The Tail Light Lesson
April 11, 2011 § 6 Comments
I was tired on Sunday evening, too tired to go out, let alone to drive down to Tarrytown to meditate at the fledgling Sunday evening insight meditation group at Yoga Shivaya. And yet out I rushed, and I realize now that I was pushed out the door by memories and thoughts about what had happend the day before. I was sitting in a sun-washed room with billowing white drapes with a couple of dozen other people, listening to the stories they wrote of their own journeys–they wrote of times of separation from their own home tribe, from the known, of the times of initiation or the sudden unveiling of the way life is, of times of return. Some of the stories were wrenchingly beautiful. Hearing them, anyone would believe that it was true, what Joseph Campbell claimed, that there is a natural arc to the way humans experience the unfolding of meaning in our lives, just as there is an in breath and an out breath.
Looking back, there was something else that made Saturday seem magical. There were moments of being with what is, being “voluntarily passive” as Madame de Salzmann describes it, attentive and open to what was arising without judgment, without filling the moment with a thought or an image. In moments like that, reality unfolds–not in a linear way but opening, revealing depths. In a moment like that, you can feel the energy in life-and in you. You feel the presence of the unknown in you as well as outside, and you can believe that it might be true what Gurdieff and other masters say, that our ancestors live on in us. That now is our turn.
I ran out the door and into the car, picturing how nice it would be to put myself in those conditions again, to sink into the stillness below the words, to find my way to a greater life, a real and whole life. I was so distracted by everything contained in my memory as a whole–thoughts, desires, disappointments, sensations–that I backed up into a car that was parked across the street just opposite our driveway, smashing a tail light, denting a fender, and possibly damaging the other car (called and apologized and I’m still waiting to hear).
It seems now that I had been trying to outrun the return of my ordinary state (not that I ever really left it behind). Smash! What a lesson in the difference between a truly free kind of awareness–which I experienced a whisper of when I allowed things to be–and the “awareness” that propelled me out the door and into the back neighbor’s daughter’s monster-truck-like vehicle.
I meditate and spend days helping people engage in mindful writing and things because I know what it’s like to feel like a ghost, floating over the surface of things, without real aim or purpose. Riding the train, walking through the city, talking at dinner and trying to make some point, I will suddenly have the feeling that I had no real substance or force or sense of direction, as if I were just a vapor or a hum of thought, a stream of images, judgments, desires, and disappointments. I know what it’s like to have the sad feeling that I am missing something essential, that I can’t really touch life or be touched by it. And yet, last night I saw that it is very, very possible to go to a sangha or engage in the Gurdjieff Work or go to church and have it all be just another dream.
Yesterday I received a painful and hopefully not-too-expensive lesson in is described in The Reality of Being as “the difference between a fixed attention coming from only one part of myself and a free attention attached to nothing, held back by nothing, which involves all the centers [or parts of myself, thinking, feeling, sensing] at the same time. My usual attention is caught in one part and remains taken by the movement, the functioning of this part. For example, I think about what I am feeling, and my thought responds in place of me. It answers with a knowledge that is not true, not an immediate knowing. My thoughts are merely the expression of what is stored in my memory, not revelations of something new. This thinking is enclosed in a narrow space within myself. Always preoccupied, it holds back my attention in this space, isolated from the rest of me, from my body and feeling. With my attention continually projected from one thought to another, from one image to another in a flowing current, I am hypnotized by my mind….”
What would it be like to be completely aware in the moment–to have an attention that isn’t yoked to a particular memory or feeling or deeply held attitude? What would it be like to perceive without judgement, without separating from it to attach a “someone” to the perception of being here? I have an inkling in those moments when I can be with what is without rushing in to change. Last night, however, I sat on my meditation bench picturing the smashed tail light and imagining my husband’s righteous indignation (as I went out the door, he warned me there was a car all but blocking the drive way) and fearing how much it was all going to cost and fretting about money and then making all kinds of resolutions for the future.
Suddenly, I felt like Scheherazade, the Persian queen who told the stories of One Thousand and One Nights. Married to a king who was so bitter from a past betrayal that he defended himself against feeling by marrying a fresh virgin every day only to behead her and marry another the next morning, clever Scheherazade learned to save herself by telling stories. Every evening, she told extraordinary tales to the king and stopped before they reached their end. Each night, the king for spared her life so he could hear the end of the story. There is something in me that yearns to drop the stories and dare to open to something more subtle, more risky, more vibrant, to feel that energy of connection. Yet there is also a fear of being no one and having nothing, and the current of stories, of attachments and habits, sweeps my awareness along.