following fear into the star-stuff of my cells

Frederick Walker, The Woman in White, 1871 Tate Gallery

 

This post is an attempt to explain why I’m a dedicated follower of fear.  For as long as I can remember (and that’s probably way further than your lifespan dear reader), I’ve been keenly curious and unafraid of a good adventure.  So it’s surprising that I was so slow to arrive at the threshold of my body’s dark knowledge.  Needless to say, the Shadowlands had good reason to be well-hidden from my agenda…
But once the bellyflop into the deep occurred, the implications of the free-fall of fifteen years ago could at last percolate down and settle in the cells.  I am writing this in the midst of another dive – a somatic meditation retreat, which I think of as a pre-death trauma detox.  For the most part I’m avoiding the screen, but this pressed to be posted.


We hear it so often:  To be happy, to be spiritually liberated, to be … (insert personal agenda), we must choose between love and fear.  And the ominously silent insinuation is that choosing fear is definitely not the way to go.

My platitude-sensitive antenna start to hum; a dictum like this is demands scrutiny.

A good place to start is by being clear about what one actually is, i.e. the nature of one who could claim to make such a choice.  If there’s still a belief in a separate, solid-state self, (which is a bit like admitting that you believe the world is flat and climate change is a myth), then you’ll believe there’s someone who can make a choice of this kind.  You’ll believe that this mental object called “me” can adroitly and wisely select between other mental objects (fear and love) in order to become a happier mental object.  To the imagined self – the chooser – love and fear are inescapably conceptual.  And what follows won’t make a smidgin of sense.  (Click X now.)

However, if you’ve sniffed out the falsity of an independent me thing, you’ll find it slightly incoherent that these two concepts, with their inherent duality, are so commonly presented as an either-or option.  It sounds like an invitation to reconstruct a fresh version of a self – one that will either make the right choice (good work!) or get it wrong (see how hopeless you are?).  You’d be right to want to sniff out the truth of the matter.

Let’s start with love.  Having experienced the mind-shattering absence of anything that could exist as an independent ghost-in-the-machine, you’ve already noticed the sweetness, the benevolence that floods into the space vacated by that phantom.  You’ve realised that that very sweetness is the Love (big L) you always imagined was elsewhere.  (Hiding behind the façade of your spiritual teacher, your partner, your lover; waiting at the end of your seeking, your arduous practice-project…)  You’ve woken up to the fact that it’s always been there;  that it’s your inescapable fundamental state and that it has no opposite, only a limitless wardrobe of apparent disguises.

Repeat – Love has no opposite.

Which means: Fear is not the opposite of, nor an alternative to, Love.

So let’s look at fear.  We’re told that humans are born with just two innate, hard-wired fears: fear of falling, and fear of sudden loud noises.  All other fears are learned, and these are the ones I speak of here.  I’m not talking about natural, normal reactions to any kind of physical danger.

I experience psychological fear as a contraction within my body.  It’s a tension, a more or less subtle holding-on – sometimes so subtle that it escapes awareness – those who have encountered the consequences of heart tension know about this.

Unlike the changeless Love discussed above, which isn’t an experience but the space in which experiences arise, any experience will always have an opposite.  If the cramping experience had an opposite, what might it be?  Wouldn’t it be the absence of any contraction triggered by recent or ancient memory?  Wouldn’t it be an open and accepting gesture towards my life?  Towards whatever the universe is throwing in my face right this minute – regardless of how it conflicts with my stitched-together idea of how it should be?

Fear is a re-action posing as a new sensation.  When I learned that after the age of six or seven we never experience a new emotion, but endlessly experience a replay of those established in infant-hood – albeit dressed up in fresh scenarios – I was shocked.  I realised that since I’m well over the age of six, any experience of fear will always be a re-action.  A re-enactment.

Another shocker came with this:  98% of what the body knows is unavailable to our conscious awareness.  Meaning that – for the most part – I don’t know what I’m afraid of and why.  Which makes it tricky to talk about “not choosing fear” – let alone being “honest” with myself.  Gulp.

The primal imprints of my early experience were laid down in the cells long before there were words to describe anything, and proceed to map out my experience, decade after decade.  Without my conscious awareness having a clue.

And so it goes for all of us.  Until something moves us to inquire.

What moves us?

Since we’ve awakened to our abiding nature as Love, we must concede that Love moves Itself.

