The Transparency of Existence

The Transparency of Existence

"In this mode of consciousness, the most supremely banal transforms into the most supremely baffling and awe-inducing. That which is most obvious and taken for granted is simultaneously that which is most mysterious and astonishing."

~ Brian Maniscalco

A Way Through

A Way Through

"The quite cynical response would be to say, Why we love nihilism in pop culture is that it saves us having to be burdened with it. It saves us from feeling it. We can enjoy it in our rooms. We can get off on it. And then we let it go and we go back to work." ~ Simon Critchley 

Sinking into the Mystery

Sinking into the Mystery

"What happens when, just for a moment, we stay with our pain, our fear, our doubt, our discomfort, our grief, our broken heart, even our numbness, without trying to change it, or fix it, or numb ourselves to it, or get rid of it in any way? What happens when, even when we feel like leaving, abandoning the moment for the promise of a future salvation, we stay, sitting with the raw, unfiltered, boundlessly alive life-energy that is simply trying to express right now?" ~ Jeff Foster

How One Surrenders to the Emptiness

by Rumi, version by Coleman Barks from The Essential Rumi

Love has taken away my practices
and filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating,
No strength but yours,
but I couldn’t.

I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself.
That’s how I hold your voice.

I am scrap wood thrown in your fire,
and quickly reduced to smoke.

I saw you and became empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence!

The sky is blue. The world is a blind man
squatting on the road.

But whoever sees your emptiness
sees beyond blue and beyond the blind man.

A great soul hides like Muhammad, or Jesus,
moving through a crowd in a city
where no one knows him.

To praise is to praise
how one surrenders
to the emptiness.

To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.

So the sea-journey goes on, and who knows where!
Just to be held by the ocean is the best of luck
we could have. It’s a total waking up!

Why should we grieve that we’ve been sleeping?
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious.

We’re groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the buoyancy.

If We Didn't Try to Hold the Flux

“What both science and at least some philosophical and even religious traditions tell us is that the world is impermanent. Nothing in it stays the same. We don't stay the same. Our bodies don't stay the same. The people that we love and the things that we love don't stay the same. That's just the truth of the matter, that there's this constant impermanence, this constant flux. And some philosophers have argued over the years that we should just embrace that. We would be freer if we didn't try to hold that flux for a moment.” 

Alison Gopnik

Rare Moments of Emptiness

Parking Garage, Houston (2012) Lynn Saville

Excerpt from "Eloquent Empty Spaces," by Lynn Saville, The New York Times, November 2, 2013: 

WHEN I began photographing cities at twilight, I was attracted to outlying regions, places that seemed unloved and overlooked. More recently, I have been lured back to the central areas of cities, where economic turmoil has produced its own gaps in the urban facade...

Signs of previous occupation, failure and loss mingle with hints of renewal and re-creation.

Working in places such as New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Me., Boston, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit and Houston, I continue to photograph cities at dawn or dusk. These transitional times underscore the shifting nature of vacancy and offer glimpses of cityscapes in rare moments of emptiness. 

See also:

Made In Its Image

Ampersand,  Wednesday Wolf

Ampersand, Wednesday Wolf

"Genesis Revised"
by Reed Whitmore, from Fifty Poems Fifty (1970)The Past, the Future, the Present: Poems Selected and New (1990)

In my opinion this concept of the interval, detached as it is from the selection of any special body to occupy it, is the starting point of the whole concept of space.

~ Albert Einstein

Think of an "and" alone,
Nothing before, nothing after, 
Nothing and nothing. 
The "and" proposes a structure, and by the proposing
Is. And makes.
For nothing is nothing, but nothing and nothing
Are spatial, temporal; the structure does it,
A nothing there and here, a nothing then and now,
To and fro in the space-time.

But in grammar we cannot think of this. The
     "and" comes second.
We need something, then "and." 
Or if we are willing to grant, without understanding,
     a precedent "and,"
We still ask to know where it came from.
Grammar, logic, math work in the matrix
Of the space-time. "And" is the space-time. We
     in its matrix
Know what we do in it, where we are in it,
But not it.

This that we don't know we call soul, spirit.
More of it every day is found in the physics lab,
By omission.  
It is what we tend to describe by what it is not.
It is not logical, it is not metrical; it is not
     (as I now propose) grammatical.

