Emptiness Dancing

I’ve been very distressed lately. A thread running through much of what I do is to either seek approval from an outside source or aimlessly follow an illusion of enlightened purpose, commitment, responsibility, idealism or creativity. Who I “am” becomes a shifting mirage, subject to changing conditions at any moment, like a passing vehicle temporarily catching the attention a sleeping dog. We all know what happens next. I become the dog, obsessively running after every model passing my way. Sometimes the distractions even look new. But on closer examination, none of them really are.

Then I realized, suddenly, to my great surprise and relief, that all of it, the emotional attachments to certain “favorable” outcomes, the appealing appearance of shiny new objects, the desire embedded in each decision to engage with them, or people, or to see conditions in a self-affirming way, even the moment by moment play of deciding if I am happy or not, being myself…or not…being “good,” being responsible, or ejecting myself from all of it, is all one thing and one thing only—that is not really a thing at all:  Emptiness dancing.

Not merely a dance of awareness or the dance of mind, but something within, the primary dance. Emptiness dancing is the name I give it. It covers any moment, every illumination, rabbit hole of awareness, every black hole of despair, every experience, whether of union, alienation, desperation, every blissful connecting embodiment, every ecstatic dream of pure detachment, including true non-duality, the Great Abiding in supreme Equanimity.

Emptiness dancing softens every edge, completes every unfinished aspiration, rounds every corner of uncertainty or disappointment, even lifts up every tragedy. It’s the poetry in every moment, the inexplicable, the paradoxical, the ineffable, the laughing/crying never-alone reality of being alone. It’s the expanding heart of meditation. The dance with emptiness dancing is the drama of every life, every death and everything in between.

No, it’s not necessarily so simple to understand either term, emptiness or dancing. Their essence is not obvious. The expression covers the entire profound simplicity of the two truths, the artificiality of conceptualizing the relative and absolute as separable, and the truth that they are not “inseparable” either because even that implies two.  They are always and only one. Emptiness dancing is the effortlessness at the heart of every effort, the perfusion of every achievement. Emptiness dancing is the center of every arduous journey helplessly conceptualized by the materially-oriented mind. Emptiness dancing is the propellant, the inexhaustible fuel of all beings and all phenomena.

We may form intentions; we may pledge to follow a certain path. We may try to be mindful, compassionate, engaged, empathic, generous and follow every precept of the paramitas. We may believe in merit and diligently pursue opportunities to “collect” or generate merit. But merit is not that. It is not a thing. Merit as a thing merely perpetuates delusion. The banking of merit (as a thing) is thus also illusion, the accumulation of a karmic account can only be for one thing; and it’s not about the future. It is the capacity,…no, the surrender to falling apart now. It is the planting and the replanting of the seed of realization.  It is the realization of emptiness dancing, becoming the capacity to dissolve into that realization in every moment.

Such a realization cannot be bought or “brought.” It is not discovered through analysis. It cannot be engineered into awareness. It is not a realization to “have” or give or find. It is the inherent space beneath shamatha. It is the antithesis of analytical vipashyana. It doesn’t belong to anything. It doesn’t come from anything. The paramitas may become mere objects of awareness, but they too are emptiness dancing. Everything, all pleasure, all pain, all tragedy, violence, ecstacy, every loss and every gain are all the same….emptiness dancing.

Falling into emptiness is a relief. Every time. It’s a lesson relearned with amazement that the lesson can never be learned too many times, because every relearning is fresh, as if it is for the first time. And what comes with that relearning is expanding forgiveness and compassion for everything and everyone lost in the illusion of something. The something that I strive to be, the something in every moment that gives it–and me–substance. The something I can sink my teeth into, that becomes a new or deepening furrow in my gray matter.

I want to keep every one of those grooves, every memory, however fragile or remote. I want to feel it all again and again, as many times as possible, file it away indefinitely, bring it out again at the perfect moment, savor the pleasure and the pain, the entire luminous and terrifying journey, the impermanence of it, the death in every moment of it, the innocence of it, thanking emptiness dancing for all of it until poof! I disappear. That is the most confounding, confusing, maddening and astounding part of all. The disappearing, being subsumed into everything, connected but not bound. The humor of it, the throw your head back and laugh at the sky of it.

