Update Posted by Douglas on December 29, 1999 at 04:30:48:
It is the awareness, the full experience . . . of how you are stuck, that makes you recover.
Season’s Greetings to Everyone:
I find it curious that the two countries, the United States and Canada, can border on each other over vast distances yet be so different
in character. It puzzles me. Some of the distinctions are simply a matter of geography. For instance, take the celebration of
Thanksgiving which is timed to coincide with harvest. Now, in Canada it is observed in October which is a concession to the climate in
this more northerly sphere whereas in the United States it is observed in late November, the majority of the States being in more
southerly climes. Indeed the weather would seem to have a bearing on a number of differences. Take the month of February, for
example. In Canada the weather is invariably horrid; everyone is fed up with getting up dark and early; the sun never shines anyway; the
snow, from three inches to thirty feet, depending where you live, is filthy; it’s cold; on the prairies, it is bitterly cold and people go
around muttering: “But it’s a dry cold.” by way of consolation; on the west coast it is invariably wet and people go around muttering:
“But its a dry rain.” by way of consolation; everywhere, Canadians go around cursing their ancestors for not having had the common
sense to emigrate to Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean, anyplace but here. February has been proclaimed National Neurotic Month.
What perplexes me here is why December should be National Neurotic Month in the United States for having perused the postings on
the blackboard over the past few weeks that have occurred in my absence, I can think of no other explanation for the behaviour that is
Excuse me for a minute; I seem to have something in my eye.
I should like to share with all of you some of the developments in my evolving practice of present centred awareness. None of what I
have to say is original; all of it is begged, borrowed, or out rightly stolen. Nevertheless the subject that I would care to broach — more
of a suggestion really — is one that has seldom graced these pages — spirituality. Occasionally, in her role as Class Librarian, Sally has
touched on the subject in her references, but their really has been no discussion on how one might integrate spirituality into our
practice. It is not a given. Perhaps you may find this pertinent to your own situation in life, perhaps not. Also, you should be forewarned
that I am not entirely clear on the subject myself as will soon become evident. I am not clear period but what the hell.
I am going to make the presumption that all of you in the practice of mindfulness have realized that it requires divided attention, that
the practice consists of simultaneously maintaining awareness of both oneself and either an external or internal object. In using the
term internal object, I am thinking of the Buddhist concept of the mind being a sixth sense, one that senses thoughts, ideas, concepts,
mental objects, and much to that effect. One is aware of not only the experienced but of oneself as experiencing. James Westly
remarks (one of Sally finds):
“Our attention ceases to be a single pointed arrow directed out toward the world, and becomes a double pointed arrow, with an equal
amount of attention being directed inward.”
Somedays, I can sustain my awareness in both directions. Somedays, I oscillate. Somedays, I am a zombie. The same may be said of my
formal practice of meditation as well. So it goes. One is working with being and doing and baggage is irrelevant. I suspect that I am not
alone in this experience.
Now, I should like to complicate the picture by dividing attention three ways. Here, I am informed, on the one hand, by Ouspensky’s
explanation of the teachings of Gurdjieff, and my interpretation of this teaching may be awry — very awry — as I have found their
works to be more than a little obscure. I am counting on the Coach to clean up whatever mess I make in this regard. On the other hand,
my next source is Joko Beck, a Zen Buddhist teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan lineage. There are almost enough Zen practitioners at this
site to have a virtual temple and here I am hoping that your understanding will augment my limited grasp for insight is oftentimes
What I am attempting to indicate here when I speak of dividing attention three ways, if I am interpreting Ouspensky correctly, is:
1. being aware of the experienced,
2. being aware of experiencing,
3. being aware of the larger picture,
The “larger picture” is in need of definition. If I am correct in my reading, having attention divided three ways means incorporating
into one’s awareness the existence of what the recovery movement would label a “higher power”. Obviously, I am not about to prescribe
what that would be for any given individual. I am presuming that a “Higher Power” could be a traditional religious figure, a teaching, a
philosophy, a personal system of ideas, whatever ultimately gives mission and meaning to one’s life. I have stated elsewhere on these
pages that: “It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes life worth living.” That will serve as an example.
The idea here is to be able to view with indulgence the petty melodrama of one’s life, the machinations of one’s ego/personality, with an
equanimity and a detachment that is both dispassionate and compassionate — not to take oneself so damn seriously in other words.
Humour helps. Needless to say, one needs to cultivate an “Observing Self” for this to be effective. As an aside, Gurdjieff notes that the
Observing Self evolves from being a helpless bystander into a warrior that has the capacity to effect change in the moment, a role he
called the Deputy Steward.
Personally, I am not comfortable with this as a strategy. It is too concept driven and concepts, although useful in their own right, are
not reality. This is why, I am more attracted to Joko Beck’s description and prescription of “A Larger Container” for it is a natural
outgrowth of the practice of present centred awareness rather than an imposition. Yet there is one sentence in her elucidation — the
one accented by the *s — that utterly baffles me and any insight that any member of this class may have in this regard would be most
appreciated. I am going to quote at length here such that you may all draw your own conclusions as they pertain to your own experience.
