Things, bodies, and sounds in our space have impact. Posted by John on June 03, 1999 at 20:25:39:
Rather synchronistically, I wrote all the following without yet having
seen your posting today, Pauline, or your good response to it, Sally.
(Not every kindergarten has a tough paralegal in the class!) It was you
that asked about "things impacting in our space" the other day, wasn't
it, Pauline? Now I see why. That infernal air conditioning unit sounds
like a perfect example of this lesson . . . drat it!
I'll comment a bit more about your situation tomorrow, but this is the
message that crossed with your posting today:
Now why d'ya suppose it is that yer ol' coach bothers to teach you
Students these cute little phrases, like "Things, bodies, and sounds
(like words) in space have impact," that I keep referring to over and
Is it to sound "intelligent," to be "artistic," to have lots of quotable
"sound bites?" :-) This gives me a chance to point out to you kiddees
what I actually *do* attempt to use words for, as much as I can. I use
words to simplify life for you, make the complex human situations that
come up in all of our lives so simple and basic that you can actually *
see* them . . . if you learn to wake up in mindfulness and watch.
"Tok-tok, tok-tok, tok-tok-tok-tok." High heels clacking on the
Without ever actually seeing or knowing the living person that dwells
above that clack-clacking, a whole melodrama may unfold in the life of
the person living down below. And the melodrama that does unfold, is a
reflection of that person's personality.
The sound waves of that tok-tok-tok actually penetrate the person's body
below. Subtle as that may be, when each of us here in class thinks
about that situation and empathizes with it, if we are actually awake in
the moment, we can possibly even *feel our body clutching up* inside "as
that tok-tok-tok goes on overhead." Sift in your imagination for the
verisimilitude of living through this episode, if you will.
And it doesn't have to be the prostitute living upstairs, it can be the
nasty neighbor on one side of your house, or even the noisy neighbor on
the other side, as it turns out now in Australia! Ha! "There's always
the dog," as Mits used to say. What is it that's getting to you now?
Loud music penetrates your space. Or, the buzzing meaningless dialogue
of a neighbor's television set that's on too loud. Or a motorcycle
being tuned up down the street. A monster air conditioning unit. It
can be the sight of their garbage that they leave strewn around in their
yard. It can be their *smell*. Every one of us in this classroom, far-
flung around the Earth, can empathize with this simple description of
these basics of life. It is the suchness of the raw edges that we
humans encounter each other with.
Things, bodies, and sounds (such as spoken words), and smells, have
impact in our space, and we react to them. This actually happens. And
when we wake up in mindfulness we can actually see and feel this going
on! Focusing on the basics like this makes it much easier to *know*
what to do. Remaining in the reactive state of ego-driven personality
keeps us languishing and distracted in suffering and misery because it
complicates the melodrama of the situation in so many unpredictable
ways. And out of this mental confusion, there may come violence and
When we are asleep, when the story of our life is being conducted
"without us," so to speak, by the *automatic* forces of the ego and
personality that we each have, simple situations like these become very
highly confused through all the normal, ordinary human reactions that we
"Tok-tok, tok-tok, tok . . ."
Emotions occur. A lot of thinking starts happening (without any *real*
knowing of the person involved up there). Desires crop up in the mind,
and one begins "thrashing about," "twisting in the wind," "suffering" in
pain. This is that very "dukka" that don Genepola Gunaratana is talking
about the other day, that dissatisfaction! Heidegger called it "angst."
Is the picture any different up in Vegas or the Northwoods, up in Canada
or way Down Under? Not at all. Because we're looking at the simple
basics of what a human person is, anywhere. And in a sense, we're *all*
living downstairs from a prostitute with high heels on, wherever we live
on this planet, if you see what I mean. And in a sense—we better
remember this side of it, too!—sometimes someone else is "living
downstairs" to *our own* "tok-tok-tok," so to speak. These basic and
recognizeable impacts go on back and forth between people in each
other's vicinity all the time. And this is what gives rise to the
Each of us would have a different ego/personality reaction to the
clacking of those heels up there. But, nonetheless, those sounds in
space would impact upon each of our bodies, and give rise to our own set
of conditioned reactions within. Some would "despise prostitutes," and
want to "drive them out" of public life. Some would sympathize with
them, or feel disturbed about social conditions that give rise to what
they do. Some would blame it on "men," etc., etc. Others would suffer
because they were reminded of the pain of being alone while others were
enjoying sweet pleasures upstairs that they yearned for and didn't know
how to find. (Certainly sex, when one has it and when one doesn't,
pertains to one of the greatest mysteries of life. What does it mean?
I don't know.) Prostitutes I saw in psychotherapy years ago never
described a lifestyle that sounded like it left much space for things
like being their own person, having happiness in companionship with men,
having satisfactions in life, or even having a good sex life. It
brought them "security," but seemingly at a *terribly painful price*.
I've taught prostitutes how to do mindfulness exercises in a
psychotherapy context, and they took to it with enthusiasm. Who knows
where they went in life after that. Occasionally I've heard encouraging
stories in later decades. None of us have easy lives, kiddees.
