand our understanding.
But mostly they just fizz around in their own isolated and fragmented way like mental bullies, ostracising other idea-bubbles that dare question their superior understanding.  What’s more, pointers can easily become addictive.  How?  Unless they are seen for what they are, they play right into thought’s conviction that there must be One Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
(Thought wasn’t satisfied with ’42’ for long. LOL)

Pointers should come with a warning: Beware, extended habitual usage may cause blinkered vision.

Hanabusa Itcho: Blind Monks Examining an Elephant
With her characteristic penetrating insight, Joan Tollifson reminds us that no matter where we find ourselves right now in our exploration of existence, we can only be aware of a nano-portion of the immensity of aliveness:  “Nothing is just one way.”

Joan writes:

Very often, people read or hear something—and this pointer triggers a profound insight or shift for them.  Something opens and clarifies.  They see the truth of what is being pointed out.  But then, very often, they fixate on the pointer and make it into a dogma.  I see people do this all the time with a number of popular pointers: the idea that there is no choice, the idea that there is no self, the idea that there is nothing to do and no one to do it and therefore any practice or exploration (such as meditation or inquiry) automatically reinforces the false self, the idea that there is no such thing as awareness, the idea that awareness is the ultimate reality, the idea that there is no way to describe the living reality and therefore anything anyone says (other than that) is false and should be dismissed, and probably a few others I’m not remembering at the moment. Each of these ideas points to a truth (or an aspect) about the nature of reality that can be directly realized. The mistake comes when people fixate on the pointer and land on one side of a false, dualistic, conceptual divide (choice or no choice, self or no self, practice or no practice, effort or effortlessness, something to do or nothing to do, something that survives death or nothing that survives death, the world is real or the world is unreal, and so on). 

Pointers are useful, but they become a hindrance when we fixate on them and turn them into fundamentalist dogmas.  It’s easy to see this tendency when it shows up “out there” in fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam, but it’s harder to see it in ourselves.  We think we’re beyond all that.  But I see this dogmatic fixation and fundamentalism happening all the time in the nondual subculture.  We fixate, for example, on the notion that there is no choice, that everything is a choiceless happening, that there is no individual chooser.  This is a very liberating discovery, a profound insight. But it’s only a partial truth—reality itself can’t be boxed up that way.  And if we fixate on that as the whole truth, then if anyone dares to speak of “choosing” in any way whatsoever, we instantly pounce.  Wrong!  We tell them. We don’t listen anymore to what the person is actually saying.  Our mind has already been made up.  We’ve landed. We’re stuck on one side of an imaginary divide, identified with a particular formulation, ready to defend it to the death.  I’ve certainly seen this tendency in myself at times—it’s quite human.  It’s how the mind habitually works.

Some people look at the list of recommended books that I include on my website and wonder how on earth I can reconcile such seemingly opposite viewpoints.  As I say at the top of that page, “This list includes books from a variety of different perspectives, and in many cases, they may seem to contradict each other. Some of them say that life (including you and your whole spiritual journey) is nothing but a dream-like illusion, while others say this present happening is all there is.  Some insist that there is nothing to do other than exactly what is happening, while others offer some kind of apparent process, practice or method for waking up.  Some seem to suggest that “you” have the power of choice, while others say that everything is the result of infinite causes and conditions and that there is no one apart from this whole happening to direct or control it.  Some say liberation is found in the realization of complete impermanence while others insist it comes with the recognition of that which never changes.  Who has it right?  What should you believe?  No words or concepts can capture reality.  Maps are useful, but they can only describe and point to the territory itself.  Eating the meal is what nourishes you, not reading the menu.  Take what resonates and leave the rest behind.  Don’t believe anything you read, but instead, question, look, listen, feel into it, and see for yourself.  The book that wakes you up one day may lull you to sleep the next. Always be ready to see something new and unexpected.” 