There’s nothing personal involved:  It happens by itself.  It happens for itself.  And it happens exactly when It wants to.

It delivers an impeccable invitation to enter into an unabridged encounter with things we’ve been working all our life to avoid because the associated pain was/is unbearable.

If fear is in my face it’s because Love is fishing for a lost child’s pain – a pain unique to this matrix of experience and potential, yet universal to all humanity.  And since Love is inescapably present as the shining awareness that knows my fear, I can turn towards this fear (or grief, or rage) without ever leaving Love.

I say, “Welcome!” to fear.  I plump up a cushion for it in my heart.  I stop.

I notice the instant impulse to act out habitual, conditioned re-actions.  I desist – or at least press the pause button.  I’m interested;  having been informed that we are ignorant of the knowledge hidden in the cells, I’m curious.  Who wouldn’t want to explore?

I turn towards the sensation that is visiting me – in dreams, meditation and daily interactions.  I turn my breath, my awareness, my sensitivity and my curiosity its way.  I don’t give it the label “fear” or spell out a story about it.  I refuse to be tempted to fix it or lean into it or accept it or imagine any outcome.

So here I am, just looking, with the impartial gaze of whole-body awareness.  As though I’m looking through the eyeballs of each of the 37.2 trillion cells in my body.

I watch what happens.  I pay attention when those long-stifled echoes from the emptiness of my body begin to whisper.

Love clears its throat.  And when it knows I’m truly committed (not furtively checking out the exits) it speaks loud and clear.  Its language is felt rather than heard, sensed rather than known.  It reorganises this neurological field and in so doing recreates my relationship to the world.

And further – since it’s evident that my body has no borders – it completely recasts my relationship with and as the Cosmos.  Slowly but surely, I come to view this work as an offering made by the Cosmos for the benefit of one’s fellow-beings, the Earth, and the Cosmos itself.

Out of my mind
and into the star-stuff of my cells
I’ll follow the angel called fear
so resplendent in her costume
borrowed
from Love’s limitless wardrobe.

The angel called fear.

Allons-y!

 


Image: Frederick Walker, The Woman in White, 1871, gouache on paper. Tate London


Gautama saw this star

 

Clifton Mack: Jurlurrunha - Morning Star

 

Woken by a shift

in the Earth’s breath,

I sit in silence –

the pre-dawn hush

and my green tea for company.

 

In the east,

over the Pacific,

a bright star soars,

shaking off the shackles of night.

Its brilliance beggars belief.

 

I blink, I bow, a thought flashes:

Never forget that

more than two millennia ago

Gautama saw this star

and knew

 

{ as do you }

 

that nothing needed to be

understood, learned or believed

felt, integrated or expressed

fixed, healed or overcome

dropped or avoided

actioned or attained,

in order that his body’s naked awareness might meet itself

as the morning star.

 

{ Halleluja! }

 


the morning star rises


Image: Painting by Clifton Mack: Jurlurrunha – Morning Star
Clifton Mack is an elder of the Yindjibarndi people whose country is around the Millstream Tablelands in Western Australia’s Pilbara district.
See www.japingka.com


have you got a minute?

 

I’d like to invite you to sit down
right now,
for just one minute,
and not entertain one thought.

 

Can you do that?

 

Can you feel the coolness
that wafts through your entire
Presence
when you stop thinking?

 

Not “stop … and”
not “stop … then”
not “stop … so that”
but just stop.

 

Stop.

 

Everything you’ve ever longed for
is waiting for you
in that pause.

 

The cogs and gears of the “me project”
grind to a halt.
The engineers maintaining the scaffolding of the self
take a smoko.
The universe itself sighs,
so gladdened to see an earth angel
hold the claws of thought apart
for even one minute.

 

And every cell in your always-fully-awake body
lights up with a smile: “Now, at last,
we can bow before our own experience
and dance our destiny!”

 

You can do it.

 

It’ll only take a minute.

 

One thought-free minute equals one minute of full wideawakeness
or, one minute of intimacy with what the Buddha knew.
(Did you know that?)

 

You just need to want to meet the Truth of your life
more than you want to entertain a thought about it.

 


[entertain: v.t. Maintain (correspondence, discourse) Concise Oxford Dictionary]


Calligraphy by Jakusho Kwang, Roshi

it was a damn good deal

Ceramic sculpture by Haejin Lee

 

Until I woke up
to my unconscious insatiable insanity
it was the tireless weaver
of the fabric of my life.

