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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Box

You cannot decide not to hold a position, if for no other reason that to decide to not hold a position is, in itself, a position, and you are back in the holding mindset again — an example of both an ancient and a post-modern dilemma.

You are in a box. If you take the box apart, it remakes itself as you do so and you are back in it. If you step out of it, you somehow end up back in it, too, like Alice in Through the Looking Glass. If you make an effort to understand it, you are in the world it defines and you are still in it. If you try to ignore it, you live in the world it defines and you never leave. If you try to change it, it restricts your movement and confines you. If you try to rise above it, you find that you are tied to it.  If you analyze it, you may work through an intricate maze but the maze leads you right back to where you started from — the box. 

The box consumes you. It's all you experience. You want to get out but there is no door, no window, no exit of any kind.

What do you do?

Start from where you are. You are in the box. Open to the experience of the box as best you can. This is usually the last thing you want to do, but that is all you can do. Don't try to change or control your experience, because that just reinforces the box.

Take care to distinguish between resignation and acceptance. Resignation is a form of ignoring: you remain confined and defined by the box. Acceptance is opening to what you are experiencing without trying to change it. 

When you open to the experience of the box, you are usually overwhelmed and fall out of attention. You lose awareness and you are back in the box, and you aren't even aware that you are. 

The trick is to open to the experience without being overwhelmed. Open a little, for a short period of time, even just a moment, and then stop. Then do it again, for a moment or two, and stop again. Gradually build capacity.

Two qualities are essential in this practice: resting and looking. Resting is how you stabilize attention. Looking is how you bring out the clarity that enables you to see. You can start with resting or looking, but most people, by far, find it better to start with resting. When you can rest, then look. Learn how to look in the resting. When you can look a bit, then rest in the the looking.

What is looking? When you rest, pose the question "What rests?" Don't try to answer the question. Just ask it. A shift in your awareness takes place, right then. It may last only for a half a second, but that shift is the shift into looking. What do you see? Nothing, of course, and that's the hard part. You see nothing and you panic. A subtle agitation in the body triggers a thought, a question, and bang, you are back in the box. Let your mind and body rest again, then pose the question, and look. Little by little, you are able to rest in seeing nothing. Do this for very short periods, because the mind can also slip into a subtle dullness that is not helpful.

When you can look and rest in the looking, you can also ask "What looks?" Again, don't try to answer. Just rest in the shift.

As you do this, you experience the box more and more vividly, more and more clearly, and that is where things begin to change. But as soon as you entertain the wish for the box to change, bang, you are back in it. Whatever you experience, just recognize it and rest.

When you practice this way, a certain kind of seeing develops. It is a non-conceptual direct clear awareness that doesn't involve language or explanation. This is the seeing to which the verse refers. That seeing holds no position, not even wanting to change the box. And in that experience of the box, awake, vivid, clear and open, things change, in their own time and in their own way. Primarily, what changes is how you experience the box, and that changes everything else in your life.  Thus, change comes about indirectly. It is not something you decide or control. T.S. Eliot writes about this practice in Four Quartets:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.


For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.


Anonymous said...

When I sit and ask like this, I see everything flickering and flowing by, not nothing. I can't say there's one point that sees it all, but sometimes I let go of some clenched part of myself that thought it was the center of attention, and things flow more clearly in the moments after that. Is that what you're talking about, or is there something further?


Ken said...

This is a start. You are seeing thoughts as thoughts, not facts, and that is important. When "things flow more clearly", rest right there. As you build up ability to rest, then start to look at what rests, and rest in that looking.