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

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?

As It Is

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

From my earliest instruction in Buddhist meditation, this phrase, “As it is,” has been used in numerous contexts to describe a way of interpreting experience. It implies that all overlays, story, judgment, speculation about the future and interpretation of the … Continue reading

Real, But Not True

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

The other day a friend of mine sent an email describing a gift he’d received for Christmas. He alleged it was a storied intoxicant, a well-known topic of experimentation, poetry and discourse, effective in small measures but dangerous in larger … Continue reading

Surrender

Gallery

This gallery contains 4 photos.

  When you realize everything to be your own mind All that can be seen is empty, dharmakaya. One is not fettered by appearance, but by attachment. So cut your deluded attachment, heart-children! –Shabkar Tsokdrug Rangdrol, Flight of the Garuda   … Continue reading

The Two Truths: both/and…

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

The idea of the Two Truths is intended to express the dual nature of all phenomena as both real and illusory, or empty. Everything appears to have substance: material reality as well as mental activity, sensation, emotion and our intellectual … Continue reading