Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Reality, ultimate reality, is free from all adjectives.”
This is an essential point: reality isn’t this or that, reality isn’t good or bad, reality just is.
The rest is mind-work of adjectivizing.
[Adjectivizing (labeling, describing) is the psychology of suffering. As soon as you begin to talk of good, you begin to brace for bad. As soon as you begin to talk of bad, you start to yearn for good. To describe is to suffer and to suffer is to describe. In the meantime, reality just indescribably is.]
The other day, with a few minutes to kill, I pick up a book from a shelf. It’s a copy of “Thinking” by Gary Kirby and Jeffrey Goodpastor. The book is “designed to challenge your mind and to strengthen your thinking ability.” A good book. I skimmed it before. I flip to the last page and come across the following quote:
“When Robert Peary asked his Eskimo guide what he was thinking, the guide replied: “I do not think. I have plenty of meat.”
This quote opens up the last chapter of the book on “The Challenge to Go on Thinking.” The authors themselves continue:
“Thinking does not stop with the end of a book… Let’s think about our future thinking: How wide will we range? How deep will we plunge?”
I ponder this snarky juxtaposition: “Plenty of meat – no need to think” versus “Range wide, dig deep, keep on thinking.”
And I conclude: Eskimo’s right: there is no need to think if you have plenty of meat. Mind is a leg: it walks us away from What Is.
Vladimir Nabokov would have thought so too, I suspect. In Transparent Things, he writes:
“When we concentrate on a material object <…> the very act of attention may lead to our involuntary sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want to stay at the exact level of the moment.”
So, there you go: skim over matter if you want to stay in the moment, no need to dig deep.
Nabokov, the great Russian-English novelist, whose own style is so ingeniously laden with association-rich detail, here, both de-constructs his own style and defines Zen:
“A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film.”
Nabokov’s advice is: to stay in the moment, we must somehow avoid weighing down “what is” with our pre-conceived notions of “what it means.”
How do we do that? By letting go of thinking. Indeed, when there is plenty of meat, there …
Much of the time when clients come to see me they want to learn something new. Much of the time what actually seems to help them is un-learning of something old that kept getting in the way.
Ask yourself: “What do I need to un-learn today?” And learn what you need to un-learn.
Pattern Breaks by Mindstream
For years I’ve been thinking of myself as just another modern-day ape. This line of thought – that we are nothing more and nothing less than monkeys – is powerfully humanizing. Here’s what Mahesh Bhatt had to say about one of the most dangerous minds of the 20th century, U.G. Krishnamurti, in “Mind is a Myth.”
UG, sitting bewildered and flabbergasted on the little bench, looked down at his body. But this time he looked without the cultural background that identified him as “male,” “Indian,” “Brahmin,” “seeker,” “world traveler,” “public speaker,” “civilized gentleman,” “virtuous person,” et.c. Seeing instead a warm-blooded mammal, a calm, harmless, fully-clothed monkey. The slate had been miraculously wiped clean, culture and self had been utterly undone in a twinkling, and what was left was a graceful, simple, well-mannered ape, aware, intelligent, and free of all pretense and self-absorption.
I read this good many years ago and recognized my own modest metamorphosis in this. And I thought that I better share this little known passage some day in a blog. And while I continued to live this truth that, like UG, like you, I am just a well-mannered modern-day ape, I haven’t gotten to writing about this until today.
Why today? No big reason. Just stumbled upon a colorful issue of “Monkey Business: a new writing from Japan,” a zine of sorts. Picked it up, not really knowing what it is, for a few quarters at a local Goodwill store. I flipped through it in search of a UG-like revelation. And found a few poetic passages that fit the meme.
Here’s one related thought from “Monkey Tanka” by Shion Mizuhara:
Our forebears are
Risen from the apes.
That’s it. Not much but plenty for me. I have a hunch Shion is not just being Darwinian, but tuning in to something very basic about what we still are.
And here are a few lines from Masayo Koike’s poem, “When Monkeys Sing:”
Monkeys run deep, they are to our existence
As miso paste in soup.
Monkeys are profound, the miso of existence.
“Wow!” this monkey thought to itself: “It’s time to write that …
(I know it’s a strange word. Is that even a word? It is right now. After all, language is at our service.)
If you weren’t easily wounded, you wouldn’t be sensitive. Stones don’t feel which is why they don’t cry. I am glad you are not a stone. I am glad you feel. I am glad you feel intensely. Why? Because there is a lot to feel. And to feel intensely is to live intensely. I hope you too are glad that you are sensitive. But I doubt you are. Many see sensitivity as a bad thing. Rollo May didn’t when he said: “Anxiety is the shadow of intelligence.” He might have as well said: “Sensitivity is the shadow intelligence.” Stones don’t feel. They are dumb. I am glad you aren’t.
And yet, you might object, wound-ability is a vulnerability, a liability. It is, indeed, if you don’t know how to heal. But if you know how to heal, sensitivity stops being a problem. It used to take me a long time to heal (from ego wounds). Then I got better about it. By the time I figured out the “lotus effect” way of shedding informational suffering, I’d heal just as fast as I’d get wounded. Wound-ability stopped being a problem but the intelligence that comes with it remained.
