Monday, March 31, 2008

In The Twilight

Flying high above the clouds, progress may seem endless, continuous and uninterrupted. Since there are no obstacles in sight, you may come to believe that there truly won’t be any. But look below. There are clouds right beneath you. A slight loss of altitude will bring you into the heart of them, where the sky won’t be visible anymore and the ground will be calling. To slide downwards a bit does not necessarily mean that all is lost, but your machine might say so. It will say: "The downward spiral has begun and there’s no way to break it now. Set your motors towards a total catastrophe!" This is a trick. The machine knows that when you fall, it takes over. It gets to do all the things it likes to do, it can relax, indulge, dream away the moments without turning back. So any excuse will do. A mistake will be an excuse for another, and that one will make the excuse for yet another… and the chain itself will be used to signify that the process can’t be stopped and that you shouldn’t even try.
It is important to come to understand that this is not true. You can stabilize and slide back up. It will seem unnatural. It will seem like something is wrong, something doesn’t fit right, something is flowing the wrong way. All of these statements are literally true.
My old teacher told me a story. A monkey has a handful of peanuts in a jar. As he walks through the forest, bouncing up and down with happiness at his luck, one of the peanuts falls over and is lost in the bushes. When he bends over to try to find it, the jar tips and he lets another one fall. This means further bending and further tipping. Pretty soon, the whole handful of peanuts is lost and he sits crying at his terrible luck. None of it would have happened if he had simply allowed the first peanut to be lost. If he had only let go of that one little peanut.
This story applies to our work in a very direct and practical way. It is not some kind of vague moral teaching. It has to do with our moment to moment shifts in attention. When the machine starts to take over, we will begin to be lost in thoughts, in daydreams, in hard identifications (the kind that come with solid justifications and logical arguments), in emotional pain ready to be attached to the nearest possible cause, in lost desires, in nostalgia for moments that are now only images, in physical pain that presses against your nerves and pulls you down and out of life… this will happen from one moment to the next.
One instant you will be vibrant and clear about what you are doing. The next you will be lost in a complex swamp of identification and stress and pain and desire. When the slide down begins to happen, these two spaces may be about even, one moment for one, one moment for the other. As the machine justifies itself, it will say: "we already lost these 2 moments, we may as well lose another one… and another one now…". If we can release the lost moments and concentrate on the present instant, we can expand our attention through our machine and bring it back to Life. But as long as we punish ourselves internally for the moments that were lost, we will have no hope and the descent will continue.
In the twilight, you must be careful as to what door you step through. Know that the doorways will open and they will lead to places you would much rather not go… but they will be so tempting. The more attractive the doorway, the more you should resist it. Here in this twilight space all offers of rest and pleasure are to be suspected and rejected. Step away from the open doorways. If you have already stepped through, but a foot is still behind, take a moment, breath calmly and step back. This can be done.
It is not easy. It takes a lot of practice. But there is no way to learn to do it other than by actually attempting it. When you step back, there will be a gap, a space of nothingness. The part of you that had already found itself on the other side, the part of you that had already identified with the new world, will call for help, will feel the closing jaws of final death tightening around it. Let it die. Let it dissolve. Step back and let the nothingness replace it until the doorway disappears into the Void once more. Let the nothingness itself become a burning sun in your solar plexus that will lead you back to Life.
You are only in the clouds. You have not truly fallen. Rise up once again. Step back from the inviting doorway and rise. Rise above it. Fly again. Rise.

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