It wasn’t enough to have mentally unpicked
and clearly seen-through
the myth and mirage
of the solid-state ‘me’ story.

Unconscious residue of that ‘me’
I thought was done and dusted
remained, and so, another unpicking began
– a second-level unpicking if you like.

Waking up to what one isn’t is utterly mind shifting.
It’s tempting to rest in the inevitable sweet relief;
it’s tempting to assume one has attained
the ultimate wisdom.

Yet, although thought likes to tell itself otherwise,
the thrust of cellular conditioning forges on
below the limn,
obvious to everyone but oneself.

I am driven by curiosity –
especially concerning creativity and freedom.
What might I not know about this multi-layered energetic playground
called my life? An investigation was called for.

I saw how the old unconscious imprints
ran deep; how their effects can’t be denied
yet are avoided, by-passed, rationalised
by a self-idea facing sure extinction.

Have you ever unpicked knitting?
You take the single thread responsible for the fabric’s form
and simply pull. The stitches unravel with ease.
If there’s a knot, you tease it free.

Just like that: I grasped the master lie,
and pulled. Stitch by stitch the network of neurology
unravelled. Each stitch was an imprint of pain:
fear, anger or grief.

Separation ceased as each imprint was fully felt
without one word being brought to the alchemy.
(Commentary, analysis, explanation
are neither required nor helpful.)

The howling insatiability that fuelled
my craziness was slowly sated. An incomprehensible
fulfilment surfaced that has no idea what words like
sanity or insanity might mean.

These days I find it absurd to claim that I am
anything – even “That”, or “Life”, or “Nothing”.
To say “I am” is a lie, yet as a sage once observed,
“the universe is myself”.

The universe chuckles to itself:
“It was a damn good deal – an imaginary ‘me’ for an immensity!
It only cost me everything … and everything
came back, marked perfect, wondrous, eternal.”

 


“I am not, but the universe is myself.” – Shih-T’ou, A.D. 700-790


Ceramic sculpture by Haejin Lee


 

my tuppence-worth

One of my father’s nick-names for me was ‘Tuppence.’  Perhaps it was because I was always eager to offer my “tuppence-worth” (i.e., the state-of-the-world according to my all-knowing self), and irritatingly persistent with my questions – “But why?” “Who says so?”  When he was really mad at me he’d say, “For two pence I’d give you the hiding of your life!”  I was always relieved no one came along with those pennies.

I never out-grew the tendency towards contrariness and insatiable curiosity.  From here I regard them as having been essential companions – both tools and fuel – on the rather erratic life path that unfolded for the ‘Tuppence’ character.

The days when I held court in my pram are ancient history, but the questions that matter for me remain fresh and alive.  My responses to them are an ever-morphing ontology.  Here’s the current version – a crone’s tuppence-worth.

 

Tuppence (Miriam Louisa)

Tuppence in her pram: Well then. What’s this all about?

 

What does the “God” word mean for you?

The Unknowable

dressed up and dancing as the knowable.

Is Consciousness all there is?

I don’t know.

I can only say it’s all I ever experience.

But what knows the contents of Consciousness?

You’ll never find it.

(You’ll never escape it either.)

What is “enlightenment”?

An idea those who believe they are not already fully alight

like to entertain.

“Already fully alight” – how can one know that?

It can’t be known.

It’s quietly evident when all hunger for knowing drops away.

Can there be a partial or ‘damaging’ awakening?

Presence is already perfectly and completely just so.

But ideas about it can be experienced as wrong/bad/incomplete.

The sages say the observer is the observed. How is that so?

I’ve spent a lifetime on this koan…

I only ever experience all-inclusive observing.

Is there an Almighty God?

Too constricted and limited a notion, I’d say.

How about an Unlimited and Almighty Godding?

Is it true there’s “only One”?

From the perspective of Presence,

One is one too many.

Is there a purpose to life?

I ask Life. It grins:

Get onstage – it’s The Full Monty and you’re the star!

What is death?

That’s easy because I’ve been across and had a look.

It’s a little side-step, from one theatre into another.

Is it true that thoughts create reality?

Reality transcends thinking entirely.

However, thoughts and beliefs determine the quality of experience.

Is life a dream?

Maybe.

We’d know if we could find a dreamer.

What is surrender?

Abdication. Effortless, voluntary relinquishment

of the ME-project.

