I've been thinking about space lately – not Star Trek's final frontier, of which I am a fan, but inner space, which is much bigger than anything on Star Trek.
Physicists tell us that we're mostly empty space and that the space within us, if drawn to scale, would mimic the space between and within solar systems and galaxies.
Spiritual teachers suggest that space is a sacred emptiness – an infinite, formless, timeless dimension in which all forms and everything temporary (including all thoughts and material objects) arise and subside.
We find this emptiness in the silence between thoughts.It's an exquisitely quiet presence, sometimes described as a noiselessness faintly humming in the background of existence. The search for it is the search for our truest self – that which is vast, nameless and unknowable in us.It is, I believe, the search for God.
Sacred emptiness holds us ever so gently.It's all around us and all within us.In some mysterious way, a way that feels so true to me and yet so outlandish, we are the holder and the held.
A friend recently wrote about an experience of walking meditation, in which he focused on at-one-ness, hoping to feel a deep sense of connection.Instead, what came to him was the thought that if you replace just the "t" in at-one-ness, you get aloneness.His thoughtful comment invited me to ponder some themes I've been writing about lately.
One mystery that's awed me for some time is the paradox that we are always alone and we are never alone. Human experience is one of separateness. As we grapple with separateness, we learn so much.We get glimpses of oneness and the memory of who we are.And then we forget – only to learn more, remember more and forget again.
The truth of our oneness is sometimes validated by a beautiful feeling of deep peace.And, sometimes, it's not validated at all – at least not in any way we can tell.When we feel the pain of separateness and aloneness, the best I think we can do is stay gentle and present and spacious with the discomfort. We don't get to make it go away. We don't get to eliminate it or control it.It moves through us at its own pace. And it moves best when we give it breath – and the quiet space of awareness.
We can, of course (and often do), turn our discomfort into real suffering by going to war with it and by indulging in various stories of fear and unworthiness.And that suffering invites more learning.Life as I know it on this planet.
At-one-ness and aloneness – only a tiny letter apart.
After last week's posting, I've started paying attention, once again, to what brain researchers are calling "the default mode" – the place mind automatically goes during down time, when we're not busy doing something.For me, that place usually involves fret and fantasy – including regrets and recriminations, review and rehearsal, preparation and planning, and imaginary interactions.Standard monkey mind.
I'm playing with ways to shift this default mode to something much more peaceful, so that idle moments are actually restful and restorative.My favorite approach is to breathe light (love energy) into my lower belly, hold it there for a moment, then exhale through the heart – clearing and opening the heart, sharing the light.
There are lots of possibilities here.The trick, I think, is to find something we like, keep it simple, and stubbornly stick to it – gently and firmly returning to the flow each time we stray.
If it's true that we need 10,000 repetitions to create a new default, I only have about 9,947 to go.
Joanie and I spent the last few days backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail.As usual, the experience out there was an immersion in beauty – interesting, varied, subtle and not-so-subtle beauty. For me, it's a bit like Holy Communion.
One evening, an hour or so before dusk, I decided to write about an experience in the moment.For those who have been following these postings for a while, you'll detect a familiar theme.
Beauty and the Beast
I'm sitting on a rock face high on a bluff overlooking a beaver pond way below in a valley of pines and poplars.It's a majestic scene – quietly beautiful as the sun begins to soften in the western sky.Leaning back, lounge-chair-style, with a huge slab of granite supporting me and stubby cedars growing through crevices in the rock at my feet, I realize, with a jolt, that for some time now I've let this bounty of beauty slip right through my awareness.Instead, my attention has been riveted to an interior drama, a fretful fantasy.The "beast" was back.
Eckhart Tolle – whose book, The New Earth, now provides backing for the sheet of paper I'm writing on – says it's a success when we become aware of ego's story telling.Maybe so.At this moment, though, I'm not feeling particularly successful – more ego commentary, I suspect.
Last night, at a campsite six miles southwest down the trail, while reading The New Earth, I was struck by a particularly powerful passage in his book.I hunt for it among dog-eared pages.
"You are the light of Presence, the awareness that is prior to and deeper than any thoughts and emotions."(p. 118).
Grateful for the message, I breathe … and soften – attuned, for a time, to the quiet observer inside who does not judge, who does not fret.