Becoming No Body

 

The vehicle in which we navigate this life, our personal identity and material existence, is the body. The fields of feeling, physiology, memory, habit, the maintenance of relative equilibrium, motility, our conscious and unconscious adaptive strategies for meeting every circumstance are there, in the flesh.

With its delicate yet seemingly definite boundary, it obvious we are separate, that there is an immutable boundary between our interior and exterior life.  As a temporary collection of energetic process, providing what for all the world appears to be the differentiation between self and other, the body is our personal home, our platform and our refuge.

In the body we write our history in time: our negotiation with gravity, injury, trauma, aging, self-care, aspiration, defense, success and failure. It is all there, from the values anchored in our bones to our story written deep in the sinews, to perpetual turning and re-turning, compensations, aggression and retreat, drama and restraint. We wrap our selves in the record of our actions like the accumulated rings of a tree, layering the extremes of love and loss, pain and recovery, solitude and connection, triumph and tragedy, learning and resolution, the ways we adhere to–or veer away from—our most precious integrity are all there.

The body-mind continuum is an endlessly fertile topic of investigation, testing and speculation. For practical purposes, we indulge the idea of separation as a matter of convenience for the sake of distinguishing between body and mind, as if there’s some reality to that view. While mind may operate independently of the body, there is constant interplay with the causes and conditions arising in our physical experience, forming and reforming the identity under perpetual reconstruction. In the process, mind is reflected in form. The body speaks its mind. How could it be otherwise?

In our time-bound reality, body is telling the story we tell ourselves about who we’ve been, who we are and who we will become. Physical reality and the dynamics of body-mind are the obscurations of samsara, the realm of sufferingThey are luminosity objectified. We are emptiness itself manifesting as us, in plain view. We are Being manifesting as an infinite number of beings, just in time.

There is no real separation, of course. In the blissful stillness and dynamic motion of timeless awareness, there is no distinction between mind and body. There is no distinction between being and doing. In that condition, mind and body do also remain distinguishable from each other. How can they be both in union and divisible, simultaneously? Because mind and body are only convenient labels for modes of attention. Even in the gnosis of dharmakaya luminosity, cognitive process is still possible. Dwelling on the concept of time is also possible. In other words, a choice is still available to entertain duality within non-duality….or vice versa.

Practically speaking, what does that entail? Form is our anchor, grounding us in time. From the moment of birth, we have a past, a present and a future. From the moment of consciousness, the ways we may spin out of the present moment and into the past or future become increasingly complex, automatic, unconscious, untamed and, ultimately, less accessible to conscious intervention without disciplined mental practice, physical practice, or both.

In short, as we know too well, what was once the map becomes the territory. Our view and our choice become reified. Our identity is literally made into new and limiting material. Whether it’s default pathways in the brain or structural limitations in the musculoskeletal system, the way we see the world becomes the world we see. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Being able to recognize and unwind our selves from that reified story, the inaccessibility of awareness, the ignorance of Being, is integral to our spiritual development. It is not only a way of piercing cognitive limitations, building new neural pathways, but also of discovering a physical architecture of Being, the harmonic of freedom itself, a character of mental and physical synergy reflecting greater freedom in the specific sense Buddhism most often speaks of freedom: freedom from the extremes of duality.

I prefer to speak of freedom in the ultimate sameness of the relative and the absolute, of nirvana and samsara, of duality and non-duality. The union of body-mind and awareness cannot be denied. That is the Dzogchen view.

True embodiment becomes a journey into the present moment, peeling away layers of accumulated disequilibrium anchoring us in time, shedding the self-induced entrapments of asymmetry, torsion, equivocation, self-delusion, the foundations of attachment to inequality and conceptual linearity, until the true dimension of our imprisonment in time is bared.  The journey of embodiment is the discovery of the body-mind as a micro-economy, of being as a fractal of Being. Embodiment is gaining a measure of equanimity, dropping ever more skillfully into a vast stillness between past and future in which we discover the nano-detail of that economy, also known as the bardo of everyday life.

That journey includes the physical resolution of mechanical disturbance and life-long strain embedded in liminal tissues, the endless cross-talk of opposing impulses, movement limited or repeatedly thwarted, with associated adhesions deep in the connective tissue matrix, anchoring and enforcing our learned behaviors, limited views and self-imposed rules.