Is the world an illusion?

If it is

you’re the magician.

What’s the difference between illusion and delusion?

Illusion is the mirage in the desert;

delusion is believing it’s real.

Is there anything sacred?

Nothing knowable

could ever be sacred.

Is it true that “I am That?”

No.

You are the glorious “am”.

Are there any true concepts?

I don’t know

any.

Is there any valid aspiration / intention?

Yes.

K I N D N E S S

What is freedom?

Being 100% present as the capacity for passionate engagement with life

and not minding what happens.

What brings your greatest fulfilment?

Nothing ever brings fulfilment.

It’s one’s natural state when there’s no need of fulfilment.

And your deepest peace?

S I L E N C E

(no contest)

Do you have any plans?

The GPS is set to nth – now! this! here!

Presence is driving.

What is Grace?

The Beloved

sneaking up for a kiss.

What are you?

I am whatever Presence wants to be

in response to whatever It meets.

 


[The words Awareness, Presence, the Unknowable, Reality, Grace, the Beloved, all point to the same ‘thing’. Except it’s not a thing. If anything (ha!) it’s an event-ing.
I like the Godding word; I might patent that one!]


walking forth, legless

 

walking forth,
legless,
into the theatre of my life
after 39 days immersion in a
silent Dzochen retreat

 

miriam louisa simons, Wangapeka journal - Dzogchen retreat, New Zealand, 2010

 


I recently came upon a journal written on a 6 week silent Dzogchen retreat at Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre in Nelson, Aotearoa-New Zealand, in 2010. (The Lama had asked me to do this as part of my practice.) Other writings from this period have been posted at this unlit light blog but the scribblings in this journal haven’t been shared before. The one above, written on the last day of silence, packed a punch from which I will never recover.

This is what happens on a retreat that goes long enough, deep enough, wide enough – you get ripped in three and re-braided.

“formations”? – anything that takes shape in consciousness: a thought, a feeling, a memory, a story, a self, an other…

“universe”? – the changeless, ever-present, immeasurable, all-inclusive and inescapable THIS.

“preferred”? – by whom? by what? (there being no chooser to be found) By the universe ITself, as the miraculous and incomprehensible expression of ITself.

“why”? – make up a good story; it doesn’t matter what you conceive … all stories are formations, fluffy consolations for a mind made redundant.

(Best not to attend such retreats unless prepared for obliteration of the old concepts and fixations around self-identity and world-view.)


well-being & being well

 

Agnes Martin - Gratitude, 2001

 

There’s a mindset that runs a mythical story asserting that one’s “accomplishment” of awakening, and the attendant ease of well-being, is negated or compromised by any experience of being unwell. Beware of these myths!

Awakening is never “accomplished” or attained. It is simply a system-restore to the Natural State.

The Natural State – I call it wild wideawakeness – has no preference whatsoever for what might be being experienced by the body or the mind. It remains the essential experience, enabling and infusing all others. Its impartiality – and re-cognition of this – is what dissolves suffering and enables well-being – regardless of the passing play of one’s life.

Well-being does not depend upon being well.

It’s true that the more unshakeable one’s well-being, the more sensitive the organism becomes, bringing understanding and prompting changes that may lead to less physical and mental dysfunction. But well-being remains unaffected. Period.

I have been with frail, aged folk in heart-wrenching discomfort and pain and fully aware of the approach of their end days, who were aglow with well-being.

I have been with a close friend when she received a diagnosis that would strike terror into the heart of most people; she exuded such well-being that her surgeons and friends were at once amazed and relieved. (She has now fully recovered.)

I have been with myself during debilitating illness, pain, grief. At these times the litmus test for the extent of my freedom is a little inquiry: am I suffering?

And I have to say no; I can no longer find a solid-state ‘person’ here who could own a story about suffering.

If there is illness, no problem – I’ll seek help, I’ll take the medicine, but I won’t suffer.

Well-being is unaffected.
Well-being is the Natural State.
The Natural State is what one is.

Because the Natural State is ever-present and inescapable, accepting the entire array of experience without question, I’ve come to know it as Love. Love Divine. 

Whatever you call it – God, Divine Presence, Love, Suchness, The Great Perfection, Beloved – you are naming yourself and the entirety of your experience.

Along with everyone and everything else…

 


Painting by Agnes Martin, Gratitude, 2001. Courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London.