And if the lady in question had gone barefoot, no reactions would have
happened downstairs. It would have been a different world in the life
of our favorite "rocket scientist." :-) (Then, some other dog would
have barked!—some other thing, body, sound, smell . . . would come
along.) If those Northwoods hillbillies were as cleaned-up as those
Beverly Hillbillies used to be on t.v. . . . If that daughter had felt a
notion to get to know some of the neighbors her father had loved while
he was still alive, there would have been "peace in the valley" . . .
that is, until the people on the other side of the house turned on their
noisy air conditioning unit. Life is such a chancy situation, Students.
There's always "the dog." Things keep appearing in our space, popping
up and impacting our bodies.
Yet, it is not so complicated as it may seem. All these reactions that
we usually have to this in our emotions, thinking, wanting, and
aggressing or passively-aggressing with other people . . . all the time
we may spend sitting and stewing about it, and "twisting in the wind," .
. . all the *melodrama of it*—this is all unnecessary and superfluous
spin-off from the "specific identifiable impacts in question." When you
know "exactly what it is that is bothering you so much" . . . that turns
out to be something very simple: a thing, a body, a sound, such as a
few specific words a person has said, a smell.
It turns out NOT to be this whole elaborate emotional controversy that
the thinking mind is cooking up about the people involved, but just a
simple, identifiable thing in your space that has impacted upon your
body in a certain way, or a few such identifiable things, that have
given rise to all of the internal reactions that are making you squirm
and suffer so.
By practicing mindfulness, we can learn to recognize that it is certain
simple, *actual* things that impact on our bodies, and give rise to the
tendancy to "fill our lives up" with all that emotional reacting and
melodrama. It is like waking up and seeing: "Oh yes. I see exactly
what it is that has impacted me here." It is hearing the simple sound
of tok-tok-tok, without *adding in* the whole convoluted story about who
we think this woman is, and the whole charged issue of "what
prostitution means," and all the emotional, intellectual, and egoistic
associations that we each would have with that simple obvious sound that
is the *actual cause of our reactions*.
When we are being asleep, and we are *personalizing it*, when we add-in
whole chapters of what we think about the other person and what is going
on that automatically comes up in our mind in such situations, that
reactive thinking, in and of itself, is *more* words in our space, more
impact! This means more internal reactions, on and on! This is the
danger in indulging in stewing. It goes on and on punishing us when we
sit there and do this unconsciously. We go on and on reacting in sleep.
Not only do the words that are actually spoken to us by other people
impact on our bodies this way, but ALSO the words that we repeat about
it as we are thinking about the same scene or situation over and over
again in sleep.
[The move of the awareness game—whenever one remembers to play—is to
simply watch this phenomenology mindfully, and simply see what it is . .
. so that one becomes more and more familiar with the fact of this
obvious basic human transaction: certain simple obvious things in our
space having impact, they bring reactions within us. Then one can learn
to "just let it go of it" more and more often and more easily when this
same phenomenon pops up again in many different situations in the course
of one's life. One has clearly "got the picture," and one doesn't *have
to* do the stewing.
Reflect on this please: if the tok-tok-tok is replaced by the constant
barking of dogs in the neighborhood . . . it is exactly the same thing.
Then we may wind up fantasying the "rotten stinking" dog owners out
there who let their dogs bark and bark. What if it's the banging of the
plumbing? Then it's fantasies about the owner or the superintendent
that we're twisting in the wind about. What if it's the elevated train
roaring by your window? Planes flying over? What if it's a neighbor
saying, "I planted those trees to hide the sight of your house." What
if it's the unwashed body of a neighbor's child that smells, or the ribs
that are showing in an animal that is being starved?
I know this may sound corny, or "too simple" to be of much significance
to you Students, but there is much of value here to a mindfulness
practioner in this simplified, bare bones, view of the basic transaction
that takes place between humans interacting in the vicinity of each
If we wake up in mindfulness and experience in live reality the simple
obvious realization of this basic model of all human behavior, that
things, bodies, and sounds (like words), and smells entering our space
have impact and give rise to observable reactions in our emotions,
thinking, wanting and behaving . . . if we spot the simplicity of this,
and *can see* it, this brings us into a valuable space of "objective
And whether we decide to do something about it or not, at least, by
seeing it objectively this way, we don't have to suffer automatically
through all that painful stewing about the whole convoluted melodrama of
the "situation." We can see the specific integers where the live action
is taking place by noting these specific things, bodies, and sounds in
awareness. Simply realizing "This is all that it really is!" or "This
is the only intrusion that I really have to deal with in this
situation!"—such understandings can be healing in and of themselves.
Then . . .
Well, you will have to try this out on your own, Students, if you'd like
to, and get an experience of it. And then, by practicing this little
strategy, you will see on your own if you like dealing with "the
objective simplicities of mindful life" more than dealing with "the
melodramatic complexities of sleeping life" . . . or not. Either your
feet are on the floor or they aren't. You always have to tell on your
own what is so, and what you like to do.
Archived 15 Jun 99