It seems Adyashanti has written a book by this title, which I did not know…or recall…when I started this. But let it fall open here, at random, repeating these words:

This tremendous innocence produces the feeling of an ever-present newness in life. Since the awakening, the brain no longer holds and compares, so every moment is experienced as new, just as it would be in the mind of a young child.

Oh. That distress. What was that about?

So…So You Think You Can Tell

Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail
A smile from a veil
Do you think you can tell?

 Everything changes….and there is no end. Everything seems to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But the end? An illusion. Sure, we are created, grow, mature, decline and die. No exceptions. The cycle is repeated in every life form, every material creation, everywhere in the physical world. Ideas, social movements, artistic expression are all born, develop and morph into maturity and decline, ever to be overtaken by something new. Nothing endures. Only the form and the venue change. What exists now could not be possible without all that came before.

It is, no doubt, these realities of life that spur our view of heaven, the nature of human existence, of ultimate fruition or any other supra-mundane vision. Human frailty is another matter. From the narrowest view of our individual (and separate) lives, we have all suffered (or will suffer) in some way, more or less. There is no such thing as perfection. No one is severed from the network of relationship, from the infinite ongoing web of events. Within that matrix, we are forever exploring and seeking a novel expression of human potential.

At the collective level, our magnificence and flaws are all amplified. We are violent, messy, conflicted, paradoxical, and interminably so–which stimulates curiosity and inquiry and reasoning, psychological and social theory and experimentation and testing and innumerable forms of remedy for imperfection and suffering.

Conventional wisdom, including prevailing spiritual wisdom, refers to healing as if it might represent resolution, completion. We even speak of enlightenment, like all other aspects of life, as a developmental process that has a beginning, a middle and an end. What is that end?–presumably eternal unchanging omniscient bliss. We talk about personal and collective spiritual evolution as an ongoing linear process happening for each individual and for the collective as a whole, leading to “higher” consciousness, which, in the language of integral dynamics, transcends and includes all previous levels of attainment.

This process is not described as one that is never completed. Rather, with the proper intention and discipline, the right effort, the right teachers, the right view and given enough time, something is achieved in a distant future; namely, the cessation of the cycle of beginning, middle and end. To suggest that this bias may be false or doesn’t serve us would be to threaten the entire superstructure of personal-even collective-spiritual achievement.

To a large degree, the ideology of healing depends on the existence of a separate self and assumes that a full cleansing and reintegration of every shred of separation from the core self can occur, that the unconscious can be plumbed, interpreted and redirected, that all “parts” are either fully discharged of their accumulated energy of dissociation or  whatever drives self-defeating behavior, whatever perpetuates suffering can be exhausted to the point at which the root of suffering itself, wanting things to stay the same, dissolves. That, after all, is the point of needing to choose between heaven and hell, between blue skies and pain, when actually, if we were really “here,” there would be no distinction between samsara and nirvana. They would be regarded as ultimately the same…and also as nothing whatsoever.

The path “to” enlightenment is different from one tradition to another and also within different Buddhist traditions. Some paths are all about the individual, as if everyone is on a solitary path. Others are about each individual realizing an intrinsic and unbreakable relationship with all beings such that their personal accomplishments are a contribution to the enlightenment of the whole and also derive from the actions and contributions of uncounted others.

Even in We-Space dialogue, the intention may be to access a moment of collective consciousness, whether through alignment or dissonance, and thereby advance the development of the whole. But we rarely imagine that the wounds of the individual cannot be “healed” until all wounds are healed.

And now it’s time to declare-via the Resonance Path Institute-that such wounds are themselves the fuel of connection itself. The healer is perpetually wounded, lives in and with the wound and never loses the perspective that the wound is the connection to all things, not a personal black hole, a soul-anchor drawing energy and light, the atomic dimension of being, one’s “freedom” into its deep invisible mass. It is a portal.