Yet it is with us. Our minds seem made in its image,
Each a space-time kit for making a world up.
We cannot conceive of that spirit (the "and")
     a father,
Yet we cannot conceive of it otherwise. In
     Eddington's words,
The breach of causality keeps breaking the chain of
     inference. Sense leads to nonsense.

In the beginning, then, was nonsense? So every
     beginning. So far.
We cannot conceive of a nothing that makes something.
The "and" we say must be physical. Or electrical.
Yet the something is nothing. Nonsense.
We have no grammar for nonsense; we cannot posit
A nothing-something moving between nothings.
Yet I repeat:
Think of an "and" alone,
Nothing before, nothing after,
Nothing and nothing, thereby making

The first day.  

To Behold and Not To Think

Topiary Park, January 26, 2013

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

State of Grace

December 2, 2012

Excerpt from The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector

Listen, don't be afraid: remember that I ate of the forbidden fruit and yet was not struck down by the orgy of being. So, listen: that means I shall find even greater refuge than if I had not eaten of life. . . Listen, because I dived into the abyss I started to love the abyss of which I am made. Identity can be dangerous because of the intense pleasure that could become mere pleasure. But now I'm accepting loving the thing!

And it's not dangerous, I swear it's not dangerous. 

Since the state of grace exists permanently: we are always saved. All the world is in a state of grace. A person is only struck down by sweetness when realizing that we are in grace, the gift is feeling that we are in grace, and few risk recognizing that within themselves. But there is no danger of perdition, I know now: the state of grace is inherent. 

Listen. I was only used to transcending. Hope for me was postponement. I had never let my soul free, and had quickly organized myself as a person because it is too risky to lose the form. But now I see what was really happening to me: I had so little faith that I have invented merely the future, I believed so little in whatever exists that I was delaying the present for a promise and for a future. 

But now I discover that one doesn't even need hope. 

See also:

Dust to Dust

Franklin Avenue, October 7, 2012

Excerpt from In My Own Way by Alan Watts:

This is all there is;
     the path comes to and end
     among the parsley.

Perhaps I can express this Buddhist fascination for the mystery of nothingness in another way.

If we get rid of all wishful thinking and dubious metaphysical speculations, we can hardly doubt that – at a time not too distant – each one of us will simply cease to be. It won’t be like going into darkness forever, for there will be neither darkness, nor time, nor sense of futility, nor anyone to feel anything about it.

Try as best you can to imagine this, and keep at it. The universe will, supposedly, be going on as usual, but for each individual it will be as if it had never happened at all; and even that is saying too much, because there won’t be anyone for whom it never happened.

Make this prospect as real as possible: the one total certainty. You will be as if you had never existed, which was, however, the way you were before you did exist – and not only you but everything else.

Nevertheless, with such an improbable past, here we are. We begin from nothing and end in nothing. You can say that again. Think it over and over, trying to conceive the fact of coming to never having existed.

After a while you will begin to feel rather weird, as if this very apparent something that you are is firmly and certainly grounded in nothingness, much as your sight seems to emerge from that total blankness behind your eyes.

The weird feeling goes with the fact that you are being introduced to a new common sense, a new logic, in which you are beginning to realize the identity of ku and shiki, void and form.

All of a sudden it will strike you that this nothingness is the most potent, magical, basic, and reliable thing you ever thought of, and that the reason you can’t form the slightest idea of it is that it’s yourself.

But not the self you thought you were.  

See also:



Never Any More

Westerville, Ohio, September 15, 2012

From Song of Myself
by Walt Whitman 


I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the 
beginning and the end, 
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. 

There was never any more inception than there is now, 
Nor any more youth or age than there is now, 
And will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. 

Urge and urge and urge, 
Always the procreant urge of the world. 

Trickier and Trickier as You Go Along

Excerpt from "Authentic Voice: An Interview with Meredith Monk," from Mountain Record, Summer 2004:

Emptiness is what allows for something to actually evolve in a natural way. I’ve had to learn that over the years — because one of the traps of being an artist is to always want to be creating, always wanting to produce.

I remember once I had a long period when I thought; “I’ll never have another idea again! I’ve explored everything.” Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, August 13, 2011You’ve got this backpack of your history that you’re carrying around — how do you throw that off and really start from beginner’s mind? That gets trickier and trickier as you go along, to not fall into your habitual patterns in the way that you create, in the work itself, or anything.

