8/30/2009

While Walking


The following practices will stop the mind while you take a walk, delivering attention from the artificial world of thought into the Radiance of immediate perception.
When we walk in Grace we don't practice anything. But the egoic mind wants to take over and DO something. We yearn to walk in Grace, and we know how vain it is to practice any "technique." But what should we do about this mind that keeps getting in the way?
We trick it. We trick this ego by giving it exactly what it wants: something to do. Offer the mind something which short-circuits its thinking and annihilates its effort. Then the mind is dumb-struck, thoughtless, and capable of only one thing: observing. These practices are given simply to sabotage our ambition, to stop our thinking so that we can notice what is.
Every spiritual practice, ritual, or meditation is only this: an act of sabotage. Spiritual practices have one purpose: to stop the mind. There is no other value to any religious technique whatsoever.
Between the eye and the earth, thought throws up its gray world of distraction. God is only real, as experience, when there is no thought of "God." In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is poured out all over the earth, but men do not see it." If you stop thinking, you will see the face of Christ in the swirling pond-water of a disappearing tadpole, or in the wing of the moth you mistook a moment ago for a withered pod.
Short-circuit thinking and awaken to a world that doesn't depend on the vanity of our speculation. Let the landscape settle back into its miracle, revealing the Kingdom which has always been right here.
1. Place
Find a place near your home or work where you can walk among green plants, useless rocks, still water, dripping rain or running stream. Suppose we say that it is the responsibility of each citizen to connect with such a place for walking. This would be the first rule of a healthy civilization.
2. Moving Stillness
Have you ever noticed pure space? Not the objects in space, but space itself? Pure space cannot be noticed by eye or ear: it is noticed by committing an intentional act of naked awareness. Often this happens when we travel to the great plains or the desert: we notice space as space, and it is breath-taking. But confined to the cubicles of our daily work, and the smaller cubicles of thought, we lose all sense of spaciousness. Yet we can practice spaciousness while taking a walk. Then we can bring some of that spacious, boundless quality back to our work place, and our relationships.
Anger, fear and envy require some inner space in which to be seen, to dissipate and to dissolve. Inner spaciousness is the setting of forgiveness. Where will we acquire that inward space?
Walk in wild places. Walk slowly. Become aware of the space around you as an immense sea of living force, more substantial than the objects it contains. This is a shift of foreground-background. Space becomes foreground, the things in space, background.
Now become aware of the movement of your body into the stillness of space. You are not entering space: space is drawing you, opening a way for your body to fill it. Depth of space welcomes you by expanding. It is not your effort that moves you, but the expansion of space that pulls you into its silent vacuum... This is motionless walking.

Let the movements of your body rise and fall in stillness. Observe motion in stillness and stillness in motion. Is there an edge between your movement and the still space around you? Notice the threshold where stillness trembles into motion, and motion settles into repose. This is the threshold where you float on God's breath. You are a secret wave rolling through the silence of the sea. You no longer move yourself: you are moved by Grace.
3. Divine Space
There is an ancient Tibetan saying, "Emptiness engenders compassion." Have you ever considered that what we call "God" is not "above" or "within," but present in space around you? Have you ever considered that space may be conscious? Why limit yourself by assuming otherwise? When you were a child, it was the most natural thing in the world to assume that the space around you was the mind of God. Have you considered that the objective world of things may exist simply to make us aware of the space around them, so that we may awaken to the Presence of the Divine?
Walk slowly into stillness. As you become conscious of space, allow space to be conscious of you, enfolding you in its care. Let space envelope your body as a sea of living compassion. This experience is available without the slightest religious belief or intellectual analysis. All you need to do is agree to become aware.
Now see the stones on your path, the weeds, trees, children, clouds, all bathed and submerged in the translucent waters of divine love, the living power of space.
4. Hearing Silence
Just as you shifted your attention from objects in space to space itself, you can shift your attention from sounds to silence. Become aware of silence, not by resisting noises but by hearing them. Hear the subtlest, the most distant sounds. Hear the quietness between one bird's chirp and the next. A single thrush's cry can clear the weather of your thoughts. A cricket can dispel the mind. When you are really listening to that cricket, you cannot be anywhere else but here, now. There can be no time past or future when there is a cricket.
Allow a foreground-background shift in your listening. Let sounds become backround as silence condenses into the primary texture of your sensation. You can hear the silence even while threads of sound arise and dissolve within it.
This too, a threshold: between sound and silence, where a constant subliminal song arises from the elements, the wind, the rain, the earth. The song is there even in the distant swish of city traffic. Beneath each creature-melody, a basso continuo. Hear that silence and you are in the beginning, at the first moment of creation, where the world is spoken from silence.

