Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for the insight

Thankful for the foliage, Amherst, NH, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm, Exposure 1/60 sec @ f3.5, ISO 200, exposure bias -4/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I received the assembled quotes below from Mitchell Ratner, a Senior Teacher at the Stillwater Mindful Practice Center. I've only been there once (they are in the DC area), but continue to receive their e-mail meditation topics. They practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, with whom I seem to resonate.

Below he describes some of his concepts of "Interbeing". A recognition of the inter-relationships that make up every thing we see (and tend to take as a separate object). It is a very different way to view the world, and once internalized, makes it so much easier to recognize our shared humanity and mutual dependency. Which of course is what nature teaches us every day if we pay attention.

I hope on this Thanksgiving Day holiday, you are able to take a moment and reflect upon not only all that for which you can be grateful, but also how that relates to so much more of the world around us. Indeed, we can be grateful for it all, for we are but a small part of this world, and this world is us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Extracts from The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh
[Excerpts assembled by Rev. Susan Manker-Seale]
“I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth.  In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality.  People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.  Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:  a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child--our own two eyes.  All is a miracle...

"…the great body of reality is indivisible.  It cannot be cut into pieces with separate existences of their own…

“Consider the example of a table.  The table’s existence is possible due to the existence of things which we might call ‘the non-table world’:  the forest where the wood grew and was cut, the carpenter, the iron ore which became the nails and screws, and countless other things which have relation to the table, the parents and ancestors of the carpenter, the sun and rain which made it possible for the trees to grow.

“If you grasp the table’s reality then you see that in the table itself are present all those things which we normally think of as the non-table world.  If you took away any of those non-table elements and returned them to their sources--the nails back to the iron ore, the wood to the forest, the carpenter to his parents--the table would no longer exist.

“A person who looks at the table and can see the universe is a person who can see the way…

“We have to strip away all the barriers in order to live as part of the universal life.  A person isn’t some private entity traveling unaffected through time and space as if sealed off from the rest of the world by a thick shell…  In our lives are present a multitude of phenomena, just as we ourselves are present in many different phenomena.  We are life, and life is limitless.”


Anonymous said...

Everyone is walking through life watching a "movie" in their minds. But few of these movies (it seems) include any scenes from the movie called "interbeing." Even if you explain to folks (as Thich Nhat Hanh has done in his lecture, or as you have done in this blog) that there is another channel worth watching (call it the "interbeing channel") well, for some reason a few folks just can not "get it" no matter how carefully and patiently you tell them how to switch over to see that channel.

There is a reason that some people have this inability to see certain things. Just as there are reasons that all of us have certain channels that our TV sets can not receive.

Most of the time "interbeing" does not come in on my TV set, though I like the show very much. What is the reason? It is because "interbeing" is being crowded out by the distractions and delusions on other channels, and there seems to be no end of these other channels, endless in fact.

How to find the channels we want to watch, and turn off the noise and distraction? That is what self-mastery is all about, of course.

The difficulty is that self-mastery can not be attained by an act of will, or intention.

And because of this there is a wall, impenetrable, just as if we are standing naked in front of steel wall 10000 feet high. How do we scale it, or go around it, or make it disappear?

We don't know, but we sense that this effort is the only thing worth doing (and yet we don't know why it is the only thing worth doing.

Steven Crisp said...


I love your comments, and feel that they ring true -- all except for one:

"The difficulty is that self-mastery can not be attained by an act of will, or intention."

I would agree that we cannot *just* will it to happen, but I would suggest that if this intention is strong enough, it can in fact lead *anyone* out of the suffering that is all of those other channels.

But that intention would have to be strong enough for people to fundamentally change their lives and assumptions about what is important. Buying into the home-shopping network (which seems, metaphorically, to be all that is on TV these days ;-) gets us heading down the wrong path.

And that's a path that can trap you with its assumptions of more wealth, more consumption, competition for resources, and a scoreboard that measures all of the wrong values.

