When we talk about coherence, we are talking about meaning that is not blocked in any way. It is not running up against various psychological or cultural blocks. Like water seeking lower ground, it simply flows where it will. This idea – and the image of the water – is helpful in that it can provide a model for how to approach our experience of coherence.
Most importantly, we cannot force coherence. That is a sort of violation, a fundamentally incoherent act that can neither nurture nor sustain the state of energetic clarity we are talking about. We have to allow meaning to find itself – to create itself, if you will. What is called for is not will power or vision so much as a sort of vigorous attention to the whole.
We want to see – to perceive – the blocks without actually doing anything about them. That is a big change in how we are used to thinking and in how we relate to our thinking. When hurt shows up, we are not going to try and make it better. When resentments show up, we are not going to say: well, I shouldn’t feel that way because so-and-so never did anything to me. It can seem right and natural to respond to unpleasant emotions by trying to heal them or avoid them or squash them down but what is called for is simply to allow them to be and then to observe them.
Water finds lower ground, doesn’t it? Rivers wind their way to the sea. Of course we can block them – with large man-made dams maybe. Fallen trees can block them. But water has a way of persisting in its direction. It has a sort of insistence to it. Read John McPhee’s wonderful book “The Control of Nature.” It is an early classic in the genre of coherence studies, though I doubt McPhee saw it that way. Human beings dam up the Atchafalaya and it just undoes all our efforts.
That is a way of saying, by analogy, that our psychological blocks can be quite sophisticated and quite deep-rooted but meaning persists. Coherence longs for itself. Perhaps we can say it that way. And we are really helpless in the face of that longing. If we allow water to simply flow where it will, what remains is a landscape in which we can reside with some degree of certainty and comfort. But if we look at the landscape and try to force the water into an accommodation, well, that is not going to be so successful.
So we have to see that. Seeing that means that we are going to be less invested in “defending” our blocks. We will begin to see that they are not so important, are actually quite insignificant. It is a sort of surrender to meaning, right? We are saying that the landscape – the interior landscape – has a form it will assume but we are not charged with building or shaping that form. And so we call back in a sort of passive way, allowing our intensity to manifest in our awareness rather than our activity.
To simply be with the movement of meaning – its shifts, its currents, its energies – without judging it or interacting with it is really a gift. It is a gift because it is healing and so we benefit from it. There is a lot of focus in traditional religions (probably no-so-traditional religions too) about inner peace but with their heavy emphasis on form, these institutions never really get us there. Everything is codified and reinforced and so forth. You have to sit on the zafu this way for this long. You have to say this prayer before eating that wafer. It all amounts to forcing meaning along a certain path. I know a lot of my friends – particularly Buddhist – will resist, if not resent, this characterization but I think there is something to it. I think there is some value. Coherence is new. What has passed is not going to be so helpful or fructive.
So again, we do not have to do anything other than pay attention. This is going to be challenging at first, but sooner than most people realize or expect, its benefits emerge. Some light enters and once there is light, the darkness is undone. So we begin to see that we can do this – we can pay attention – and we see that to which we pay attention if forever new, forever unfolding. And in a sort of penultimate sense, we see at last that even our attention is unfolding – is part of the whole enfoldment. Like water rushing down hill for the slow-streaming river, what we are doing is natural and even easy. We might even say, it is.