I cannot truly heal “myself” because, as we are coming to know more fully every day,  everything is a transpersonal phenomenon. What and who is being healed, however that may look to us on any given day, is greater than we know or imagine. We “know” this, but most of us still think and act as if it’s not so. What can be healed may feel like it has something to do with me-and it does-but it is also about relationship. What is made whole is not merely me, but also my relationship with the whole. What we call “healing” might be a new realization of continuity, an expanding complexity of relationship between the individual and the whole. And not solely to the intra-species whole, but to the full trans-species matrix of existence.

Healing is necessary for the evolution of consciousness and especially for an eventual resolution of all grasping, all unhealthy desire and aversion, all duality dissolving into the perfect unchanging non-dual bliss of absolute presence. But no one gets there alone. “My” problems will never be healed until all problems are healed. And for that matter, no collective problem can be isolated either. “You” are a flickering of my imagination. And in a trans-corporeal world of viscous porosities, the same could be said of “me.” We are all fully connected to the matrix. All wounds, the currency of our individuality, are portals to the network of collective consciousness…directly, without mediation.

Our hurts, our conditioning, the flawed beliefs that drive us, the sources of our dissonance, our reactivity, alienation and loss of agency are not what separate us from each other so much as the belief that they are ours alone to be suffered in silence or only to be shared with shame, regret or judgment. They are the essence of relationship. This idea pierces through the conditioning and the increasingly antiquated cultural ideology that says we are each alone in our dungeons of secret pain.

Whoever embodies this truth, who manages to be sufficiently present with whatever arises, as the Dzogchen teachers say, is then “spontaneously liberated.” There is no loss of feeling, and no lingering emotion remains to reinforce attachment to any remaining shred of embedded trauma, which means, again, awakening is not an isolated event, but instead is an expanding realization of connection with everything.

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here. 

—–Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”             

 

 

 

 

 

We-Space: Wired Together

Otto Scharmer’s Theory U (and Presencing Institute) shed further light on how We-Space is a presencing activity and a practice for the demands of our times. According to Scharmer (though he does not use the term itself), the cultivation of We-Space is not simply adding another app, another bauble to horizontalize your home page. It represents a full operating system upgrade. Developing versatility in We-Space is a vertical awakening of courage, compassion and curiosity, aligning the personal system to address and reverse the systemic absencing characterized by the current atmosphere of extreme, increasingly sophisticated and corrupt sowing of doubt, fear, hatred, fanaticism and polarization for the aggrandizement of a few.

Scharmer’s model moves from presencing to crystallization (of principles) to co-creating….from imagination to testing to codification. In such a process, the internal work of Circling and all the different models of We-Space promoting presencing must eventually coalesce and turn outward either by deliberately propagating the principles of We-Space in larger social contexts such as schools, workplaces and deliberative bodies or by depending on individuals to act ad hoc, taking their personal practices into  collective settings with other like-minded individuals.

Cultivating, or presencing in Self, is to descend into our deeper capacities, creative gifts, and at the same time soften the boundaries of identity, building a capacity to live in the zone of a more diffuse, transitional and fluid self. Exploring such deeper personal capacities by presencing in Self is to connect more directly with the natural context, the collective intelligence of the natural systems in which we live and grow.

Now, whenever I turn my attention to my internal space, and particularly in collective settings, I take for granted that however I feel inside is to some degree an experience of the collective field. Thus, “knowing” oneself, reinforcing or improving a distinct and separate identity, is only half of the learning process. The other half is to then look beyond that identity. We-Space practice takes me into a rich realm in which I can observe the micro-field of self in a dynamic flow with the macro field of the collective. In so doing, I become more acutely aware of the paradox of self, the ambiguity of my boundaries, where transitory concerns such as idiosyncratic waves of sensory and emotional activity can temporarily yield to a deeper experience of the ocean of energy in which we are all immersed.

As Rick Hanson noted in Buddha’s Brain, neurophysiology tells us “Neurons that fire together wire together.” In an individual brain, patterns of identical responses to identical stimuli literally become like x-country tracks in snow. We want to follow them because someone has been there before. Studies on the long term effects of contemplative practice indicate we can literally interrupt and re-program our responses by the deliberate practice of mindfulness, deepening and smoothing tracks in the brain that form the material analog of equanimity, generosity, compassion, gratitude, even courage.