I want to encourage all of us to stay open to new possibilities, to seeing things in a new way, to questioning our assumptions and conclusions.  It’s easy, especially if you’ve written Facebook posts or books or been teaching something one way for twenty or thirty years, to feel uneasy about seeing things differently or changing your mind!  How will that look?  What will people think of you?  But who cares?  In fact, this living reality is no way in particular.  It is ever-changing, evolving, dancing, vibrating, unfolding—while at the same time never leaving Here-Now.  It never resolves into some final package, some ultimate formulation. There is no finish-line on this pathless path from Here to Here, no definitive model or map that captures reality. What all true pointers are pointing to is the living reality, and the living reality is ALIVE—fluid, spacious, open, ungraspable.  It’s not frozen or solid or one way only.  It can’t be pinned down.  To take but one example, unlike the picture of it in an anatomy book, the living breathing human body is porous, ever-changing, moving, pulsating, oozing, circulating, being born and dying moment to moment at every level, and utterly inseparable from its so-called environment.  It is more like a verb than a noun.  No map is the same as the territory it describes.  Whatever we say (choice or no choice), it can never capture the ungraspable, unresolvable, indeterminate, living totality that it attempts to describe.

Sometimes everything opens up when we hear a teacher say that there is nothing to do.  And at another time (or for someone else), everything opens up when we meditate or engage in meditative inquiry of various kinds.  Sometimes formal meditation is helpful.  Sometimes it becomes a hindrance.  Sometimes we need to hear there is no choice, and sometimes we need to hear that there is a choice.  Nothing is just one way.  A good teacher pulls the rug out from under wherever we try to land.  If we assert there is no choice, they push us to see how there is.  If we insist there is a choice, they point out that there isn’t.  We can’t pin them down.  They don’t fixate.  They don’t offer rugs to stand on—they pull all the rugs out from under us.

There’s a great Zen story in which the teacher and student have been talking late into the night, and finally the teacher tells the student it’s time for the student to leave and go back to his sleeping quarters.  The student opens the door and says, “It’s very dark outside.”  The teacher offers the student a lighted candle to find his way home.  Just as the student receives the light, the teacher blows it out.

www.joantollifson.com
This piece was originally posted on Joan’s Facebook page; it is shared with her kind permission.


I can’t help but think of the parable of the blind men and an elephant, which, according to Wikipedia, “originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent, from where it has been widely diffused.”  It tells the story of six blind sojourners that come across different parts of an elephant in their life journeys.  In turn, each blind man creates his own version of reality from that limited experience and perspective.

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) penned a poetic version called Blind Men and the Elephant:

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,-
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

MORAL,

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


Poem source

Image: Hanabusa Itchō (英 一蝶, 1652 – 1724), Blind Monks Examining an Elephant, Ukiyo-e print.
Source


when you know yourself

Rajasthan, India, Tantric Painting

 

when you know yourself

you know that there is nothing that is not God

you know that the face of God
is the Face of faces
you know It as both He and She
and neither: nada
you know It as the Beloved
whose embrace you can’t escape
you know Its Presence as your
absence, or rather,
your secret sensuous melting
into the ever-nowness of your aliveness

when you know yourself

you know that there is nothing
that is not this immeasurable immensity,
always hiding in plain view

you know It as the Nameless One
wearing any nametag with equal delight,
quivering like a child’s smile
simply to be noticed

Beloved
when you know yourself

you know that there is nothing that is not yourself

– miriam louisa


Image – Hindu Tantric painting, Rajasthan, India. Made using tempera, gouache, and watercolor on salvaged papers, these paintings from Rajasthan form a distinct lexicon dating back to the 17th century. They were/are used to awaken heightened states of consciousness. They are not produced for commercial purposes, but simply pinned up on the wall for use in private meditation.
In the example above, the lingam and the yoni have swapped their traditional colour depictions; the intense black of the lingam has become pink and the pink of the yoni is now black. (Lest we forget that the Dance of Consciousness is infinitely mutable, utterly defying all labels.)
The lingam represents Shiva, the transcendental source of all that exists; the yoni is the creative power of nature and represents the goddess Shakti.  The lingam united with the yoni represents the nonduality of immanent reality and transcendental potentiality.

Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan


 

please take these offerings

They often sneak up on me at this time of the year – a gaggle of words-wanting-shared. Yes, it’s birthday time – not a blog birthday, but another tick in the annual count for she-who-scribbles while her spacecraft steers itself around the sun…

Birthdays are a good time to reflect on one’s blessings, and to offer gratitude to our friends for their kindness and thoughtfulness. I always begin my birthday with a gesture of thanks to my mother, who not only gave me the miraculous opportunity for life, but also fostered, nourished and inspired the flourishing of that life in every way possible.

Now in my eighth decade, and delighting in life regardless of its curved balls, I feel to share some of the observations that have delivered me to this joy. It’s the best I can offer; may your mind and heart be able to receive.

Image source - https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/BoneStructure/

 

Life hurts.
But what you are never feels pain.

Everything changes.
But what you are remains unchanged, eternally.

You’re flat and exhausted and depressed.
But what you are is forever poised as equanimity.

You’re broke, stressed, squeezed dry, homeless and hungry.
But what you are is unaffected and impartial.

You’re smashed by disappointment, betrayal, abandonment.
But what you are is ever calm, accepting and unbroken.

You’re afflicted by physical and mental aberrations, abnormalities, imbalances.
But what you are never suffers for one second.

 

So what you are is clearly something with which you need to become very familiar. And it’s e-a-s-y to do so. You don’t need a formal introduction. You don’t need a manual or a map or a guide book. You don’t need to change your religion or your beliefs (although changes may well occur as a result). You don’t need a 12-step plan or a meditation practice.

What you are is more obvious and closer than the tip of your nose. It’s the one experience you can never escape, 24/7.

What would you call that? Your aliveness? Your awareness? Your presence? All these words come close, but none are ultimately true or exact. Why?

Because they aren’t yours. Or mine. Or anyone’s. Drop the personal pronoun, and there you are – radiant all-knowing alive presence. The Light of Knowingness, self-luminous, always-on, never-needing fuel or flint…

And that is what you are – free, fulfilled and flourishing as all you conceive, perceive and experience. All of it.

How wondrous that this is possible – that this primordial awareness is huge enough to hold the entirety of creation, excluding nothing – yet be unaffected and unmoved by any expression of its handmaiden, consciousness.

It is truly The Beloved, the Godhead of the saints and sages and poets.

And it is what you are.

 


Image source


 

kitchen sink epiphany

In her book When Fear Falls Away Jan Frazier gives us a privileged, intimate view of her mundane daily experiences in the light of her awakening. This little extract is from a piece she wrote titled “A Visceral Experience of Immortality: April 22.” In it, she is happily doing the dishes when she suddenly understands something “fundamental about existence”; a long-held idea moves from the concept compartment and becomes an experienced reality.

It brought to mind the words my mother uttered (shortly after she announced she was “going to die now”) as I leaned over her, whispering my thanks for being the perfect mother and friend to me:

But I always will be – it never ends!

kitchen sink epiphany

I was standing at the sink doing the dishes, chanting, looking out the window. The kitchen sink is turning out to be the place where great realisations seem to happen. I love to chant, and I love to look out the window at the green world, where at a moment’s notice a creature might amble into the yard, its feet quick over the new grass, the sniffing nose collecting data, gathering intelligence of possible danger, possible food. I love the window. Do I love washing dishes? Well, I do. It is what gives me an excuse to look out the window and chant.

So I was doing that this morning, happy as could be. Tingly with happiness. (I get like this a lot.) I was feeling a really sustained surge of delight at simply being alive. The world outside the window pouring into my eyes, my nostrils, every possible portal – and I felt myself pouring out into the world. And I thought how great it is to be conscious, to be alive. I said to myself, I’m so glad to be alive. Consciousness is a total gas. I just want this to go on and on.