Can everyone find this "interbeing channel" as you so visually suggest? I believe so. *Will* everyone find it? Almost certainly not. That is tied up in our cultural and societal choices about what is important. It takes a strong will and a certain belief in one's own voice to break with the herd.

Will the herd change direction? Who knows. I believe that if we survive as a species, we will continue to evolve in the direction that enables more and more people to find the "interbeing channel". And perhaps those of us that enjoy spinning the dial and trying to find it, can help society move closer to that tipping point.

Namaste, Anon, and thanks for *your* insights

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights too. Let me say this about your comment on my comment above. You, and maybe others, can use will and intention to reach self-mastery.

But I, myself, have never been able to do that.

So perhaps I should not have made the statement so general when I said, "The difficulty is that self-mastery can not be attained by an act of will, or intention."

The way I stated it sounds like I think it is true for everyone, when in fact, it might only be true for me (and other weak willed beings like me who do not have sufficient motivation or intelligence to will ourselves into self-mastery).

Yet the more I think about this, the more I think it is indeed true in general, that we can not will ourselves into self-mastery. And even though I am fascinated by the idea Divine Grace, it is really not the necessity of DG that I am espousing here. Instead, I have a much simpler idea.

The simple idea is that, "People can do what they want, but they can not want what they want." In other words, if you are lucky enough to be predisposed (by DG or whatever) toward self-mastery, then that is great and you have a chance to achieve it, but if not, then you have no chance of reaching it, simply because you have not desire for it, or do not see the value in it.

One definition of having DG is "having God's Favor" and a naturalistic interpretation of DG, would be that some people are gifted by "nature" (to be able to achieve a high degree of self-mastery) and others will never achieve any degree of self-mastery. And there is nothing anyone can do to change this with their willpower, or own intentions. We are what were were made. That is not to say we can not develop and improve. But there are limits...because we are all not favored alike by God, or nature. And I am one who has tried to will myself into self-mastery all my life, and have not come close. I suspect I will never make it. (But...that's OK I guess).

Anonymous said...

Hi there Steven and anon 1,

Please excuse me for interjecting.Both of you seem to keep going forward and why not pause and step backward a bit.Lets say the Divine Gift is actually in every channels and yet we can't see it.Lets say that everyone of us is originally enlightened and possess universal love and yet we didn't realized it.Lets say we are actually born of self mastery but because we try too hard with WILL and Intention, that we built ourselves the high wall higher and higher the more Will and Intention we put in. In this case then all we have to do is to let go of the Will and Intention, the master shall reveal itself.There is a Master in every channel and it is really not necessary to switch channel to find him.God do not favour any channel and IS in every channel. So just take it easy with will and intention,that is the secret to mastery...enjoy every channels.Am really enjoying the dialoque.Thanks.

Steven Crisp said...

Oh, this is so complicated -- Anon 1 and Anon 2. We may just need names at some point ;-)

There is not much for me to add, for I believe you have both made excellent points.

To Anon 1, I would agree with you that some folks just aren't going to achieve Self-Mastery (though that is a bit of a loaded term). If for no other reason than they have no desire or see any purpose in it. Does it mean they are not capable? Fair question -- certainly genetics does favor some attributes in some folks, and not in others.

But I also like Anon 2's point, and this seems consistent with Buddhist beliefs, that we all are endowed with a "buddha nature".

Some would argue there are practices we can follow to help us peel back the veil of illusion that covers over our true nature. Others would say the help of a teacher may lead us toward satori. Still others might argue that some existential angst can help shock us out of our illusory existence.

Either way, I think it is clear that not all of us (and perhaps not that many of us) are going to dial into this "interbeing channel". But I have a suspicion, that over time (many, many years), more of mankind will indeed move in this direction. I believe these are the inexorable baby steps on the evolutionary path we call life.