The reverse is also true: neurons that are wired together will fire together in response patterns. The most common and obvious are the autonomic responses of fight or flight—a tried and true survival mechanism—but also the more nuanced long-term subtle regeneration of responses to the messaging of scarcity, nativism, tribalism, ego and ethno-centrism. Since we are now (in the nick of time?) gradually embodying the reality of individuals co-extensive with each other and all life, the existence of a group field, quantum phenomena, collective intelligence, the influence of culture in programming the brain function of the individual becomes as plausible as a belief in the role of nature.

In that regard, we might well acknowledge the influence of generations of ancestors, both human and non-human, being present in our immediate communications. Our ancestors are part of our bodies. We are endowed with their consciousness and their karma and must assimilate it all, digest it–experiencing our multi-generational patterns–to fully experience who we are and what is our path.

From the standpoint of collective experience, going all the way back to tribal society, what was assumed and learned and passed on from one generation to the next was our place in the group. One’s personal ego was at times subsumed to the group ethic. Under these conditions, responses, and thus brain patterning, would follow the community rules superimposed on the natural substrate. One’s relations would be to the earth, the tribe and the family. When the rule-setters, leaders and those who mediated the seen and the unseen, form and the formless, acted to enforce the rules, everyone followed because they were already patterned (wired?) to respond within a limited field of options.

Likewise, in a post-tribal world fractured and dissolved, patterning continues to undergo transformation. Now, in a post-modern, post-industrial world, family, cultural and, to an extent, tribal patterning remains. Individual and collective efforts to overcome largely unconscious patterning at the familial and tribal level bring us up against powerful primitive and deep patterning at the individual level as well as the remains of group-triggers that govern collective memory, intelligence and response patterns.

We live and function in an impossibly complex neural soup of ideologies, allegiances, survival mechanisms, structures of authority, reciprocity and group consciousness. While social media functions to connect people, spontaneously forming and assuming tribal identities, it is also the medium of pandemic attention-seeking behavior, a narcissistic inversion of belonging. All of it together is The Story of Us, however we may define Us (either as a microcosmic “particle” or as a macrocosmic “wave”). But it’s not just an idea or mere mythology. It is Us, which is a clue to how difficult it is to change the Story, regardless of the scale of one’s attention/intention.

We-Space, as a “direct, distributed and dialogic” practice, is an evolutionary response to both the psychic need for belonging and a discovery of the fundamental nature of our relationship. It is a vehicle of transition from, in Scharmer’s words, ego- to eco-consciousness. Since the human body is co-extensive with the earth body, the more we examine and integrate emotional experience, sensation, thought and action, the more we connect with a universal view. The more the boundaries between inner and outer experience become transparent, fall away or dissolve into a unitary non-dual view, the more we feel our way into the subtle body we all inhabit.

Becoming conversant in the micro-evolutionary flow from purely subjective experience to the communion of We-Space, with occasional healing bursts of actually feeling others from the inside, what Michael Brabant calls “collective somatic intuition,” is the essence of what Scharmer calls vertical literacy.

 

We-Space: Locating Self

In the midst of Circling, the ethic of immersion into a deepening group process, cycling more and more into the present moment, the boundaries of Self get murky and less defined–whether we like it or not.  Expressions from any individual are often tentative, as if venturing forth from the safety of one’s personal domain carries unknown risks. Clinging to separate identities in an atmosphere of implied intentional dissolution turns out to be more or less slippery, at times even counterproductive. But that’s the idea. Let go of your preoccupation with Self and feel your way into the collective dynamic. Tricky. Challenging. Murky. Also an invitation to unearth what for some may be profound discomfort.

The true nature of our relations to each other and the world emerge in toppled assumptions, unexpected curves along the path of unwinding layers of personality, guarding, looking for a “true” self in relationship or imagining there is anything solid to “conclusions” or even “lessons.” One is faced with realizing that while we might have momentary or even tenacious fantasies of being in the center of our own worlds, the truth is that everyone else is also in their own center…or at least wrestling with its unique parameters, its anchors, imputing its indelible nature.

Yet the fantasy of a center is just that, an illusion.

