October 1, 2006

Keepin' Busy

After awakening, it is necessary to always observe and examine yourself. When errant thoughts suddenly arise, do not go along with them at all; reduce them, until you reach the point of non-contrivance, which alone is the ultimate end. This is the ox-herding practice carried on by all illuminates after their enlightenment. Even though there is subsequent cultivation, they have already realized sudden enlightenment.
Master Chinul (1158-1210)

This is like Adya saying, "Cut the root first, then prune the branches; wake up first, then work on your stuff."

Although one has realized their true nature, there is still "subsequent cultivation." There is much to clean up, refine, and learn to articulate and express with ever-increasing elegance and grace.


I often hear the following words in casual conversations, "Keepin busy? Oh yeah, I'm keepin busy." It's like a mantra, the importance of keeping busy; almost like a matter of life and death. It is said by retired folks as well as non-retired. Much of this is about being occupied and preoccupied. These are considered good things, and seems to me much of the time to involve an active resistance to exposure to groundlessness.

Occupation, an occupied or preoccupied state of mind, thinking, planning etc, seems to substantiate and confirm that we "are." Occupied, we feel we exist. Groundlessness is the absence of occupation, and something one might be exposed to in meditation.

Way back when I was exposed involuntarily to groundlessness during a time of despair, I felt crushed and terrified, as if I were dying. Only much later did I realize the freedom of a cloudless sky in groundlessness. While lost and drowning in existential terror I was advised to keep busy, keep occupied. I followed that advice and eventually my fear began to subside as I did all I could to avoid the excruciating suffering I experienced with exposure to groundlessness. While exposed I was sensitive, naked, raw, and vulnerable. I occupied my "self" intensely to avoid the pain and thicken my skin - kind of like building a better suit of armor to protect and defend my self. Over the years I used this suit of armor to avoid any further exposure to groundlessness, and to regain composure and appear functional during times of crisis or a challenge to the integrity of my "self."

Rehabilitating and strengthening my self-identity has been facilitated by keeping occupied. There seems to be a symbiosis here between occupation and ego-fixation. It fends off the encroachment of existential anxiety. It protects the integrity of self-identity with a constant stream of thoughts, plans, hopes and dreams, ideas and memories which can serve as a kind of functional fog preventing a clear picture of the ego-fixation process at work. So the process remains underground, unconscious, and the illusion remains intact. But if groundless is given any opening, if it is allowed to be, then existential anxiety often comes in as the self-identity feels its insubstantiality. Waking up from the dream of self-identity necessarily involves a letting go into this insubstantiality with its initial attendant anxiety.

While we are suffering, we use occupation to avoid looking at the root cause of suffering. Being aware and unoccupied, even for a brief period, can be a meditation that exposes us to groundlessness, primordial emptiness, and formlessness. This exposure can unconceal ego-fixation and cut it at the root, allowing our true nature to emerge.

If ego-fixation and its story in time are the source of our meaning in life then it takes on an enormous significance, and becomes something we would not like to let go of. If our reward and fulfillment in life are perceived to come from self-identity and its story, then it would appear to be something we would want to hold onto tightly. This may account for the desire for awakening on the one hand and the persistent clinging to self-identity that prevents it on the other hand. Realizing the root cause of this mechanism of suffering, bringing it into the light of conscious awareness, allows for the possibility of it being dropped instantly in the now.

Cutting the root of suffering, exposing the process of ego-fixation, opens the way to realizing our true nature. With this realization that you are not the personality, relegates it to the role of functional servant, not who you are. Then we can work with much greater effectiveness on our "stuff" - the pain, wounds, trauma, the dysfunction and dis-ease of personality, in the historical /psychological dimension. Much, but not all, of this is found to clear up on its own with awakening. After awakening there remains the work/play of integrating and articulating the expression of wakefulness in our humanity.

Keepin’ busy... smiling,



irving said...

A very interesting post :) I think this Rumi poem has something to offer also:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

- Rumi

Jon said...

Amazing, isn't it, how hard we're willing to work to avoid seeing what we are!

Josh said...

A truly brilliant post. Thanks.

anonymous julie said...

Thanks, warmly, for sharing this. Sometimes doing seems like so much nothing... kind of a problem if one's trying to stay busy to avoid, to use your word (because it's a good one), groundlessness.

kitano0 said...

wow. thank you very much for this entry. this summarizes much of what i want to explore in my blog.
which is called "groundless".
another way the keeping busy-type of life is manifested is how parents over-schedule their children's lives. soccer, t-ball, tennis, church... on and on and the child has no time to daydream. of course, by keeping their kids busy, they stay busy,too. lots of pre-occupation and ego-fixation.

Meredith said...

Thank you for this poem - it is one of my favorite Rumi poems.

Jon, Josh, Julie, Thanks for coming by. Always nice to have you here.

Kitano0, Nice to meet you. Please come again!