Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crisis—Danger and Opportunity

So who am I? Who are you? To answer that question, let’s go the to movies together. In your minds eye I want you to see yourself in a movie theater where you often go. There you are sitting next to your favorite movie-going buddy and the main attraction begins. Let’s make it your favorite of all time. Wow! This is a great movie. You are really engrossed, almost like you are in the movie, except for one thing: you aren’t (in the movie). As much as you might be enjoying the experience of watching, you always know you’re not “in the movie.” The movie is on the big screen across the theater room and you are there in your seat. Two separate things: you (the watcher of the movie) and the movie (projected onto the big screen).

If you were to describe that experience to your therapist you’d probably be prudent to avoid saying that you were “in the movie.” If you did say such a thing your therapist might give you a new name, like nuts and start making out some papers with labels like “delusional.” Please avoid such a report.

Now prepare yourself because I’m going to tell you something too incredible for it to register and you’ll probably want to start making those papers out for me. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a Buddhist—at least as far as I know. Maybe he was. But he did say something very Buddhist. He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” which paraphrases a statement by Jesus in the New Testament. Many very smart people say smart things regardless of affiliation and labels. The occasion was the Republican State Convention of June 16, 1858. The place was the statehouse in the Springfield, Illinois and Lincoln had just been chosen as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate to run against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. The details of what, where and when are not particularly germane to my point but I throw them out for you to get the picture. What is germane is what he said during his acceptance speech: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was of course referring to the Union and the looming cessation by the Southern states. And his point is applicable to who we all are as people.

Actually many Buddhist sages have said pretty much the same thing but meant it as a definition of reality—all of reality, but in our case, applied to people. Our house—our beingness—also can’t stand when divided against itself. There is NO division separating our nameless essence from our physical and psychic being. They are a single, indivisible thing. We are not some name OR a nameless essence. We are not some job OR a nameless essence. Those are separate, divided things. The division is a phantom. It doesn’t exist, except in our illusionary minds, but never in fact. The very moment (down to an unmeasurable dimension of time) there is a watcher and there is what is watched. The very moment there is something watched, there is a watcher. Watched and watcher arise together. Instantly. Not one first and then the next. Instantly. They are flip sides of the same coin. And the opposite is true. When one vanishes, so does the other.

Ladders and Walls (read posts below) come into being and cease from being in a flash. They are bonded eternally together as partners and can’t be separated. So what’s this got to do with movies and who we are? Simple (but actually not so simple to put our heads around). What we normally do is imagine our identities, as separate and independent things (rather than linked, interdependent things). We are thinkers thinking thoughts, cut off from life intimacy: illusions lost in illusions. Buzzing brains. We have all kinds of ideas about ourselves. We imagine and label ourselves with Lao Tzu’s “ten thousand” ideas. And all of these ideas come to be who we think we are. When we meet someone we may be asked to introduce ourselves and how do we respond? “I am so-and-so”—we provide a name. What we don’t say is “Oh I am Ms. Nameless.” Either named or a name we call “nameless” is not who we are. We are both—an indivisible house. We are ladders with walls and it can’t be otherwise. Please be 100% crystal clear about this. YOU are real. YOU are not a fleeting and vaporous thought. Vaporous thoughts are just that: thoughts which vaporize. But YOU are the indivisible Union (Lincoln’s term) of essence AND non-essence, otherwise known (in Buddhist terminology) as emptiness and form. They arise and cease together. Instantly.

One of the central Sutras in Buddhist practice is the Heart Sutra which says “Emptiness IS form. Form IS emptiness”. Essence and form are glued together. Maybe you prefer to regard essence as God. That’s OK so long as you don’t try to conceptualize God as an imaginary being. The name is transcendent (meaning nameless) so whatever handle you use is irrelevant. That is what transcendent means: beyond defining characteristics, one of which is the word “GOD.” What that means is they are bonded together, not two but One. God is not over there somewhere with me over here somewhere else. God doesn’t come and go. Coming and going implies movement from one place to another. If you are essence—God is essence—there is no place that you are not, so how can you come and go? You’re already here. It is an illusion to imagine these as separate matters like sitting in the movie theater with our movie-buddy, watching a movie. There is no watcher without what is being watched. Nor is there something watched without a watcher. And to watch at all is not possible without the animating spirit of essence. Otherwise we’re just talking about flesh, bones, blood and everything that comes along for the ride (too nasty to mention).

But what happens in normal “everyday life?” We get caught up in our home movies (buzzing brains) and stop being. We replace being with thinking about being. We don’t eat cake. We think about eating cake and eat the illusion. We don’t just sit. We think about sitting and sit on an illusion. We love to multitask and think we are being efficient and productive. Actually what we are being is distracted with no focus. We don’t work at our jobs (which we may hate) so we think about hating the job and think about where we wish we were. We don’t work with our spouses to manage difficulties, we think about everything that is wrong with them and why they don’t do what we want them to. Nothing is scared that way. We are thinkers instead of be-ers and there is nobody at home. And because we do that, we experience fear and anxiety. At the deepest part of our essence we experience separation and lack of intimacy. There is no way we can be intimate with someone we don’t even know and I am speaking about our own identity: our real SELF, not the illusionary one. What we need is integration and what we get is self-created division. We have a primordial knowing about our unity (and lack thereof). When our sense of being is based purely on a fabricated self (otherwise known as ego—home movies) we are rightly fearful because that is shifting sand with no stability whatsoever. Just like one legged ladders without a wall.

When our identities are tied purely to the shifting sands of life, we know we are vulnerable, Nobody has to tell us. We know, and it fills us with anxiety and fear. It can, and often does, paralyze us into inaction, like a deer fixated on the headlights of an oncoming car: frozen with fear, desiring to know the next moment and not able to be in the only moment we’ll ever have: the present one. When identity crises arise there is both danger and opportunity. We can stay in the danger, like the deer, or we can come to our senses and grasp the opportunity. So how do we get out of this trap that has dominated all of human kind since we first arrived as a species? That’s a matter for my next post.
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