5. One Color
Become aware of a single color. Choose a color, any color. As you walk, see the vibrancy of that one color, its infinite variety, all around you. Notice that color in trunk bark, clouds on water, swathes of field weed. Be Van Gogh on a country road outside of Arles, finding purple in a stone, or pink in cow manure, blue in the summer wheat. This exercise will sharpen your spiritual eye. As Jesus taught, "The eye is the light of your body. When your eye is single, your whole body is full of light!"
When you walk in the forest, try this exercise with the color green. How many shades of green do you see? You'll be stunned as you wander through the dimensions, the corridors, the cathedral vaults of green. In the 10th Century, Hildegaard of Bingen described the Holy Spirit as "greening power." As she walked in deep forests along the river Rhine, she saw God all around her.


6. One Thing
A Sufi proverb says, "The fools! They ask for miracles when they are surrounded by nothing else!" There is no greater miracle than a Thing. Any Thing. How does it emerge from space? How do quadrillions of sub-nuclear particles maintain its form? Was it created in the past? Or is it created now, as a continuous particle-stream emitted from the vacuum of space? If the Thing was created in the past, what living energy makes it continue to be present? If the Thing is created now, it must be alive with the breath of its creator, even if it is a stone. Ask these questions about any Thing you look at or hold in your hand. Perhaps it is the smallest flower, or a smooth pebble.
In his journal, painter Andrew Wyeth writes: "I can never get close enough to an object, or inside of it enough." Quantum physics reveals an inner world of resonant frequencies underlying the world of apparently inanimate objects. No thing is inanimate. The pebble is a cosmos. Stupendous energies burst and dissolve in it's atoms. Every proton was fashioned in a star. I told a kindergarten child that a stone is alive. When she told her teacher, the child got in trouble. I don't think the teacher was alive.
Every atom of this pebble vibrates with the same architectural intelligence that designed our galaxy. In scale, the atom contains shimmering light-years of consciousness. Medieval theologians understood this. Pondering the "quidity," the "whatness" of a Thing, they saw angels dancing in a neutron. We joke about it. We are blind.
James Joyce wrote of "the ineluctable modality of the visible." The world ripples with miracle in the suchness of Things as they are. A robin's egg contains the sky. A thistle is filled with the stuff of suns. Every toddlers knows that leaves are shot with golden photons of Apollo. See like Issa, the Japanese haiku master: the whole earth is yours the moment you enter a dewdrop. If you can't find God in the wing of a gnat, you will never find God in heaven. Take a walk and look at a Thing.
In your primary attention, observe the space around the Thing, the Thing itself only in periphery. Let empty space solidify into consciousness. See the Thing bathed in living awareness. You are not only observing your own awareness of the Thing; you are observing God's awareness of creation.
Gradually allow your attention to shift back to the edge of the Thing in space. Observe that edge dissolve into atoms of air. Can you observe that there are really no boundaries? Mathematicians tell us that objects don't end at their apparent edges: they infuse through fractal geometry the air around them, extending to infinity. Zeno was right: there's a never-ending distance between the hand and the Thing it tries to touch. Our fingers are asymptotes. "If the doors of perception were open, we would see all things as they are: infinite." (William Blake)
As you observe this liminal threshold between the Thing and the space around it, let your gaze soften. Become aware of the aureole around the edges of the Thing, just as you might see a glow around a flame. Move your gaze to the object, then back to the space around it, until your attention settles in the radiant vibrancy between them. You are exploring the realm where Spirit becomes matter. You are perceiving the breath of God at work in creation.
Don't concern yourself whether this aura is objectively "real" or just a "trick" of the eye. Such questions will only invite your mind to chatter. Instead, silently observe the creative spiritual shimmer at the threshold of Thingness.
Practice this for a minute or two, then resume your walk. As you familiarize yourself with this mode of seeing, it begins to happen spontaneously while walking. Eventually, it happens in the crowded market place. Now you are ready to look at people!
7. Seeing People
As Blake wrote: "We are set on earth a little space to learn to bear the beams of love."
While sitting in a doctor's waiting room, or on a subway, or walking in a busy market, observe a Person just as you observed a Thing. You have seen the living energy of a flower, a leaf, a stone in the woods. What does the living energy of a Person look like? Even if the Person seems hostile, strange, threatening, observe the space around them. Gradually shift your attention to that threshold between form and space, at the periphery of the Person's face. See the lively edge around the Person's head, the shimmer of life between their body and the space that enfolds it. After practicing this for a few moments, shift your gaze gently to the Person's face.
You will see that face in a new way, bathed by an inner light. You will see, glowing through the outer form, the inwardness that makes that Thing a person. You will see something of the child who once inhabited that form, glimmering beneath layers of regret, etchings of sorrow. The empty space of your awareness will enfold that Person's face in spontaneous compassion. You will know that Person as perfect, right in this moment.
Even if, especially if, you are in a difficult relationship, and the other person is angry or afflicted, practice this gazing. You don't need to listen to what the Person is saying. At that moment of tension, what they say doesn't matter anyway. Just embrace their countenance with awareness, God's awareness. Let the motion of their anger and pain be enfolded by the stillness of pure space. You will not only save your mind from entanglement: you will soften and illuminate the their world. This is how to deal with another person's anger: as you would deal with a flower in the silence of the forest.

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