Well, during that long period when I was feeling really down I read about the Taos pueblo in a book by Mabel Dodge Luhan. She was a society woman in the early twentieth century, and she ended up going to Taos and marrying a Native American from the pueblo. During the winter she wondered why everyone tiptoed around wearing soft moccasins and there was a keeping of so much silence in the pueblo. She asked about it and they said, “We have to make sure that Mother Nature gets her rest. She needs her rest so that everything will bloom in the spring.” I was so touched by that and I realized that that’s the nurturing of those periods that you think are fallow but are actually rich with possibility. You’re alive then and part of the ebb and flow of creation.

Simple Awareness is Where It Begins

"When I realized and really understood that my self is a projection and that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I've become very familiar with its dysfunctional behavior. But I'm not ashamed of my self. In fact, I respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I've tried to live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that, incredible things happen."

~  Thandie Newton

A Space Between One Thought and Another

Excerpts from "Why Do We Fear an Empty Mind? "by Natasha Dern, The Huffington Post, May 15, 2011:

Why is it so hard for us to tolerate emptiness in our minds? The prevalent belief that action always equals progress may be a contributing factor. We perceive emptiness as an undesired state, something to be feared. We feel uncomfortable with those moments when our minds seem devoid of any creative or productive activity. We rarely, if ever, simply sit with and allow the feeling of emptiness.

When a thought enters the mind, it is replaced by another. It is automatic. We are not aware that a thought has segued into another thought. But upon developing the muscles of concentration, we become conscious of the entry and exit process of our thoughts. The mind gradually begins to entertain fewer thoughts per minute. We become aware that there is an interval, a delay, a space between one thought and another. This space is emptiness but also a fullness. At this level of awareness, we are in the sanctum of pure awareness. There are many who are living in this state of pure awareness, and their experiences are lucid and real...

...When the ego cooperates in suspension of all sense impressions and thoughts, it enters the realm of empty, unnameable nothingness. This nothingness is the gateway into the deeper layers of consciousness. It is here where inspiration, knowledge and creativity will ultimately strike. While we are here, we do not decide what will be experienced but to allow whatever awareness it wants us to have.

When self is absent and thoughts negated, we are open to the unknown. Not only does the mind become utterly blank, but it loses the all encompassing idea of a personal ego. We are oblivious to all lower sensations and are instead awake to the rich, conscious and sublime nothingness. Since the capacity to remain in this state for more than a few minutes can impose a strain, the intellect or imagination rush in with ideas or images, thus ending the tension. With time and practice we can endure the weight of this indescribable and incomprehensible experience.

If we succeed in holding steadfastly to this nothingness in deep concentration or meditation, we realize that it is not a mere mental abstraction but something real, not a dream but the most concrete thing in our experience. The contrast between the personal and the impersonal melts away, and only the sense of Being remains -- a Being that stretches far and wide, like the silent trance of infinite space.


Transformation as Opposed to Change

Excerpts from a conversation between Charlotte Joko Beck (March 27, 1917 - June 15, 2011) from "Life's Not a Problem," by Amy Gross, Tricycle, Summer 1998:

New students usually learn to experience their body and label their thoughts. I don’t mean to analyze thoughts or pick them apart...I like people to just recite their thoughts back. If you do that for three or four years, you’ll know a lot about how your mind operates.

“Having a thought about Mary...Having a thought that I really don’t like Mary...Having a thought that I can’t stand the way she bosses everyone around.” That’s the way we think, right?

In time, as we watch our thoughts our thinking becomes more objective. But most people, instead of just having a thought about Mary, go further: “Gosh, I can’t stand her; she really makes me mad.” Now they’ve got an emotion. What we need to learn to do is to see the thought as a thought, and then feel the body tighten. The body is going to tighten if you’re angry with somebody, right? So just be the tightening. Forget the thinking at this point, and just be the anger, the tension or vibration. When you do that, you’re not trying to change your anger. You’re just being with it, totally. Then it is able to transform itself.