And that’s when I realised it. Viscerally, I mean, for the first time in my life. Oh my God, it IS going to go on. Forever. THIS is what keeps steady, this very sensation – even past death. I won’t have to do without, ever.

I have believed this for a long time, belief being a thing that lives in the mind. I have had the idea of immortality, of continuity between physical life and post-physical life. But that moment in front of the sink, experiencing the very body of continuity, I realised something: I only thought I got it before, the idea of consciousness being eternal. But I never really got it before, not until right this second.

I couldn’t get over it. I never have to stop! Body or not. This will be my experience, clear past death – which will be a little road bump, if I even notice it.

Jan Frazier

When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening


If you enjoy Jan’s writing, you might be interested in another excerpt (on undivided perception) I posted over on the awakened eye:

I’ve lost track of which is which


Photo credit: katherinecollette.com


getting ready to be 99

Yesterday I went to visit my mother’s big brother, Uncle Rowl. I found him settled in a comfy armchair enjoying his morning tea. He lives at an aged care facility in Tauranga, and next week he’ll celebrate his 99th birthday.

It’s deeply touching to spend time with a wise old man whose blue eyes still twinkle like they did when he was a young buck. His mind is tired and wanders a bit; his body is worn out and happy to rest. But the aliveness that lives him hasn’t changed one bit – our eyes meet and IT is all there is, beaming brilliantly.

It seems to me that for Uncle (and it was the same for Mum) life is an adventure in downsizing. Born and raised on a huge high country sheep station in the South Island, he stepped down just a notch onto his own farm where, with his wife he would raise a family, drive his team of Clydesdales, be a prosperous sheep farmer and a very creative gardener. I remember a big farmhouse filled with fine furniture and the ever-present aromas of country home-cooking wafting out of the kitchen.

Retirement saw him step down much further as he moved into a suburban home – with the garden of his dreams. When the dream became a burden rather than a joy, he moved into a villa with a smaller patch to play with in a retirement village. The next step down was into a serviced apartment within the complex, with just a few potted friends on the terrace, and nursing care at hand. Now he’s in a small en-suite room closer to the nurses’ station and he tells me with obvious delight, “I have nothing!”

He’s radiant. So like his sister, my beloved mother. All that’s left is the beaming luminosity of life itself. As I leave him he settles into his sun-drenched chair beside the window. “How lovely!” he says softly.

Yes, I think. How utterly perfect.

I fold my hands and bow.


worlds and gods will disappear but this will not


how to start the day on spaceship earth

Begin your life, begin each day, begin a session of meditation, nourished by the experience of being seamlessly part of a vast living world.  Before even getting out of bed, pause for a few moments to feel the rhythm of your breathing and settle into the deep interior sensations of your body, an extraordinary community of tens of trillions of cells – all ‘talking’ to each other. Imagine uncountable cellular beings, each of them replicating, travelling, repairing, maintaining, eating, breathing, excreting, forming alliances and symbiotic associations, all functioning together in the process that is your body.

You are alive!  Not only that, but the community that is you, at this very moment is interbeing with myriad other communal beings.  Feel this billion year unfolding of embodied mystery.  In Buddhism, to enter this remembrance is to touch the essence of what is called ‘refuge’; a deep sense of belonging; a vivid acquiescence to participating in a living process that can never be completely mapped out.

Everything that you think, do and feel, has an affect on other beings.  You matter.  We matter.  Everyone matters.  Remembering our roots, or releasing into refuge, can bring a sense of abiding in a way of deep acceptance, wonderment and utter inclusiveness.  This moment before you roll out of bed is a time to feel your own unique sense of being enmeshed in and supported by, the living community of everything and everyone that makes up this world.

~ Tarchin Hearn

www.greendharmatreasury.org/blog/

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