Sitting in stillness strongly connects us to the relative universe, reinforcing our beliefs or at least our attachment to a binary view, even as we endeavor to see through absolute differences to reveal the essential sameness of all phenomena. In finding stillness of being, our mental activity comes to the forefront of awareness, along with the constant activity of proprioception, kinesthetics, our relative comfort and discomfort and the minor dramas of the ongoing redefinition of that state.

Is that drama really so minor? We may fail to notice much about our movement in the same way we barely notice much of our mental activity. True freedom in the body comes with addressing and unraveling crossed purpose, just as settling into the present moment is to see through appearance into the heart-essence of everything.

What we experience in the body when we deliberately still all movement is not merely a rising awareness of shifting strain, appearing and disappearing. We experience the deep and ongoing structural conversation, the low chatter of subliminal neuromuscular homeostatic mechanisms. We experience the mind transfixed by form. The very existence of such mechanisms is that universe of form, the negotiation of polarities, the antithesis of emptiness, the suffering of samsara.

The practice of meditation is coming into Presence, which requires coming into the present, generating a new economy of being expressed as the infinite potentiality of Being. Negotiating that re-union is to pull back the curtain obscuring the true body, the no body of dharmakaya. Part of that experience is a return to unburdened presence, leaping into the union of mind and awareness, the union of form and formlessness, the union of sameness and difference. This is Dzogchen. These polarities only exist in time, the ongoing drama of cause and effect. This is suffering.

As no bodies, we are mere “viscous porosities.” We are neither solid nor liquid, only temporary aggregations of multiple life forms, structural elements (collagen), an energy interface (ATP), a replicative blueprint (DNA), communication networks participating with the environment in the creation and exchange of sugars, heat, moisture, negotiating evolutionary dynamics, even light transformed by chlorophyll into nutritive material.

We exist in a trans-corporeal world as individual contractions, adrift in the atmospheric ocean, “intra-acting” precariously with the planetary system, each according to our geography and culture, fractals of “co-constitutive” reciprocal relationships between the macro-economy of planetary change, biology and the micro-relationships by which we live every day, relating to other life forms.

In this vast and dynamic matrix, not only is the presumption of a unique identity flimsy; the presumption of a unique identity anchored in a discrete timeframe is equally flimsy. We are products not only of our ‘personal’ stories, but also of family stories, the social story, the historical tale of our tribe, our culture, a nation swimming in archetypal forces in a perpetual dynamic with myriad other social, cultural and national entities. We are constantly under their influence. Inter-being inter-acts; we make each other and, imperceptibly, are made by all others, including the non-human.

We share in accomplishments and failures, evolution playing out in uncountable nesting contexts. The ghosts of the past, the aggression, greed and indifference we have committed our selves and allowed to be committed in our names are always present. We are parties to the calculus of limited resources, manipulation, dominance, convenience, distraction and the pursuit of short-term comfort. As Bayo Akomolafe might say, the demons under the national bed will never be completely silenced until they are fully heard. We own them all. They are us. However subliminal they may seem, they still surge into awareness, arresting us from time to time. Now is (always) one of those times.

Dropping into the body in meditation, we prepare for nothing. We invite nothing. If the clarity of luminosity, timeless awareness arrives, we are fortunate. We may experience moments of liberation, loosening the bonds of time. Having entered that realm, even briefly, there is no going back. True opening is the dissolution of imagined boundaries, never to be fully reconstituted. Now we know and cannot un-know. In timeless awareness, the body disappears. To say it another way, timeless awareness cannot exist without full embodiment, which is the dissolution of time, mind and body, subject and object.

In timeless awareness, cause evaporates; there is only effect. Linearity disappears. Analytical mind collapses. Inequality is transformed into the timeless equality of all phenomena. There is no imbalance to distract us. We are transfixed by the incomparably vivid streaming brilliance of limitless creation, without beginning or end. Bewilderment and confusion dissolve into overwhelming compassion. There is no ‘self,’ except as a momentary narrowing of attention. All that remains is the continuous dissolution of appearance into the vast space and infinite potentiality of emptiness, the potentiality of Being expressing itself as everything and anything.