That’s transformation as opposed to change — a critical difference. Religion always is trying to change you: you know, “You’re not a good girl; be a good girl.” But here, in labeling and experiencing, you’re learning to be less emotional, less caught by every passing thing that goes on in your head. The anger gets a little weaker, a little less demanding, and at some point, you begin to notice the difference. Something that would have made you jump with anger — you can watch it. The observer is beginning to grow. And in experiencing the bodily tension, you’re not suppressing the emotion; you’re feeling it. You’re transforming the dualism of self-centered thoughts, opinions, and emotions into the non-dualism of direct experiencing...

I don’t think you see [emptiness]. You have to be it. Emptiness simply means an absence of reactivity. When you relate to somebody, there’s not you and me and your little mind running its little comparisons and judgments. When those are gone, that is emptiness. And you can’t put it into words. That’s the problem for people. They think there’s some way to push for an experience such as emptiness. But practice is not a push toward something else. It’s the transformation of your self. I tell people, “You just can’t go looking for these things. You have to let this transformation grow.” And that entails hard, persistent, daily work. I simply wouldn’t let an irritable thought go through my mind without noting, “Oh, that’s interesting. What’s going on here?” I don’t mean analyzing it, but just stopping. There has to be that ability to stand back and say, “Yeah, interesting that I do that.” Right there. I may go back to it if I’m busy talking to you. But it’s been registered. I’m not going to let that one go by; it’s too interesting. It’s not good or bad. It’s just interesting to note that you do that...

What primarily concerns me is the necessity for a student to learn to be as awake as possible in each moment. Otherwise it can seem as if the point of practice is to have breakthroughs. The usefulness of these openings exists only if they clarify life and our ability to live it and serve it. But until mind and body - usually through years of patient practice — cease to want an ego-centered life, the openings and their teachings cannot be distorted into ego successes. Only when mind and body are mostly free of reactivity can a true understanding of what life is become possible — not through a momentary breakthrough, but through an open and compassionate living of life.

Read the entire interview here...

Allowing the Gap to Close

Excerpt from Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti:

Commitment to being fully present through all levels of being will close the gap between you and what is happening, the gap between you and experience...Close the gap between what is and what you want it to be, between what is presenting itself and what you want to present itself. This gap of judgment is the separation you feel. You need to totally choose what is and lean into it with your whole being.

Now, it's very important to realize you cannot close the gap by your own will, only by willingness. If you try to close it, it becomes wider and wider. But it can close itself when you are willing to surrender to what is. When the gap between "me" and the truth of the moment is closed, the Truth reveals itself as fully present, fully your very Self.

That is what I mean when I say lean into life, into the moment, and into the richness of what is. This is not a transcendental disassociation. It can be if you want, but that's not what I am talking about right now. Go forward into vulnerability and innocence. It's like when you are having a conversation with someone, and it starts to hit that magic moment when both of you sort of lean in and are vulnerable with each other. That is where the magic happens.

There are so many ways that the gap can get closed. One way to help the gap close and find stillness is when you are sitting in meditation, just sit. If the body moves in response to the mind, it obscures the stillness. But when the body stays relaxed and still, the mind will start to follow the body, and the gap can close. Then the stillness in the moment can begin to shine. Be conscious of what is causing movement. This is just mind manifesting as body. Be slightly at risk, always slightly vulnerable. Be vulnerable enough to stay awake, to feel the cool breeze fanning the fire of the heart.

The real power is the power of love passionately expressing something very deep inside. It comes from the heart, from overabundance, not from trying to fill a lack. You can feel this spark of life and love through everything in existence. You feel it in the air, in the shape of the flower, the shape of the leaf, the shape of your own body. You can't put your finger on it. It's life, and life transcends being alive. Thoughts die, bodies die, beliefs die, life remains. Life, God, love, manifests in so many ways — as wisdom, clarity, and life a fire burning you to get you moving, to get you to let go and wake up to reality...

You are life. The flower and the tree are nothing but life. And life is never caught just in its expression. Life will always offer its expressions. So all this comes, comes, comes, comes. It comes out of nothing, just like the flower that's not even there one day and shows up the next. Life expresses itself as a flower, a human, an insight, and losing the insight. But life is not limited to its expression. If the whole world blew up, there would be no less life, just fewer manifestations. Life would still be there. You would still be there. We make such a conceptual deal out of it, but when the earth blows away, life is still there...

The flower will die, but life is just fine, thank you. Expression goes, insights go, personalities change, beliefs change. You remain.