from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 26 November 2012

Just This, mark 11: non-dual being

This one's a post to respond briefly to those of you who've said they don't always understand the poems I post, and to clear up misapprehensions. If you 'got' it then you might want to skip this.

The other day I posted this little poem:

So what in the end
might it mean to tear
the veil and tumble through
into the world
of exquisite infinite light?

Nothing special, I guess:
still this last robin
greeting the dusk with all of herself
this half moon rising in fugitive blue
and that small plane droning into the West

no longer a watcher
and no watched

For those of you who thought I was preoccupied with notions of death, and was maybe speaking about 'heaven', I wanted to mention that I was thinking about the Buddhist notion of enlightenment, or satori – and although it suggests a state of moving beyond the ego, that isn't the same thing as physical death (although it might also be). It's about waking up – in so many ways quite the opposite, and yet also integrally connected.

In speaking of tearing the veil, etc, I was also referring to a term from Celtic mythology and metaphysics: the Otherworld (not to be confused with the Underworld, realm of the dead). The Otherworld represents, one might say, a state of 'non-ordinary reality', or heightened consciousness. I've elided the two notions – transcendent consciousness with non-dualism.

The 'aim', one could say, is to bring our normal functioning mode of awareness together with this higher consciousness, so that our lives are infused with a greater sense of the fundamental nature of 'interbeing'.

Buddhist teachings see this state of non-duality as the desired outcome of the practice of mindfulness and meditation. It's all about oneness, essential unity. Where most of us spend most of our time identified with our ego, which we then vigorously defend, enlightenment is a state of awareness in which we know ourselves to be a unified consciousness, not apart from anyone/everyone anything/everything else, a state in which one knows that 'I' and 'you' are a nonsense. Needless to say, almost no-one achieves this state of non-dual thinking in a physical life, and certainly not in one lifetime, but that is the 'ideal' state of awareness and awakeness.

Buddhist teachings and teachers remind us over and over that it is not a 'special' state. One ancient phrase goes  something like this: 'Before enlightenment, chopping wood, drawing water. After enlightenment, chopping wood, drawing water.'

Jack Kornfield's book title alludes to this: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. In other words, life carries on as before – with the subtle and crucial distinction that someone who's tasted that state of being – and I have every reason to suppose that one can and does touch it in moments, if not consistently, with certain practices and experiences – no longer falls into the trap of believing in the ultimate existence of a distinct, separate, solid and unchanging egoic 'self'.

My poem, of course, alludes to both the phrase and the book title and what lies behind both; as well as to those moments in our encounters, if we are aware of them, with the Otherworld, 'non-ordinary reality', where time and space as we know them stop being relevant, and everything is 'just as it is' – but more so.

In terms of the watcher and the watched, the overt content was as above. I guess I was also alluding to the findings of quantum physics that suggest that the watcher and watched are integrally connected: that the one affects the other (and presumably the other way round?) – which seems to me to be a very potent teaching on ultimate non-duality... If this is the case, then there really is no ultimate separation – how can there be?

I believe all this is also what is meant in Blake's phrase about cleansing the doors of perception (then borrowed for a title by Aldous Huxley):

'If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.' (From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

So I hope that's reassured those of you who might think my mind has turned to death! – although I do also accept that death, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us, is simply part of the life-death-life cycle – it's a change of state that is inevitably involved in any earthly process; I have had to meet it in a number of lives of people and animals I've loved the last few years, as we all do; and in a few endings and beginnings on more subtle planes. While I have no desire for physical death myself right now, I see no usefulness in pushing the concept away, or suppressing it out of fear.

And any beginning first of all involves a death in some way; that's how we grow.

'This too.'


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