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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Verse 3.2 — how to get rid of an elephant

Pure being has no foundation. It has no essence.
When you make it a concept, a knowing without beginning or end,
It’s as if you turned the formless into form and
You lose track of natural resting. How reactive you become! 

There is something wonderfully tenacious about the human proclivity to name an experience and then make a thing out of the name. An academic word for this tendency is “reification” but it has been known since ancient times. The opening lines of the Tao Te Ching point to it in this way:

A way that becomes the way is not the way.
A name that becomes the name is not the name.

Pure being is such a name. As soon as it solidifies into a concept, it ceases to function as the pointer it was intended to be. Pure being cannot be labeled as this or that. In particular, it cannot be labeled as something that has no beginning or end. Again, as I’ve said before, one fares better taking these line “Pure being has no foundation. It has no essence” as poetic expression, not philosophical statement. At the very least, you will get into fewer arguments.

When we are present, deeply present, in our own experience, we don’t experience any thing: no ground, no core, no color, no shape, no movement, no absence of movement — nothing. But we don’t experience just nothing, either. There is a knowing, but we can’t put any words to it. It’s just there, like the light in a room. The “nothing” is like the space in the room. The knowing is like the light. We can’t say where the light comes from or what it is made of any more than we can say where the space come from or what it is made of. Neither the space nor the light have a beginning or an end. They are just there and because they are we see everything that there is to see. Our vision in unrestricted. In the same way, that empty knowing is unrestricted. 

We find we can function just as before, but not exactly just as before. Now we know that the content of experience is not solid, ultimate or determined. Thoughts, feelings or sensations, they all just come and go, seeming to come from nowhere and go nowhere. It is really quite miraculous.

This experience is so vivid and so illuminating that it shatters our ordinary way of understanding and our world. It frees us from the prison of our own projections and, most important of all, it frees us from the need to react. Other possibilities, extraordinary possibilities, open up. Naturally, we want to tell others that such a shift is possible, so we give words to our experience. We might say, “There is a knowing that has no beginning or end.” 

As soon as others hear those words, they form an idea. Once they have that idea, they carry it with them and constantly check their experience against the words. Agh! What a curse! Once we hear about that possibility, we can never rest. Never! And we are so stubborn, too. Once the idea has taken hold, we won’t let go. There is a knowing that has no beginning or end, and I’m going to know it! That’s how I took it, and that is how I’ve seen others take it, one after another. 

The more we try to know it, the more we tie ourselves up in knots and the more reactive we become.

The idea gives us a goal, but it’s rather like the carrot and the donkey. It gets us moving. While that’s probably a good thing, somehow the carrot always stays just out of reach. We keep trying. We build up strength and stamina and abilities, we learn methods and skills, but the carrot is still dangling in front of us and we are no nearer than when we started. 

It’s hard to let go of words and concepts. It’s hard to let go of ideas. If you try to let go of an idea consciously, it imprisons you. 

Don’t think of an elephant. Now, how do you get rid of the elephant?

The only thing to do is to stop. To do that, we have to let go of everything, especially the tendency to relate to experience through concepts. It comes down to this:

As soon as you find yourself conceptualizing your experience, stop. Take a breath. Let it out. And just sit there. 

As soon as you notice that you are explaining or describing what you are experiencing, stop. Take a breath. Let it out. And just sit there. 

When you find yourself hoping or fearing or dreading anything, past, present or future, stop. Take a breath. Let it out. And just sit there. 

If you think you see, understand, feel or know something, stop. Take a breath. Let it out. And just sit there. 

Whenever you notice that you are bored, elated, depressed or flooded with well-being, stop. Take a breath. Let it out. And just sit there.

And if you ask, “Where does this go?”, stop. Take a breath. Let it out. And just sit there.


Colin Yardley said...

Beautiful essential teaching! Thank you, Ken.

Sheridan Mahoney said...

This happens to me a lot. I have an experience of what I think you have been referring to as "Presence", and then I start trying to define what it is. Once in a while I have the experience of wakefulness and peace.