Everything is moving. Nothing is truly resolved, despite reflexive reification to satisfy our longing for certainty. Trying to pin anything down is a fool’s errand, certain to lead to confusion and dissatisfaction. We are perpetually in the middle. Yet also, at any moment, the truth of Self, hovering like a condor on warm updrafts, swoops to the front of awareness, perhaps even unexpectedly erupting into familiar, old or even novel emotional states including fear, uncertainty, self-criticism or a delightful and playful freedom.

At the same time, beyond collective awareness, the unforeseen and mostly unpredictable dynamics of We-Space, there are further nuances of Self and selflessness in the reciprocation of the interpersonal exchanges, the interpenetration, shifting connections, the levels of permission, the sheer dependent co-arising of it all, which is to say, “relationship.”

That this is occurring in a context assuming the exploration of We-Space to be the cutting edge of human evolution (or at least spiritual evolution) makes it all the more portentous and at the same time even dubious.  Whereas some insist Circling is a deliberate cultivation of a supportive atmosphere in which individuals elevate and clarify the level of mutual permission to access and share deep personal process, it is also just as likely that sooner or later its more challenging transformative potential is realized in the deliberate or unexpected discard of the vestments of ego to expose a more raw and real, even purified, identity. Is such a condition a result of “support?”– or, more likely, the erosion of every notion of support?

Individuals undertaking a traditional practice of mindfulness (shamatha meditation) eventually understand that peering through the blizzard of spontaneous mental activity isn’t necessarily a direct path to blue-sky clarity. One meets persistent and deeply rooted patterns, the shadow self, demons and false states masquerading as truth.  Likewise, a Circle, or for that matter any group, deliberate or otherwise, populated with the same personalities over time (a family?), might be regarded as a group mindfulness practice,  exploring and sharing transient emotional and mental reality, slowly evolving to more intimate and authentic qualities of relationship. It could be said that any group eventually learns to cut through and discern internal process to a consciousness of field process/phenomena. Circling is merely a more deliberate and accelerated path. If I am in a Circle, I am sharply focusing on my internal process and I also want to notice the collective field (the activity of “group mind”). And I want to distinguish the two.

However, just as in solitary practice, there is nothing linear about entering “group mind.” We cannot automatically identify or regard any single expression as an expression of the field. More likely, what is an expression of self (or discursive mind) is constantly shifting as each participant moves back and forth into and out of mindful space. Responding to or being reactive to someone else in a Circle is not equivalent to an emanation of group mindfulness. Sooner or later, personality (a regression into ego) interrupts every drop into the deep silence of authentic connection.

When we are able to cut through the personal need for support, looking for reinforcement for what are in essence our personal constructs (projections) about ourselves and others, the naked reality starkly revealed is that none of us is here to please, to connect, to support, to fix or give others what we imagine they want. Yes, we do all of these things as if they are our true mission, or at least we try. But the Circle can also be a hot context in which we examine our motives (or have them reflected back to us), thus refining our capacity for fearless compassion.

As I once witnessed in a blazing Kali-esque exquisite moment of liberating truth, one person in a Circle, at least within the limited time-frame of that meeting, embodied the profound and most painful paradox of Self: the non-dual nature of appearance and reality, the simultaneous truth of selflessness and how each of us is helplessly clinging to our identities as if there really is some materiality to our existence.

She appeared to be in a (silent) state full of both crystalline clarity and inexpressible grief, a momentary deconstruction of everyone else feeling their own unmet needs reflected back to them. For that brief period, her piercing brilliance caused considerable discomfort in some others as they appeared to struggle with ego boundaries, differentiating between Self and the field, bias about what a Circle is, a role they may have chosen or their own projections about themselves and what they want from Circling.

And ironically, of course, all of this is simply my personal projection. It is certainly my own dance with Self, mindfulness practice, assumptions I have about extending solitary practice into a group setting. But I will continue to test and test and assess and learn. I will throw open the doors and windows, just in case, one day, someone shows up to set fire to everything and burn down my house of straw.

We Will Dance With Mountains III

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After partaking of the first two in 2015 and 2016, I am about to enter the third iteration of a “writing” course with my Nigerian brother, Bayo Akomolafe.  He calls writing a “tool of emergence,” but for those of us fortunate … Continue reading