Appearance and emptiness are in union. Appearance is not emptiness, nor is emptiness appearance. Appearance is not other than emptiness, nor is emptiness other than appearance. They are not two, nor are they one. No identity exists here; there is nobody. Imbalance, structural tension and all internal conversations anchored in time disappear. There is no body. All of it is instantly reconstituted simply by firing up the engine of samsara: desire. And yes, desire is irresistible. There is no relative existence without it. Desire is inescapable. That is samsara. In timeless awareness, however, desire is none other than stupendously comical foolishness. That is the Great Perfection.

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.                                                                                                    —Longchenpa (1308-1364)

 

©Gary Horvitz, 2019

Listening

We are universally enjoined by the expressions of Dzogchen teachers to regard all phenomena as the simultaneous appearance of both deluded mind (samsara) and the natural or essence nature of mind (nirvana). We are always ‘here’ and ‘there’ in every moment. This guidance applies to everything at all times, even, dare I say especially, to the expressions of those teachers themselves.

When we listen to the words of a teacher, using innate cognitive faculties to convey conceptual information, which is then apprehended by our own cognitive faculties, we have thoughts, interpretations, memories and visceral experiences in response. As we all know, this is no less a continuing cascade of mental and emotional activity in the presence of a teacher as it would be under any other circumstance.

Beneath those words, completely integral to them, coming from an equally expressive locus of the inner world of that teacher, not only from the thinking mind but from the natural mind as well, is the reality and experience of emptiness. Like a carrier wave, that inner experience is not separate from the teaching nor can it be separate from any other experience. It is a manifestation of both oneness and difference in every moment.

The words themselves are the path of knowledge and contemplation. The carrier wave is the path of direct experience. The words emit from the direct experience of the teacher, but they are a derivative, not the experience itself.  The words are as much a reflection in the pond as the reflection of the moon itself. They are, as the moon itself, mere appearance, not their meaning nor any of the internal responses we may have to conceptual interpretation.

How we listen to those words can, but may not always, happen on two different levels: one, by way of the intellect, by which we receive and interpret and assimilate the meaning we attribute to them; and the other, by which we have a direct experience of meeting them as they touch some other locus of gnosis other than merely the cerebral.

These two ways of listening are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to assume they are would be a primary strategic error, a fundamental misunderstanding of our encounters with the teachings and with their teachers. If we are to have any chance of assimilating teachings in a manner congruent with their intent, we must activate our capacity to listen in both ways at the same time.

These two ways of listening are inseparable. It is often said that we must listen to teachings for their outer, inner and secret meanings.  But in reality, listening in two ways activates a direct and immediate experience of duality and non-duality, of both awareness in time…and of timeless awareness that characterize teachings regardless of their inner, outer or secret meaning.

We can learn to recognize our error by observing our inner process. We can lean in one of two ways. We can pride ourselves in listening and recording with our intellect, making notes, committing portions of what we hear to memory, keeping a record of our engagement for consideration and possible regurgitation at some later date when we believe it will matter.

Or, we can listen with the subtle body, the inner ear, the ear that knows there is no cognitive meaning to which we can cling, much less retain. There is only one message, the same message at all times: the unity of appearance and emptiness, the unity of time and timeless awareness, the indivisibility of duality and non-duality. That is the experience of Dzogchen.

True enough, every moment is an opportunity to enter that experience. But sitting in front of a teacher is a special invitation to listen in this way.

All of the Buddhist teachers in the West, at least all the Dzogchen teachers I’ve encountered, are very well practiced in transmitting to their students. We in the West are so well suited to hearing them because we place such a high cultural value on and rely more on our cognitive faculties. That is our default mode. We are good students in the Western mold of being a student. And our teachers have done a very good job of learning our language and expressing themselves in ways that speak to our default approach to learning, the rational use of logic, the collection and storing of conceptual knowledge and ritual practice.

But ultimately, that approach is not what we truly need. Insofar as we automatically rely on that approach, we learn little, and slowly, because no student can truly arrive at the Dzogchen experience without an empirical experience of The Great Perfection.

It is the direct seeing of the inseparability of the kayas. It is the direct knowledge of dharmakaya, the immediate, timeless and complete mutuality of absolute oneness and absolute difference, the union of the relative and the absolute, perpetually folding into and creating each other, becoming one another without beginning or end.

 

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”             

 

 

 

 

 

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