Thanks to both of you for your insights and the dialog. Pet names, at least, next time if you please ;-)

Joe said...

Steve, I will decomplicate it. The first two Anonymous posts are mine [Joe]. The third is Anon 2.

Anon 2, I like your comment very much, and can only say that I have found nothing more difficult than seeing in that way. It is the greatest challenge I have met so far in this life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you both and I will have to just take it easy, be contented with Anon2.If god does not favour any channel, then genetics do not favour anyone also. Genetics only make everyone unique and different, that is all.The master is still the same.In my opinion,identification...anon1 or anon2, the source of the high wall.Without identification, there will be no subject and object,hence there will be no necessity for will and intention.
Now if there is a buddha in everyone,then that buddha have to be the same buddha in everyone.Similarly by deduction then every phase of our lives also have the safe buddha...a continuum.Whether we are kids,adults or old citizens, the buddha is still the same.In that case then the buddha or master is an ever changing one as we grows.In other words, we will never be able to attain self mastery, if we are identified with an objective.Steve had once advocated the 'power of now'by to live in the ever changing now moment, would come quite close to tracking the ever changing master. But that is also an identification with the NOW. The Now is but the past of the future or future of the past,depending on which perspective.However if there is no identification,past/now/future, becomes a whole...everything are connected.Looked at this way, the master is the whole process and our consciousness is taking part in the process. If we want to find the master then we will have to observe from outside the process...can we do that with our mind??? Agree fully why Steve opine that more mankind will finally find the master, just because more humans are fiquring with the mind and are becoming more developed mentally.But mind is also part of the process,just as we have grown out of the body,the lower brain, the frontal lope,etc, what is there to prevent us from growing another layer of brain and so on.Hence from this perspective,in my opinion the master will not necessary be nearer in future, as the master is always already near.As often mentioned by sages, even a layman can be enlightened.The master brings mindfulness in all he does and all he focus on with both the body and mind,bearing the wisdom that he is the ALL as well as the minutest.It does sound simple this chatting. Wish you well Joe.

Steven Crisp said...

Once again, Anon 2 (I believe), you have made some interesting comments. I would like to pick up on one aspect of those comments:

"In my opinion,identification...anon1 or anon2, the source of the high wall.Without identification, there will be no subject and object,hence there will be no necessity for will and intention."

I think this is getting at the real issue, and yet it is so difficult for us to "talk about". The use of language itself brings us into the world of duality.

"In the beginning was the Word", as they say. Yes, trying to get to a place without concepts and abstractions is very difficult indeed. That state of non-duality. No subject-object relationship. No "seer"; no "thinker".

I would agree that identification is part of the issue here. Identification of an ego, an individual, as separate and distinct from its surroundings. It is one reason why I sense that transcending (i.e., to include and move beyond) one's ego is a step in the right direction.

Thanks much for continuing the dialog, or perhaps that is tri-alog.


Joe said...

This discussion of "Identification" is interesting. Is "identification" an idea? Is identification something that we do? This is not easy for me to understand.

What is easier for me to understand is the state in which I am living, moment-by-moment. What kind of moments make up your life? What is the collection like? Mostly good, mostly bad? And why? Understanding this is what I am interested most in.

Why is it that some live out the moments of their lives in a state of fear, or confusion, pain, envy, greed, etc? And why can some live in a state of wonder, thanksgiving, love?

Just being born rich, gifted, healthy, and beautiful is all it takes? No, that is not enough, and never has been. So, what is it that determines the quality of the moments of our lives?

This is hard for me to clarify, even to myself. Everytime I think I am understanding the answer to this question, I think a little more and become confused again.

A quote from the movie "Brother Sun Sister Moon" says,
"There are two ways to live your life,
One is as though nothing is a miracle,
The other is as though everything is a miracle."

But, which way is better? Hard to know for sure. It is not clear is it?

Anonymous said...

