A Beautiful Mind

August 12, 2010 § 12 Comments

Yesterday afternoon, I had an extraordinary conversation with Gina Sharpe, a woman I have known for about a decade and now hold as a true spiritual inspiration.  Once a successful corporate lawyer, Gina has been a longtime dedicated student and teacher of Vipassana meditation and Theravada Buddhism.   The mind assumes it understands what a change in career like this means–or mine did. We do a kind of narrative math and depending on our notions of what is good and bad, we come up with a sum:  a) Gina was tired of the pressure and opted out or: b) Gina was sick of the devouring greed for money and power that drives that profession and chose to jump into another stream of life or even: c) Gina decided to try to swim upstream against the swift currents of desire and the usual habits of mind.  Talking with Gina yesterday–and really over years of listening and observering her–I learned this way of thinking isn’t remotely near the real truth.  A real change in the heart and mind (in Buddhism the two are not separate)  is not a matter of progressing from point to point.  In a way, it has to do with stopping, with daring to be still and know what is in the present moment–and persistently enough to fully open, to really be able to receive the full mystery of what is.

I don’t mean to portray Gina as a saint or an angel above ordinary life (as we talked in the upstairs study of her pretty house in Westchester, she made green tea she told me was “the really good stuff.”)    But what I glimpsed in her was how moments of being present can grow by dedicated practice into moments of Presence.  Who we really are is not an isolated individual on an isolated journey but a being who is an inextricable part of a greater and perfect Whole, a greater living Presence.   Like any living being, this Presence is always in movement, never static.   The intricate, interconnected Mystery of it All, the real Truth, can never be reduced to thought (even a Great Thought).   It can only be received like grace by a mind that includes the heart and body.  We are meant to participate in theTruth, to contribute our particular lives to the workings of the Whole.

I haven’t yet transcribed my interview with Gina, but to reduce it to a few blunt and inadequate thoughts:  the progress of Gina’s life has been towards excluding less and less from heart and mind, and towards including more and more.  I learned from her that the more we we are able open to the present moment, the more we realize the truth is particular and irreducible.  It changes moment by moment.   How could she say being a corporate lawyer is bad and being a teacher of the dharma is good, or that former is greater and the latter is less?  At a certain moments, knowledge of the law is just what is needed.  Nothing can be excluded, sentenced, judged.  And at moments, we can touch Presence, in which the fully Mystery and Beauty of life flows into the present moment.  We learn in such moments that it here, waiting for us to receive and give ourselves to it in turn.

In the past week, a reader of my blog sent me a link to Wordsworth’s “Tinturn Abbey.”   Thanks for the gift! This extraordinary poem captures something that Gina was trying to get across to me–that all the while we move through our lives in the illusion of isolation, there is a subtle and secret economy at work.  And not the “shadow economy” we are learning about but the luminous web of life that we lack of better words call the Whole:

“Five years have past; five summers, with the length/Of five long winters! and again I hear/These waters, rolling from their mountain springs….”

In the midst of the city and the 10,000 troubles and burdens of this world,  the “beautous forms” of nature bring Wordsworth feelings of “unremembered pleasure,” those acts of kindness and love that took place below the radar of his fixed aims and business.   By the end of the poem,  Wordsworth realizes that those “wild secluded scenes” that invited a deep inner seclusion–those moments of being fully present in nature had imperceptively opened his heart and mind to something vast:  “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and deep power of joy,/We see into the life of things.”

§ 12 Responses to A Beautiful Mind

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Parabola Magazine and Luke Storms, Tracy Cochran. Tracy Cochran said: A Beautiful Mind: Yesterday afternoon, I had an extraordinary conversation with Gina Sharpe, a woman I have known … http://bit.ly/b9QUlj […]

  • sharanam says:

    Thanks Tracy. This is really relevant to the experience that this particular body-mind is going through right now, in allowing life to unfold itself…Left a job and career a year ago to do intensive practice, to dedicate myself to the contemplative life, and have had to accept more uncertainty than I ever thought possible. But with it also has come more contentment than I’ve ever known. A former professor of mine that I met with recently, also a Shin Buddhist priest and Zen practitioner, said that this time will probably be some of the richest and most defining. To then discover how to make this being present in not-knowing, this “receiving the mystery of what is”, this choicelessness, this openness, all of life. Imagine that.

    I’ll go download some of Gina’s talks from Dharma Seed now!

  • Many thanks for your post, Tracy, and also the one above, especially for the link! It’s wonderful! Both have inspired me on my path.

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    Good Afternoon,

    I love these words of Wordsworth when he writes: “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and deep power of joy,/We see into the life of things.”

    I don’t know if Paul Tillich ever practiced meditation, I’m sure he practiced prayer and solitude. We all seek such solitude, such stillness, a quiet place to go and rest. Presence. A grace I think that is gladly given.

