How wordy I am at 4 a.m.! Coming back the dirt road west, muttering in moonlit shadows, scribbling notes in the kitchen while the coffee boils, and later hunched over in the back room to type, unsure as always if I am writing to save myself or writing to keep at bay that which has always said it would save me.
Can we stay with Life? Simply be present to it as it is, without projecting our wishes and fears onto it? Life renews itself moment by moment, and we are a non-divisible aspect of this renewal. Salvation knows this and rests wholly in it. In a sense, we are “saved” when we no longer perceive a self that requires saving, or present or future conditions to be saved from.
Projection, in which we replace reality with ideas about reality, is what blocks our awareness of reality. Reality, in this sense, is simply Life, though we call it what we will – love, God, source, et cetera. The word is not the thing and – in another way – even the thing is not the thing.
When we project, we replace what is with our own images: these images are ideals and goals: it should have gone this way. It will go that way. These images are like a cloud upon life: they obscure the simple nature of life, which is merely what is. There is nothing mystical or magical about this. It is a fact. When I give attention to my internal representations of reality, I am not giving attention to reality. And reality is simply what appears before me, which appearance includes my mental activity.
In other words, what is subsumes my fantasies about what is. God is beyond our ideas about God because ideas are always limited. This is in the nature of a paradox. We are not separated from Life but we think we’re separated from Life and so in effect we are separated from Life. And there is no single real answer to this paradox: one simply becomes aware of its unresolvable nature and then dwells in the inherent uncertainty or flux which, when one is no longer insisting it be still or certain or one thing only, becomes very peaceful and reliable indeed.
When I walk at 4 a.m., my walking often slows, and I become still to a degree otherwise uncharacteristic of my nature. In those moments, the self (which is merely a concatenation of ideas) recedes and softens because I am no longer projecting it: there is nothing really to project. Life itself suffices: the stars, the moonlight, the mist, the owls, the breezes in the pine trees, and the pine trees. I feel no need in those moments to remake those moments or direct those moments. The subsequent relief is so great I often fall to my haunches in grateful confusion and even tears. The secret is there is no secret. There never was any mystery: the metaphysical detective can hang up his deerstalker.
We are not separate from what we are observing: we are what is observed, too. We are life expressing itself in full awareness of its expression. To say it – or read it – is nothing, but to know – to remember – it is to be saved from grief and loss and delivered unto eternity.
The challenge has always been to retain that peace – that sense that life is beyond our capacity to control or contain through understanding – and this involves in significant part not trying to hold onto it. When we cling to anything, we are placing a condition on it. We are saying that our joy and peace are contingent on this thing. We objectify whatever it is: a morning walk, a woman who lets the little things go, a dog, a dream of writing. Whatever. The object becomes an idol which replaces what is and our mind wanders. Our attention drifts. Awakening might be understood as the realized capacity to give one’s attention only to reality and not to be distracted by fantasies and dreams of what was or what might be. The present always suffices: but we are not inclined to see this, much less accept it.
So it is very hard to avoid seeking and learning and memorializing, all of which are forms of resisting the unknowable flux of what is. There is no point in pretending otherwise. In the beginning, all we can do is become aware of when we are looking away from reality. There is no reparative action other than this awareness. Awareness is naturally curative, because it always involves giving attention to what is in this moment. But it must be continual. Our inclination is to settle by clinging, by carving things in stone, all of which constitute frantic (and faulty) bulwarks against the reality that life is never not in motion. Reality does not submit to stasis. Gently and subtly – but surely – it is always moving, and we are its movement. What we call the separation is simply our resistance to this movement: our insistence that it stop or slow or otherwise accommodate us. Only when we cease making demands do we see that much like the proverbial sparrows and the lilies we have no needs that go unmet.
Life is emergent and present and we are an expression of it. That’s all. It is not about us, as “we” understand “us.” We are not outside life perceiving it – naming it, memorizing it, judging it, and so forth. It seems that way, but that’s the illusion. We are not separate from what we are observing: we are what is observed, too. We are life expressing itself in full awareness of its expression. To say it – or read it – is nothing, but to know – to remember – it is to be saved from grief and loss and delivered unto eternity.
And again, this is neither mystical nor magical. It is a simple truth inherent in Life which was going on long before our bodies showed up and which will be going on long after they are gone.
Anyway, what I am really trying to say here is: you can walk to it sometimes: at 4 a.m. it waits in the fields and on moonlit trails winding through the hushed forest: it asks when you will be ready to take it home with you, not just sample it and retreat, not hoard it for the ones with whom you’re in love, not hide it with semantic effusion and symbolism. These poems and sentences are okay, it says. But I am the Silence from which they emerge and I am the Light into which they return.
One morning you are pouring coffee
and mentally rehearsing sentences
when you look up in the shadowed kitchen of 4 a.m.
and – no warning – it is there: the realization
that you are not separate from Life.
It followed you back like a stray dog
and you can’t say no because
you already said yes.
A long time ago: yes.
It doesn’t ask if you’re ready
because you are:
that is why it is here.