This is important: psychological sovereignty isn’t invulnerability, it’s heal-ability (ability to heal fast in a self-sustaining manner), to shed dirt like the self-cleaning lotus does. Point is: psychological sovereignty isn’t about high fences and rigid boundaries to avoid damage and trespassing, but about reasonably permeable boundaries and effective self-repair.
Heal-ability? Yes, another strange word. Make language serve you instead of being at its service. Heal yourself with it.
Questions matter more than answers.
Questions unwind the mind while the answers wind the mind up.
The quest part of the question is far more important than the destination end-point of the answer: a question is a liberating journey into the unknown, an answer is a dead-end of pseudo-certainty. A question sets the mind unstuck, breaking the impasse of knowing. Knowing re-incarcerates the mind in a re-invented sense of certainty.
When you look at the swirling dervish of this composite body that you are (with its endless metamorphosis of matter), you have to eventually ask yourself: “Is there indeed such a thingless thing as mind? Or is mind just another philosophical unicorn – a word without a referent?”
At the deepest level of analysis the no-mind of mindfulness debunks the illusion of its own permanence.
As you look inside for the one that is looking you find no one and with that everything becomes just enough and so.
As I watch my slavic brothers and sisters about to turn onto each other (not without some geopolitical meddling), I am reminded of a few lines from a poem written in Kiev in 1986 by a prominent Russian dissident Irina Ratushinskaya:
Beasts, people, birds
And voices, and specks of light -
We pass through all like ripples,
And each one disappears.
Which of us will recur?
Who will flow into whom?
What do we need in this world
To quench our thirst?
Yes, we all pass through this reality, and we all pass through all – like ripples from a local stone-skip that eventually become the universe-wide gravitational waves of yet another big bang.
And we pass into each other: yesterday’s fascists become today’s freedom-fighters and today’s freedom-fighters become tomorrow’s fascists. Form passes into Essence and Essence passes into Form.
As I ponder this current cycle of Slavic samsara I find my usual, arguably misguided, sense of peace and acceptance in the following three axioms of living:
2. We are all doing our moment-specific best (the idea of Ordinary Perfection): all that can be – is.
3. That is enough for Oneness of Cosmos (sideless, Oneness takes no sides).
I wish all parts and parties of this seamless oneness well: may we all satisfy our thirst from within.
I am in CT this week, doing CEU workshops on mindfulness-based anger management. You can join me through a webcast which will take place tomorrow, Fri, March 14th – here’s how to register for March 14 Webcast of Anger Management Toolbox (via PESI).
When anger becomes the mood of human societies, the quality of fire (or the primitive and destructive intent of the frustrated ego) invades the plane of humanity. That fire is expressed as all of the aggression and competitiveness of humankind, including all of the ego-based politics of confrontation. And that ego-fire is, finally, summarized in the acts of war…. The fiction of separateness—and the denial of the universal characteristic of prior unity—is a mind-based illusion, a lie, a terribly deluding force, and a profoundly and darkly negative act.
—Adi Da, Not-Two Is Peace
The only means for realization of Truth is Ahimsa….I must reduce myself to zero.
—M. K. Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Philosophically, existentially, and spiritually, there used to be an East and a West on this planet—a Western (Occidental) and an Eastern (Oriental) way of living and viewing life. However, the cultural globalization of the past century nearly reversed these psychospiritual polarities. No longer does a person need to go to Tibet for enlightenment: The West has been churning out its own lamas and gurus with the same production intensity as it once did with Model Ts. And yet it still makes sense to speak of the difference between the Eastern and Western worldviews, particularly in the context of anger management. The Eastern, or mindfulness-based know-how of anger management, is a rich and still largely untapped goldmine of therapeutic ideas. I wish to offer you a cursory review of some Eastern techniques that hold much clinical promise. Some of these methods are readily recognizable (e.g., vipassana). Others (e.g., syādvāda) are essentially unheard of. Consider this post as a kind of flea market of potential anger management ideas and tools. Enjoy rummaging.
One of the shiniest little …
About the book (from Publisher):
Virtually everything written in English about Buddhism has been written by scholars, ministers, or formal leaders, no matter whether it is Tibetan, Zen, Shin or any other Buddhist sect. This book is written by lay people about their own experiences with Shin Buddhism, which is after all, the Buddhism of the common people. The sangha or the community of fellow seekers is the backbone of Buddhism, providing a structure, encouragement, and nurturing of the development of one’s beliefs, yet it is not represented in Buddhist literature. Perhaps it is understandable that this is so since Buddhism began as an oral tradition, at a time when few people besides scholars could read or write. However, it is very often the sharing of one’s concerns and ideas with members of the sangha which makes Budddhism or any spiritual endeavor alive and relevant to one’s life. The sense of sharing and intimacy are captured in the essays presented here, with the special richness of poetry and visual images to enhance the heartfelt message of the book’s intent. It represents a breath of fresh air, bridging the gap between the point of view of the expert and the experience of the ordinary follower of the Buddhist path.
My (PS) review:
“Dogma blinds us: it sterilizes the once lived experience with intellectualization and conceptualization. “Stumbled Upon a Jewel” is Buddhist spirituality in the raw – a collection of unpretentious experience of awe. The book cover says it all: while the book is a narrative of this particular sangha (fellow minds sitting around a space of emptiness), the empty space of it all leaves plenty of room for the reader’s mind too. This book (with poetry, essays and photography) would make an elegant gift for a mind that needs room.”