    He does write: “In the poverty of solitude all riches are present. Let us dare to have solitude — to face the eternal, to find others, to see ourselves.”

    He also writes: “In these moments of solitude something is done to us. The center of our being, the innermost self that is the ground of our aloneness, is elevated to the divine center and taken into it. Therein can we rest without losing ourselves.”

    This certainly seems to capture for me the experience of the contemplative life, and that such a practice of prayer is an entering into the divine. It does, to quote Tracy, open us up to something vast, something beyond ourselves which is certainly a mystery, one that we cannot name, although we try. Presence. And it opens us up to a sense of aloneness and perhaps lonliness that can only be faced in solitude, a hunger for the stillness and silence out of which all things arise.

    These words of Tillich are a good compliment to what Tracy has already touched on with her words.

    “Loneliness can be conquered only by those who can bear solitude. We have a natural desire for solitude because we are men and women. We want to feel what we are — namely, alone — not in pain and horror, but with joy and courage. There are many ways in which solitude can be sought and experienced. And each way can be called “religious,” if it is true, as one philosopher said, that “religion is what a man does with his solitariness.”

    One of these ways is the desire towards the silence of nature. We can speak without voice to the trees and the clouds and the waves of the sea. Without words they respond through the rustling of leaves and the moving of clouds and the murmuring of the sea. This solitude we can have, but only for a brief time. For we realize that the voices of nature cannot ultimately answer the questions in our mind. Our solitude in nature can easily become loneliness, and so we return to the world of man.

    Solitude can also be found in the reading of poetry, in listening to music, in looking at pictures, and in sincere thoughtfulness. We are alone, perhaps in the midst of multitudes, but we are not lonely. Solitude protects us without isolating us. But life calls us back to its empty talk and the unavoidable demands of daily routine. It calls us back to its loneliness and the cover that it, in turn, spreads over our loneliness.”

    Is it wise of us to seek such solitude? Yes, I think that it is, it may very well be the first step on the path towards wisdom.

    “He who has encountered the mystery of life has reached the source of wisdom.” Paul Tillich

    He is a link for Tillich’s book, “The Eternal Now,” if you would like to read more on your own.

    http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=1630

    Peace,
    Ron

  • Thanks Tracy,

    I love this: “I learned from her that the more we we are able open to the present moment, the more we realize the truth is particular and irreducible. It changes moment by moment.”

    This week a number of times I’ve had the gift of being right on the spot with my life, and what I notice–shockingly!–is that it is not my life. At least not in the way I imagine most of the time. While my heart throbs and my body reacts and responds to the moment, this is all–this movement is it. Everything else is the great story we tell ourselves.

  • Artxulan says:

    Presence aint so easy!

    Excerpt from Reality of Being, Jeanne de Salzmann (available at http://www.bythewaybooks.com).

    What in us corresponds to the role of organic life for the earth? Special organs of perception, the higher parts of the centers, receive a direct impression of a finer energy. This is a perception beyond mechanical functioning, a more conscious perception. It requires the formation of a kind of net or filter that maintains within its mesh a substance that could be experienced as a second body. My Presence has to become like a second body in order to receive this finer energy and let it show through. For this I need to accumulate active elements that begin to live their own life, to create their own nature within the physical body, their own world and events.

    I am here. I feel a need to see myself. My body needs to open to a force to which it is closed, a force that comes from above, from a little higher than my head. My thought does not allow me to open to it. My body also does not allow me to open. I see that my body needs a conscious state, a state of absolute unity. I take a very straight posture, and am aware of my whole body having the same energy everywhere. It is not the body that is important, it is this energy that fills it. The force has a greater intensity than the body if the body lets it act. The force comes from above my head and passes through my body if there is no tension. It passes down the back, between the legs and ascends again by the abdomen, the chest and the head. This is a force that has its own movement and needs to have its own life in me.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Ron

    Solitude can also be found in the reading of poetry, in listening to music, in looking at pictures, and in sincere thoughtfulness. We are alone, perhaps in the midst of multitudes, but we are not lonely. Solitude protects us without isolating us. But life calls us back to its empty talk and the unavoidable demands of daily routine. It calls us back to its loneliness and the cover that it, in turn, spreads over our loneliness.”

    Is it wise of us to seek such solitude? Yes, I think that it is, it may very well be the first step on the path towards wisdom.

    “He who has encountered the mystery of life has reached the source of wisdom.” Paul Tillich
    ***********************************

    Simone Weil adds that the value of solitude is the quality of attention the external world makes possible. She said:

    “In solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention.”

  • I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!

    ! I absolutely loved every little bit of it. I’ve got you book marked to look at new stuff you post…

  • […] The Beautiful Mind – A Conversation with Gina Sharpe […]

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