Ah, the before and the after! How have they managed to crowd out my awareness of my feelings and my freedom to ponder the meaning of it all as my life putts along? But there’s no use pretending that it hasn’t happened. If you’re like me, your minds are also full of daisy chains of imagined escape routes from some unsatisfactory situation into a more desirable one. And if you’re like me, thoughts of the past blind-side you with images of events you wish had not happened.
What is strangely absent from these imaginings is the sense that I am living in these imagined scenes, inside them. Where am I in those imagined situations, which so often express a desire to create or avoid something? Why am I so content to observe those situations from a distance, in the audience instead of on stage, as if I’m watching a horror show or a romantic comedy unfolding on a screen?
There’s another strange thing. The operations of my mind, on which I rely to make my way in the world and to recognize that I am alive, seem to have been inserted in me while ‘I was busy doing other things’, as if Johnny Appleseed sprinkled them there and neglected to tell me what kind of trees I could expect and whether they would be worth the trouble of watering and pruning. The unknown genesis of so much that crowds its way into my awareness prevents me from being truly at home in my past, and renders the future alternately threatening and enticing. Strung out between a past I can’t change and a future I can’t really influence, I remain unable to realize my deepest aspirations. Instead, I live, like a stagehand, in stories that have no beginning or ending.
This morning, I came across a practice, “Disowning Tensions”, in a book I have been reading, Love of Knowledge, by Tarthang Tulku, which addresses this issue directly. It suggests that I “focus instead on the self as part of the given content of the situation.”
Why didn’t I think of that? It seems so obvious, since I am always an interested observer of whatever situation I am imagining–either worrying about what will happen or hoping that some pleasant experience will be repeated–that I am the one who is trying to create or avoid something. So, why don’t I boldly step onto the stage?
How strange that I am always looking out at a field of circumstances, and don’t realize that I could take hold of the wheel of the vehicle in which I am traveling. Then I could listen to and take into consideration the interests of the other passengers (my insights, my interests, and my undeveloped capacity to face uncertainty with courage).
“Disowning Tension” provides an explanation and an opportunity: as long as I am content to be in the audience, then no matter how interested I may be in the performance, I am unable to alter the script. I will remain stranded in a past that has already happened and obliged to stand, hat in hand, before a future that I cannot fathom; in either case, I will not be an active participant in the stream of time. But if I can learn to notice that I am already in this stream of time and that I could not exist otherwise, then I will be able to awaken to my presence in the midst of all the situations that most concern me.