There’s a period that I’ve seen often when people are sick and dying, when one has a tendency to contract around their experience, whether it’s the experience of loss, dependency, physical pain, or fear. During this period there’s a hunger to cling to whatever is familiar, even if it’s their suffering.
Often as caregivers we actually exacerbate that clinging. One of the ways that we do that is by focusing on the problem. When we focus on the problem, we cause ourselves or others to feel small, and to become identified with the problem. It becomes something to be solved. It can happen in meditation as well. Imagine if we saw the people we served as a mystery to be discovered. Imagine if we saw ourselves that way.
I was with a woman in my retreat a couple of weeks ago, a cancer survivor. She said that when she went to the doctors they were always talking about curing, and never about healing. If only she had turned to her doctor and said “you know, curing stops the process, curing is what we do to pickles”. Could we just be open to the dynamic intrinsic of healing?
Even in a meditation like this, there comes a point when a particular problem resolves and goes away. Or the sensation which has been troubling, or the state of mind which has been troubling, seems to dissolve. What can frequently happen is we just go on cruise control—we feel this relief, but in a way we are just kind of waiting for the next problem to arise.
What can frequently happen is we just go on cruise control—we feel this relief, but in a way we are just kind of waiting for the next problem to arise.
What we want to do today is to turn our attention to the actual openness. We’ve been observing all the objects of mind, body, breath, sensation, emotions, and thoughts, and we want to turn our attention to that which all this is moving through. The openness.
Rainer Maria Rilke writes about this in his 8th Duino Elegy. He says:
With their whole gaze animals behold the open.
Only our eyes are as though reversed, and set like traps around us, keeping us inside.
That there is something out there we know only from a creature’s countenance.
Never, not for a single day do we let the space before us be so unbounded that the blooming of one flower is forever.
We are always making it into a world, and never letting it be nothing.
The pure and unconstructed, which we breathe and endlessly know, and do not crave.
Sometimes a child loses himself in this stillness, and gets shaken out of it.
Or a person dies and becomes it.
For when death draws near, we see death no more; we stare beyond it with an animal’s wild gaze. Lovers also look with astonishment into the open, when the beloved doesn’t block the view.
It surges up unburdened in the background.
Sometimes neither can get past the other, and so the world closes again.
Ever turn toward what we create,
we see it as only reflections of the open, darkened by us.
This is our fate: to stand in our own way, forever in the way.
We, always and everywhere spectators, turn not toward the open, but towards the stuff of our lives. It drowns us. We set it in order, and it falls apart. We order it again, and fall apart ourselves.
Who has turned us around like this?
Whatever we do, we are in the presence of one who’s about to depart.
A Meditation for Opening Up
Openness. It’s about just being with the openness, to really feel the quality of our being, not just as an absence of problems but as intrinsic to our being. Just as compassion is that quality of our being that helps us to sense, openness is that quality of our being that helps us to appreciate the spaciousness, and gives space to things. It’s the quality of inexhaustibility and boundlessness. We’ve been watching the breath of body, emotions, and thoughts—what would it be like to turn toward the openness, and begin to feel this space that all this has been moving through? And in that, to begin to learn the nature of how all this arises. Not just studying the products of our mind, but beginning to come into contact with the mind itself.
We’ve been watching the breath of body, emotions, and thoughts—what would it be like to turn toward the openness, and begin to feel this space that all this has been moving through?
When I say mind here I mean our awareness, openness of our being. How does it function? Where is the mind? Do you think it’s in your brain? If you didn’t have a brain would you still have a mind? What’s in charge? Do you think you’re in charge? Try stopping your thoughts.
Wes Nisker writes, “In the summer of 1995, Time magazine summarized the latest brain research in a cover story entitled “In Search of the Mind”. Most people were probably not aware that the mind was lost, and chances are they became quite disturbed to discover that even the neuroscientists couldn’t find it. The Time article concluded that, “Despite our every instinct to the contrary, consciousness is not some entity inside the brain that corresponds to self. Some kernel of awareness that runs the show. After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have concluded that such a self simply does not exist.”
So far, scientists cannot find a particular region of the brain that gives orders. Every part of the brain knows what every other part of the brain is doing, and each part influences all the others through a type of dependent colorizing. In fact, neuroscientists say that reality is primarily a creation of the brain talking to itself. One Nobel laureate reports that the majority of brain cells are not affected directly by the external world, but by other brain cells. So any act of seeing, for instance, only 20% of the information being processed comes through the retina, while 80% comes from other parts of the brain. When I do that math, it means that perception is four-fifths projection.
Sit with the openness and watch the dance of this interdependency of these multiple arising conditions. Feel the interplay of all these energies rather than getting stuck on them as a kind of problem to dissolve. Let’s open to the mystery of this dance.
Let your attention come to the breath, and to the body, and then just rest. Don’t go looking, don’t get enamored with your capacity to create. Let’s just observe and feel, turning toward openness instead of toward our constructions.
Let the breath breathe you. Let it be like a breeze blowing right through you. Feel the openness. Feel all around it. Relax into this openness, and know that it’s you.