Conversations and Revisions

Photo courtesy of: ‘Floating’ by eLaba – Pixabay
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A few days ago, I wrote in my journal, “Well, I’m still here. When I’m no longer ‘here” (a ‘bystander’ present for all those ‘outside standers’) then these daily entries will cease.”

Who is this self–this indefatigable protagonist in my daily dramas? Who is this familiar “I”–standing at the helm and separating what is real from what is not, what is near from what is far? Who is this familiar ‘me’–bearing the brunt of both the welcome and the unwelcome, of both good and bad fortune? And what about this “mine’ who, like an overzealous tax collector, siphons off as much as he can (safely) get for himself?

Perhaps the problem is not that I view myself as residing at the center of my experience, and thus at the center of the world I experience. Perhaps the source of my confusion and defensiveness is that I view myself as being stuck in a private, walled-in preserve whose borders I zealously defend. If instead I viewed myself as having a ringside seat in a mysterious, undiscovered openness–and learned to appreciate its living, rippling intimacy—then a richer kind of experience could infiltrate my consciousness.

I’d like to develop the skill to question the validity of my own positions and the reliability of my own perceptions. I’d like to be able to question my deep-seated tendency to close down, as soon as I see a challenge to my view of reality appearing on the horizon.

The result is that human beings cannot be creative in their human being; they cannot be in a new and creative way. Because the fundamentals are given in advance, so that they stand ‘outside of time’, creative energy cannot affect or alter them.Knowledge of Time and Space, page 81.

I seem to think of myself as ‘inside’ an awareness that makes my experience possible. Indeed–as the ultimate insider–how can I not be the authority on my own experience? However, the TSK vision offers an alternative way of looking at the way the self views itself as the only knowing game in town, in which everything else is believed to be outside our observer self. The TSK vision suggests that when I observe, react, judge, and feel myself in the midst of a current that runs through all of time, I am actually a ‘bystander’.

I try to believe that it is possible to discover my being ‘inside’ the wholeness of life, but—and here is the shocker–that is actually not my normal state of consciousness. Ordinarily I am standing to one side of my ‘activities of daily living’ and—like the notoriously unreliable opinions of ‘bystanders’ after an accident—I’m not very insightful in the reports I give on what just happened.

Franz Kafka understood what it felt like to be a by-stander in a world of outside-standers: “There is a point when the current catches you up. That is the point that must be reached.

So if I am a by-stander to my own potential as a human being—using the richness that time, space and knowledge continuously provides my embodied being as input to my narrowly conceived constructs and strategies—then what would it take for me to step inside, and like Kafka’s cautious wader in the shallows, be swept away? For the by-stander to step inside, perhaps what is needed is to recognize that I am already inside and that my holding back from the current of time, as it cascades through space, is a consequence of the limited kind of knowing for which I have settled.

One thing is clear. As long as my looking is the act of a subject observing an object (which is at a remove from the position I take in looking), then I will be caught up in the dynamic of a by-stander reporting on the activities of outside-standers. Perhaps to sink back inside the all-embracing wholeness of a more inclusive reality, I need to put aside, for a time, the need to comment, identify or preemptively act. When I honor and appreciate the spacious openness, which accommodates me, in a world that I typically judge to be outside me, I sense a knowingness vaster than my individual knowing. How could it be otherwise? To know is to join hands with the knowable. And if I begin to accept new ways of knowing into my way of living then that gives me an opportunity to recognize possibilities for intimacy and sharing that I have been shutting out.

Or, as Franz Kafka advises:


Sit very quietly, be completely still.

The world will roll at your feet.
It has no choice.”

A fable of forgotten intimacy: I awoke in panic. Something I feared was as heavy as a large snake was slithering over my face. My eyes snapped open and my mind tried to make sense of such an inconceivable horror. Then I recognized my own hands, made heavy by the weight of completely numb arms, sliding down the front of my body. With great relief, I was back in my own room, anchored in a stream of time in which, a few hours earlier, I had dozed off leaning against the head board with my fingers laced behind my head. My arms, asleep from having lost circulation and therefore delivering no messages to my brain, felt like some alien creature, utterly unconnected to the rest of my body.”

That once happened to me—exactly like that. I think that it provides a good symbol for a far more common experience: in which I experience the surface of interactions from one side only, while failing to appreciate a greater wholeness that manifests in both observer and observed; in both the wader and the stream that catches him up in its current.

It’s as if I am swimming in the center of an oceanic wholeness and by relaxing mindfully I find myself bobbing in unison with the waves that pass around me. Following each ripple and each rhythmic overture as they arise, I discover myself free to explore my natural home.

Suppose that the inspiration of new knowledge convinced us to open our clenched hand and let knowledge go free. Would we have lost anything? Or would knowledge at last be able to celebrate its own power, shifting and metamorphosing into something far more splendid than we had been able to possess?”—“Inside Knowledge”, P86, Dharma Publishing, 2015, Jack Petranker

This passage from “Inside Knowledge”, the most recent TSK book, speaks of letting go. But instead of relinquishing habits whose value has become exhausted, Tarthang Tulku suggests that we release our hold on a precious resource: the gift of knowledge.

Parents know this paradox: hoping that their children will leave the nest which they have worked so hard to build around them. Even animals rescuers pause in fond farewell when an abandoned dog is adopted or a wounded falcon lifts free from the cage in which its wing has mended.

Sharing understanding with one another is a good way to “let knowledge go free”. But is it possible to explore the mystery of knowledge in a deeper way than by simply sharing what we have personally learned?

As a kid, living with my parents and my sister in a residential suburb of Montreal, a few steps from the Saint Laurence River that flows past the city on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, we spent our summers swimming and boating. I remember my mother—always the first to plunge into the cold Great Lakes run-off each spring–teaching me a technique to use, should I ever have a stomach cramp and be struggling to keep my head above water. It is a simple technique that recognizes how we ourselves are made of water.

Instead of struggling to keep your mouth constantly above the surface, she said to relax and let your head fall forward into the lake, trusting that the body’s buoyancy will presently take over. Sure enough, once your entire body is submerged, the downward momentum pauses and, like a swinging pendulum, starts bobbing back up. At the top of this upswing, you simply raise your face into the air, exhale, inhale, and–with your lungs full of new breath–allow your face to sink once more below the surface. No struggle to capture another breath and no need to exhaust yourself in a frantic struggle not to drown. Instead, one with the water—as a being made of water—you simply bob up and down in the medium of your embodiment.

The subtle intuition I experience when I take a dip into the TSK vision is that the space I inhabit could not exist if it were not one with a greater space, a boundless space that allows and accommodates the arising of everything I embrace and know. Every event, every manifestation, every schedule, each movement that arises in the course of time, all that is born, lives, grows and dies, is the manifestation of a dynamic energy beyond sequence and causality, emerging from the vast ocean of space as a burgeoning potential for life. Knowing is an intrinsic element of Being: unlimited, unbounded, and ubiquitous. In every genetic code and every glimpse vouchsafed to awareness, there resides a quality that could not arise if it were not itself the emanation of a knowing universe.

About Michael Gray

I first started studying TSK in the mid 1980's and have since attended a number of retreats and workshops at the Nyingma Institute, in both TSK and Buddhist themes. I participated in the life-changing Human Development Training Program in 1991, and upon returning to Albuquerque co-founded an organization, Friends in Time (with a friend who has Lou Gehrig's Disease), which continues to serve people with similiar disabilities. I contributed an essay to "A New Way of Being"--the last one in the book--in which I describe how learning to honor who I have been has broadened and deepened my openness to present experience. I live in New Mexico with my wife and two sons.
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