Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. Reach, and it can’t be grasped. Above, it isn’t bright. Below, it isn’t dark. Seamless, unnamable, it returns to the realm of nothing. Form that includes all forms, image without an image, subtle, beyond all conception. Approach it and there is no beginning; follow it and there is no end. You can’t know it, but you can be it, at ease in your own life. Just realize where you come from: this is the essence of wisdom. – #14 – The Tao Te Ching (Mitchell)
We are a society and culture mesmerized by the objects of the world. We find value in and through objects like our possessions, and one of our strongest myths tells us that material wealth will lead to happiness and well-being when evidence proves this is not so. Likewise, we look to belonging to identity groups like our nationality, religion, race, political and interest group affiliations as well as our social status to give placement and meaning to our life. We accumulate things and affiliations, seeking to allay a haunting feeling of not being enough, and ultimately no matter how many things and affiliations we acquire, this feeling continues. We need to fill our lives in order to feel OK, and there just doesn’t ever seem to be enough, and we are seldom unequivocally OK.
On a much subtler level, this is true with our relationship to mind itself. In Buddhism, thoughts, emotions and sensations are referred to as “mental forms” and we tend to define mind and our subjective sense of self through our thoughts and emotions. We seek pleasurable sensory experiences to enhance desirable emotions, as if this gives life special meaning. We look for ideas in the world that conform to, confirm and expand the ideas we already have so as to buttress our sense of self. Unfortunately all this seeking and accumulating of ideas and emotions can also entangle us in the contradictions of the contents of our mind and this can make life most uncomfortable, if not at times crazy. The mind can become like a rat’s nest of entangled ideas and emotions that plagues us. When all is done, we find that none of the forms, material or mental, can give us lasting happiness, peace and well-being.
So, as “mental forms,” sensations, thoughts and emotions, are the stuff, the objects of the mind, just as material objects are the stuff of our lives, we tend to fixate on these mental objects and confuse them for the totality of mind when they are no more the totality of the mind then material objects are the totality of the world. In both cases, the space in which the objects occur is quite neglected, and this neglect causes us to miss the true value and meaning of existence. A world made only of objects is impossible, there must be space in which they occur, and too many objects in a limited space is rightly called cramped. A compulsive hoarder’s home is an assault on the senses and we usually feel uncomfortable in cramped and cluttered places. In the opposite direction, we are drawn to the experience of open space, and it is why we climb to mountain tops and seek out places of vista, and why deserts have a mystical quality to them. So too, our cramped and cluttered minds are quite uncomfortable, particularly when it feels like the runaway contents of our minds are closing in on us and there is no escaping their suffocation.
We have no cultural tradition for recognizing the spacious mind as the real source of comfort, peace, and well-being, and despite all evidence of how crazy and dangerous so many of our thoughts and emotions are, we invest the realm of thought with intelligence and our emotions with much of our sense of self. We neglect all our experience that shows us that it is the spacious silent mind that is the true source of intelligence and wisdom. We fail to give proper notice to how it is that when we are caught in swirling circles of thought and emotion, we might take a walk or a shower or bath, or play with the dog, or wash the dishes, and out of the silence the insight that had been eluding us emerges. But nothing in our culture validates this, so few give this insight the affirmation deserved. Even our psychologies, philosophies, and religions are filled with complicated ideas that seem to bring us no closer to peace and wisdom.
That real happiness and well-being most often occur when NOTHING is happening, as during the quiet space of the moment in an experience in nature, with a treasured person, or when just sitting alone, gets completely overlooked. An equally valuable insight is that just as we seek open physical vistas for comfort and inspiration, so too it is wise to look to a spacious and quiet mind for happiness, insight, and well-being. Yet, since this is not an object in the mind – you cannot seek it, as many a frustrated seeker experiences – you can only allow it. As many an intellectual or spiritual seeker experiences, they may fill their mind with many esoteric ideas and engage in many elaborate spiritual practices, but it brings them no closer to peace.
Just as space is the natural environment of a room before it is filled with objects, space is the natural quality of mind before it is filled with the objects of thoughts, emotions and sensations. This you can only relax into, breathe into, allow its natural presence. It is always there, for it is truly who we are, not the clutter with which that we compulsively fill it. This space of pure consciousness is what Buddhism refers to as “original mind” – mind before the clutter – and it is what all of Buddhism and its practices of meditation and mindfulness are meant to awaken.
Mystic traditions of all cultures, including Judaism and Christianity, recognize the contemplative and meditative mind, the quiet mind that is not seeking, but rather sitting in receptive reflection, as essential for higher levels of inspiration, understanding and spiritual realization. Even higher levels of scientific inquiry as well as artistic inspiration depend on quiet, intuitive receptivity for breakthroughs. Instead of focusing on the contracted mental energy of thoughts, this receptivity requires expanded openness of the energy of consciousness. “It returns to the realm of nothing.”
An open outdoor vista is a good place to encourage and support this allowing, yet it is important to realize that your own true nature already IS the infinitely vast open vista of pure uncluttered consciousness. As this spacious consciousness is what makes experiences in the world meaningful, when space is experienced as a connecting energetic force rather than a source of separation, so too, it is this spacious consciousness energy prior to thoughts, sensations and emotions that is what creates the sense of connection within us. When we train ourselves to abide in this quiet stillness, this openness, even amidst the clutter and noise of the world, this intuitive connection and sense of well-being remain. In the mystical language of Taoism and Zen, rather than striving to be somebody looking for something, we become nobody abiding in the realm of nothing while everything swirls around us. The open vista of original mind is felt as our source and stability. I encourage you into this allowing and finding of that which is not objects in the mind, but rather the vastness of Being, the space of consciousness prior to its energy contracting into objects of sensation, thought and emotion. Just relax, breathe, allow, and expand into the space that is within and all around – and then – the objects that arise within and out of the space will be imbued with the beauty and wisdom of Reality. You will no longer experience yourself as a separate object looking to the accumulation of objects, whether material or mental, to validate you. You will know yourself as the consciousness energy that is the space, which can value what is natural and true without needing anything, and this is happiness, peace and well-being. There is no need to seek it, for you already are it. Just learn to relax into it.