There are a thousand doors to presence. We may ask penetrating questions, risky and ambiguous, provocative, even dangerous. Or we may simply inquire into the workings of the mind and the emotional body evoking the most sublime or painful material.
One of these ways has been to journey into the body itself, to perform a deliberate inventory of physical reality, into what we take for granted most of the time. There are many different internal landscapes: the feeling world of instantaneous response, the intellect assessing and planning, the influence of history, habit, biological imperatives, learned behaviors, the open gates of ease, others long closed, all changing in every moment. The inner imagery is a constant kaleidoscope of light and sensation, color and function, pleasure and pain, conflict and resolution, excitement and calm, space and fullness. And always seeking comfort.
We distinguish ourselves from others by both instinct and conditioning. My personal habit of attention will go to the establishment of safe boundaries. My default focus is on feeling and sense perception. Setting myself at an appropriate distance is completely automatic. I barely think about it; but when I do, I am usually horrified by how absent I can be at times and at the superficiality of habitual distancing—marking space. The more closely I investigate, the less sure I am of a true boundary between what is and is not my body. In practical terms, I will immediately attempt to differentiate what is and is not me.
Science does inform this view, but only in a limited way. But taking the science seriously renders the entire question of what is and is not me into a radically different light. The more influence given to scientific reality versus popular assumptions, the more accustomed we can become to a different view that feels more accurate.
This body is a ‘thing’–what we are and also what we are not, both foreign and intimately familiar. Divergent energies operate in every moment as polarities holding the world together by separating everything from everything. The story of this body is written in an ever-refreshing pixelated environment, an ocean of shifting light, multitudes of biochemical gates constantly opening and closing. There is no permanent story. There is only a whirlwind of accumulation and shedding around a seemingly constant and ever-mysterious core of sentience, practice and belief, light undergoing re-creation, temporarily held in a limbo of semi-existence.
The relations of inner space are as parts, a multitude of languages decoded and interpreted by a central governing force and reinterpreted for assimilation by the various “nations” that we are. I am a united nation of diversity, the instability of an old knee injury, the quietly desiccating column of intervertebral discs; declining sight not seeing the fine print clearly, random and accumulating restrictions of motion, and an ever-advancing weakness and loss of stamina.
I live in an inner space somewhere between the roof of my mouth, the center of my cranium, relaxing in the bony four-poster bed of the pineal gland. I am also a nuisance of the winged sacrum, my diaphragm a parachute, rhythmically lifting and settling. I rest in the muscular hammock spanning coccyx to pubis, mediating generative relations to the earth and the sky, the gross and the subtle, the energetic, the electro-magnetic, the phenomenal and the metaphysical, taking and giving away, becoming and dissolving, arising and disappearing.
I am consciousness as structure, this structure, in one moment creating a towering edifice of ‘self’ and in the next, collapsing in abject surrender. I am the spontaneous execution of learned motor tasks, symphonies of coordination, millions of motor neurons singing in distinct and unique patterns as if nothing else exists. I continue to swim through this world, forever modulating timing, length, effort, relaxation, rotation, drift and unrestrained falling.
All these domains operate at once, the microbes in my gut, the transformation of water and food into consciousness, of breath into presence, of gravity into movement, conflict into work, of rest into gnosis. The outside is turned inside, the inside turned into a dynamic exchange with everything, the formless giving back in form. Sometimes a shout within, contorted by the implied fullness of a thwarted explosion, touches the pink-orange sky at dusk to salve some old wound. At times a seeming stillness on the outside hides the teeming beneath, nourished by and dying into all that surrounds me.
When I gaze into the dying light of this Balinese sky, the vitality of an ongoing massive emergence lurks just beneath awareness. Birds, geckos, bats on automatic pilot make impossible course adjustments in a constant search for dinner, not unlike the random maintenance-level neural activity of discursive thought. The silence beneath houses a quiet beyond all quiet, a vast uninterrupted place of no time, no beginning and no end. To suggest this body is no more than a spontaneous construction beyond conception, ineffable, measured against the felt sense of my reality, is an impenetrable paradox, whose unwinding forever occupies great minds.
I undergo the common physical changes associated with aging. Holding a self-image as a model of attainment is a form of vanity, but it’s not entirely driven by cultural standards as it is also by standards of personal comfort. Thus, I resist the physical changes of aging, though not compulsively. I am accustomed to a level of vitality regularly rejuvenated by active and passive practices. Am I attached to that self-image? Well, yes. Sometimes a bit too much. Yet that too is softening with time.
This is also “my” body, after all: the complexity of unique signal interpretation, response, inhibition, reasoning, resolution, intention and action. The body is indeed illusory, a vehicle of the greatest sense pleasures and the greatest pain, heaven or hell, sooner or later. But like the durian fruit so plentiful in some parts of the world, at once hell and paradise, the skin and the flesh are inseparable, sometimes indistinguishable, different sides of the same face. There are days when I must overcome the repulsive odor, the teeth of this demon life, before I can experience the incomparable succulence of its inner sweetness.
This is also my body, the one having no substantial boundary. Separation from the elements is indeed illusion. Connection arrives as a heron dive-bombing for frogs in the rice paddy, as the setting sun filters through the Maya trees or as grandmothers pass by, bravely riding side saddle on the back of a motorbike.
I have spent most of my life creating and cementing boundaries with the world and other people, differentiating the individual identity and the trajectory of a chosen life. Having been released from most of the common imperatives, realizing entropy and mortality, I am spending the remainder loosening my grip, allowing those boundaries to dissolve. As intimate as that day at the Mount Madonna Center, overlooking Corralitos, California, if I’m lucky, when I die there will be nothing left besides devotion, generosity and compassion, a celebration of impermanence. Every act is potentially a step toward realizing our true condition, a rehearsal for that moment. Authentic compassion requires unflinching presence.
Beyond this, I listen to the unending internal conversations between disparate territories. They speak to each other quietly at all times of the day and night in language I may not always comprehend, requiring adjustment, refreshing attention to position, alignment and breath, continuously attending to the structure and energetics of presence. They drift across my awareness like distant strains of devotional music, hammered strings and practiced voices wafting across the paddy outside my window each morning at sunrise. They are a waking and an awakening ritual, the heartbeat of community, invoking spirit in the language of both gods and demons. Beneath all the conventions, the programming and the colonization of modernity, this flesh is vast. That is the reality of every moment. Insofar as I may live in this awareness, I am more vitally engaged with the truth of what this body really is: a vehicle of both time-bound and timeless relationship.