September 26, 2006

Where I Disappeared

In After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Jack Kornfield writes,

As we awaken, we discover that we are not limited by who we think we are. All the stories we tell ourselves - the judgments, the problems, the whole identity of the small sense of self, "the body of fear" - can be released in a moment, and a timeless sense of grace and liberation can open up for us.
St John of the Cross, in A Cloud of Unknowing, spoke of this when he wrote that to awaken we must “be willing to tread for a long time as a blind man in darkness.” Further, he wrote that we must “die to (ourselves), and lose the radical self-centered awareness of our being, for it is our own self that stands in the way of God.”

Jack shares a story of how a Sufi master describes this frightening loss of identity:
As I looked at all I had held to be me, the separate individual, it began to unravel. At first there was an openness and emptiness, but with it came a rush of fear, a struggling to exist, some kind of terror. I felt that I was letting go of everything – my whole sense of self had given way. One day during this I was sitting in a window seat on an airplane, and it felt like I was falling out of the window, and the terror came in big waves, irrational and very strong. I felt just like an animal falling in space. Only later when I learned to let go into it, to let myself fall, did it open up into a cloudless sky where I disappeared.

Akilesh: In the passage the individual is faced with groundlessness. What he or she describes closely matches my own experience. This existential terror went on more or less continuously with varying degrees of intensity for over 20 years. Over that time I gradually came to realize what was happening, and "only later when I learned to let go into it, to let myself fall, did it open up into a cloudless sky where I disappeared."

Most people have had many, many glimpses of groundlessness. Most often it is experienced as negative, although there are as many that are positive. When groundlessness is encountered people often feel some degree of existential terror or anxiety, fear or distress of some kind, and most often try to fill it with stuff - distractions, entertainment, preoccupations, work, relationship, adventure, substance use, toys, etc. - to provide a sense of solidity, groundedness, to shore up or secure the sense of self-identity which has been shaken. But there are a few individuals who go into that emptiness, explore it, imbibe it, "learn to let go into it," and come out with art and poetry, beauty and meditation.

Here it is again but with a Tibetan twist:
Look into the sphere of birthless mind!
Let dawn the enjoyment of ceaseless play!
When free of hope and fear, that's the result.
Why speak of birth and death?
Come to the natural, unmodified state!
- Milarepa

It is said in so many ways by so many lovers over the ages. All of them have a different twist, a different language for the ineffable, for groundlessness, emptiness. In the above passage Milarepa calls it the "birthless mind." How wonderful! Jesus calls it "God the Father" or "the kingdom of Heaven." All of our brothers and sisters over the ages have gone into it, Lao Tzu, Kabir, Rumi, Hafiz, Buddha, St. John of the Cross, and contemporaries like John Tarrant, Adya, Eckart, Trungpa, Osho and many others. Milarepa says "come to the natural, unmodified state!" - the unconditioned. The Sufi above calls it "the cloudless sky." Milarepa says that when we let go into it, when we allow and release from hope and fear, the result is a blissful dawning of ceaseless play; an enjoyment already, always and everywhere. With our fidelity we presence this everywhere, in our light and easy moments as well as when we are dealing with difficult or challenging circumstances.


Steven Crisp said...

Great insights, Meredith.

I believe without a doubt that our ego (sense of self) is the inhibitor to so many timeless, spaceless wonders. But I also believe (and this has evolved over time) that we don't actually have to "kill" the ego. Indeed, it is rather useful for getting by in the work-a-day world.

Instead, we must learn to transcend it, and by that, to be able to call on the ego (and our mind) when *we* (the Self with a capital S) deem it useful. Like a tool in a tool box. We take it out when we need it, and put it back when we don't.

Right now, for most people, the ego/mind is in charge, thinking up all sorts of problems to expect in the future, and harboring all sorts of guilt and damage from our past. And it conditions us with this baggage to interpret the present moment, and hereby miss its inherent beauty.

So yes, we must transcend the ego. Recognize our Authentic Self -- and thereby our interconnectedness with the universe. And *experience* the present moment, now, and again, and once again.

Thanks for the reminder, and the useful references.

anonymous julie said...

If I don't have Cloud, I really ought to. Gosh. Thank you for these quotes!

Steven, I'm with you... sense of self is a useful tool, but nothing more... it's the identification with it that's the problem, and I think that's what most teachers (not that I've read a zillion or anything) try to get at. To kill the ego means it's dead to us, like, "you're dead to me" - it cuts off an intimacy of relationship, not existence. If that makes sense. So without identifying with anything, what's left is -

Meredith said...

Steven and Julie,
I am with you, too.
Thank you for your comments.