Hi there Steve and is anon2 again.You are right Steve that our language was created in a duality format.Infact all creations of the mind, including the language is in duality format.Interesting enough to note that even the creations of nature is also in duality format..male and female etc.Lets put in some simple observations.
From the beginning,a baby learns by groping around,using all the body's sensual abilities. Once it has established a certain amount of boundaries,it then starts to develop a self consciousness.At that moment the focus will shift from sensual body, to the mind location and the ego starts to be cultivated.Right from teens to middle age,the ego will still be developing and for most people the ego will only mature around the age 50s.So if we talk about transcending the ego, we are targeting at least the middle age group where the ego are almost fully developed.There again if the child was brought up in a serene and secluded environment, like a monk, then there is not much of an ego to transcend. The point is that the body itself is created in a sort of duality. The sensual body functioning in analog sensual way and the mind functioning in a digital logical way.This happens simply because the mind can only focus/think in a single element at any one moment.Being one pointed and fast, the mind creates extremes in order to identify and decide, otherwise it can't be logical or binary...good or bad...miracle or not miracle.However life itself always consisted of two main component, the feeling/emotional/bodily and the logical/intellectual/mind part of it.As such as the ego matured, it is suppose to let go of control and see in more broader picture,allowing space for the bodily sensual feelings to function Ken Wilber mentioned/Steve's reference..the its and the I...the external and the internal.In other words,it is natural for integration to occur and we are made to be in duality but finally functioning as a whole.God made the world in six days and the seven last day is a rest day for us to be spiritual and let go of the ego.
As Steve quote TNHanh..walking on earth is the real miracle and not the duality of walking on water or thin air.TNH also mentioned..we are ENGAGED in the miracle. Noted that we are not the miracle itself. We are not the body nor the mind. We are engaged with the body and mind together to complete the process of life.If we are to transcend, we must transcend the body and mind together...we are another entity, the observer or the soul, whatever we called it.
I will summarize the process as a sort of a scanner in a photocopy machine.The mind is the scanner moving across the whole picture of life, one element at time.The body/including the physical brain,is the recorder, recording all the picture that was scanned through. We can't realize the whole picture until we reach the end of scanning.Hence we can't decide the purpose or destination or good or bad, of life in the middle of scanning.However if there are really thousands of past life or scanning,then the soul would have a knowing that the process of scanning is the same. The only difference is the different pictures.So to attain self mastery, then it is to realize the soul, to realize that we are not the body/mind combination.Jhana meditation enable to still the mind.Vipassana insightful meditation enable to realize the source of sensual beginnings or bodily functions. Combining both,one can then gain self mastery.Unfortunately, we have to go through or be acquainted to the experience or suffering of life first before one can realized the wonders of emotion or stillness of mind.For how could one scan, if there are no pictures yet.As such I would opine that almost everyone would realized the meaning of life at least 90% if not 100% at the ending stage of life.

Steven Crisp said...

Joe, and Anon2, my goodness, what a lot of deep thoughts.

Anon2, I liked your metaphor of the scanner. Of course I had a hard time not picturing someone scanning their backside at the office Xmas party ;-) Hey, what's wrong with a little humor interspersed among all these deep thoughts ;-)

Joe provided an interesting quote (I guess I'll have to see that movie "Brother Sun Sister Moon"):

"There are two ways to live your life,
One is as though nothing is a miracle,
The other is as though everything is a miracle."

When I first read this, I thought -- well that's easy -- I know which side of that I'd rather live on. But upon reflection, maybe it is not so clear.

Check out this video of Ken Wilber on YouTube. He talks about the significance of the paradox (and the root of all koans, I think), and our need to fully "get that":

Anonymous said...

Hello Steve and Joe,
Anon2 wish both of you a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year. To Steve, please make sure you scan both the back and front side before you make a commitment.It really makes alot of difference.I also like your insight about humour. Usually only people of great experiences, people who had gone through both the negatives and positives,could be humourous about their life.Have a nice day too.