Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Sunday, January 10, 2016
A moment observing your breath provides a window to the way life works. We expand, then contract. The breath is both expansion and contraction, inhale and exhale. It is clear one cannot be without the other. The same is true of the beat of all beating hearts, the changing of all seasons, night and day, birth and death.
The window we observe anything from is the level of magnification through which we perceive. Sitting beside a grieving friend, we feel some of their anguish. Hearing that a thousand strangers have died horribly on another continent may not produce the same emotional resonance. We can’t focus our eyes on close detail and distant landscape at the same time. It is not within the capacity of our vision to do so, no matter how much we practice. Our cognitive and emotional lives seem to follow the same principle.
Seeking happiness, or an enlightened state, we assume that in the finding of it there will be a steady permanence. Like no other natural process, we imagine upon arrival an end to the ups and downs - or rather, happiness would include only the up - forgetting down is necessary to experience up.
Accelerating in a car from 30kph to 100kph, you feel the thrill of being pushed back into your seat. Now you are really going somewhere. When you arrive at 100kph and cruise at that speed, the quality of acceleration is absent, the same way it is absent in a jet plane traveling at several hundred kph. Several hours at the same speed, no matter how fast, feels less than thrilling. The only way to experience acceleration once you’ve reached top speed is to put on the brakes and accelerate again. You can choose to put on the brakes, you can run out of gas, or you can crash.
After the crash, or the walk to the gas station with gas can in hand, our perception is tuned not to the macroscopic but to the small. A friendly wave from a stranger or a smile from a grocery clerk is significant in a way it would not have been had we been in the process of steep and thrilling acceleration. It is not so much the event, it is the contrast between the event and the content of perception surrounding it. The mountains are steeper when standing in the valley beside them.
There is a grace to the pause between the inhale and exhale. There is a sense of peace and reflection that appears to rely on the contrast to immersion in strong experience. To some degree, we get to make up our own minds what is of value to us. To me, the evidence of an underlying vibratory quality to all features of the universe is strong, and can be illustrated both by the rigor of scientific inquiry and by common experience. Assuming an ultimate and unchanging state exists seems more like wishful thinking not thought through.
Keen human minds focused on the verifiable, and willing to be proven wrong, consistently agree the universe has been changing for billions of years. Expansion, differentiation, evolution. Our shared and reproducible experiments so far indicate we are mammals born from all of this, not visitors, witnesses or spiritual beings having a temporary physical experience. This distancing language of transcendence may be the very thing that prohibits the appreciation of what actually is. The seat in the jet plane is not more comfortable than the ride to the airport, and if we are honest we’d admit we wouldn’t want either of those experiences to last forever. What I really want, and what I sometimes get for a period of time, is a sense of appreciation of what is. This feeling does not stick around. It has to fade, so that when it comes back its presence is of consequence. Just like the beat of my heart or the flow of my breath.
The aim of this article is not to solve a problem. I’m not offering any help, or suggesting a form of self-help. Notice the feeling when the new diet, or the new cleanse, or the new teacher, book, practice, meditation, exercise machine, cosmology, philosophy, location or intimate... moves from the “new” category to the category where all the others are found. When it moves from the lobby to the attic. Notice the compartmentalization and lack of intellectual honesty when a friend asks how that new thing you were so excited about is going. It is possible to allow the sense of deceleration to be there, and to say “It’s not going”. And I’d suggest that is a very good thing. There is a word for “no longer going to a new destination”.