(In the previous paragraphs, Joko Beck is exploring the experience of anger for being mindful in the heat of anger is oftentimes nigh
“If we truly step back and observe — and as I said, it’s extremely difficult to do when angry — we will be capable in time of seeing our
thoughts as thoughts (unreal) and not as the truth. Sometimes I have gone through this practice ten, twenty, thirty times before the
thoughts finally subside. When they do I am left with what? I am left with the direct experience of the physical reaction in my body,
the residue, so to speak. When I directly experience this residue (as tension, contraction), since there is no duality in direct experience,
I will slowly enter the dimension which knows what to do, what action to take. It knows what is the best action, not just for me but for
the other as well. In making A Bigger Container, I taste “oneness” in a direct way.
“We can talk about “oneness” until the cows come home. But how do we actually separate ourselves from others? How? The pride out of
which anger is born is what separates us. And the solution is a practice in which we experience this separating emotion as a definite
bodily state. When we do, A Bigger Container is created.”
“What is created, what grows, is the amount of life I can hold without it upsetting me, dominating me. At first the space is quite
restricted, then it’s a bit bigger, and then it’s bigger still. It need never cease to grow. And the enlightened state is that enormous and
compassionate space. But as long as we live we find there is a limit to our container size and it is at that point that we must practice.
And how do we know where that cut-off point is? We are at that point when we feel any degree of upset, of anger. It’s no mystery at
all. And the strength of our practice is how big that container gets.”
*This practice of making A Bigger Container is essentially spiritual because it is essentially nothing at all.* A Bigger Container isn’t a
thing; awareness is not a thing; the witness is not a thing or a person. There is not somebody witnessing. Nevertheless that which can
witness my mind and body must be other than my mind and body. If I can observe my mind and body in an angry state, who is this “I”
who observes? It shows me that I am other than my anger, bigger than my anger, and this knowledge enables me to build A Bigger
Container, to grow. So what must be increased is the ability to observe. What we observe is always secondary. It isn’t important that we
are upset; what is important is the ability to observe the upset.”
One can apprehend the drift of the piece. It echoes many an observation that the Coach has made in his probing and prodding. I,
myself, have more than an intimation of the state that she is indicating yet for the life of me, that one sentence:
“The practice of making A Bigger Container is essentially spiritual because it is essentially nothing at all.”
perplexes me. It has the attributes of a Koan. There is the recognition that I should probably just sit on it or sit with it but
temperamentally that is not me particularly when I am asleep. Like a dog with a favourite slipper, I tend to worry ideas to death.
Although I still can not clearly see why the experience of negation should be spiritual, I find my thoughts to be at the onset, at the
leading edge of considering “creatio ex nihilo” (creation out of nothing). If I affirm creative apperception or living creatively as one of
my primary spiritual values, is enabling being to emerge from nonbeing spiritual? I find myself in the territory of R. D. Laing, when he
“If there are no meanings, no values, no source of sustenance of help, then man, as creator, must invent, conjure up meanings and values,
sustenance and succour out of nothing,. He is a magician.”
If I hold this as a value in my awareness, on the one hand, my perspective is tempered by what Keats referred to as Negative Capability:
“I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching
after fact and reason.”
These difficult remarks are paraphrased by Bate as follows:
“Our life is filled with change, uncertainties, mysteries, no one complete system of rigid categories will explain it fully. We can grasp
and understand the elusive flux of life only by being imaginatively open-minded, sympathetic, receptive — by extending every possible
feeler that we may have potentially in us. But we can achieve this active awareness only by negating our own egos. We must not only rise
above our own vanity and prejudices, but resist the temptation to make up our minds on everything, and to have always ready a neat
answer. If we discard a momentary insight, for example, because we cannot fit it into a static category or systematic framework, we
are selfishly asserting our own ‘identity.’ A great poet is less concerned with himself, and has his eyes on what is without. With him ‘the
sense of Beauty’ — the capacity to relish concrete reality in its full if elusive, meaning — ‘overcomes every other consideration.’ In fact
it goes beyond and ‘obliterates’ the act of ‘consideration’ of deliberating, analyzing, and piecing together experience in a logical
structure. “(Major British Writers, p.361n).
Patently, this is not an easy thing for me to do — it goes against the grain. In a sense, even the discussion herein, the very medium,
contradicts what I am attempting to communicate.
On the other hand, there is really no need for my ego or personality to intervene in the process nevermind hold proprietary rights over
the product. Let us say that I extend my philosophy of creativity to encompass not only all of humanity but the Universe itself.
Creativity in this respect would be synonymous with evolution; it would be a Darwinian Universe. As a qualification, there is little doubt
that the age in which I live contributes to this view, the view that I hold here at the present time. I may not have held this view
elsewhere in a different age. From this perspective, Life could care less about my narcissistic concerns. What it demands is my co-
operation, adaption, and contribution be it ever so little. Otherwise, to hell with me. Here is R. D. Laing again:
“Man creates in transcending himself in revealing himself. But what creates, wherefrom and whereto, the clay, the pot and the potter, all
are not-me. I am the witness, the medium, the occasion of a happening that the created thing makes evident.”
In any event, these are the type of philosophies that I struggle to inspire my practice of present centred awareness with. When all is
said and done, It is just a manoeuvre, a poor substitute for the realization of the non-substantiality of the self and a suffering
recognition of the problematic and not the immateriality of the self that afflicts itself with the problem. That state is presently not
even on the horizon of my consciousness. One has to make do with one’s present limitations and boundaries.
Do you see where I am coming from?
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Continue with Winter 1999/2000 Classroom Talk or
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Archived February 13, 2000