I always go around with a sense of weirdness about the world. It can be almost paralyzing at certain moments. It is overwhelming how big and strange is everything. So many interactions are beyond my understanding. It's too big, beyond our scope. I sometimes feel that my perspective is like a butterfly aiming to travel from Africa to Australia. Not only that the road is large, dangerous and unsuitable for my natural tendencies, also the time that is up for grabs, is simply not enough (most adult butterflies will live between 15-29 days, some will make it to one year).
I think this is what leads people to politics or faith or activism. Making an underlying logic that connects it all. I am too doubtful and not confident enough to put my faith in a single logic. Instead it leads me to questions about learning and existence. The whole idea of "I" can be deconstructed and reconstructed when we learn something new. If we can put our faith in it. And even if after every new learning experience we are bound to return to the starting point like Sisyphus and his rolling rock, it still gives us a temporary moment of fresh eyes beyond the rigor and the sweat of the effort. Nirvana if you may, just before it gets too stinky and we have to begin again.
"Skin the sun, fall asleep
Wish away, the soul is cheap
Lesson learned, wish me luck
Soothing burn, wake me up.."
(Nirvana - Dumb/In Utero 1993)
There is something incredibly existential and liberating about managing to practice something over a long time. It has a lot to do with being able to act but furthermore, practice is a form of questioning. It is strangely flexible in that way. The self receives permission to digest questions very slowly when we enter the realm of practice. It doesn't mean that nothing gets done, this would be hypocritical and escapist. The practice should influence changes in the physical and practical world. A good practice makes things happen. It uses the support of consistency to gain momentum and force. But this has nothing to do with answering the questions that drive the practice. The questions are like the wind that blows the sails of learning. They become meaningful in relation to the path they have taken us and not necessarily in relation to the arrival.
'What is the mind?' is one of these questions for me. It arise often and it is a universal question that influences many types of practice across different places, genres, styles and goals.
The way of getting closer to this question is through finding principles that embody subjective truth. Or at least proximity to the truth. Any direct answer or protocol is useless. However, there is a value in finding some principles through a strange mix of effort, consistency and then, letting go.
"Trouble in mind, I'm blue,
But I won't be blue always.
Child, that wind's gonna come and blow my blues away"!
(Janis Joplin - Trouble In My Mind/Janis 1960)
The Metaphor of Vision
I will give you a short example, let's take a different question: 'What is vision?' In meditation schools there is often a body of recorded work that articulates the experience that emerges when we observe inwardly.
Try to relax and sit comfortably in your chair, take a deep breath and gently close your eyes. You'll notice that there is a blend of colors and shapes that stay in your vision and paint the darkness of your closed eyes. Try to focus on this kaleidoscope of colors and shapes until they disappear and you are left only with darkness. You should be able to keep this visual experience for 20-30 seconds in the first time you try. Maybe a couple of minutes if you have a bit more experience. Eventually, you'll get distracted and the colors will just fade away.
With consistent and rigorous practice (daily for a few months as a start) you will be able to switch-on and switch-off the kaleidoscope with very little effort or change of mind. This is an example of how through practice we can learn about our intimate relationship with what we see and what is our focus and concentration. It takes an embodied process to realize the concentrated and relaxed state that is needed to maintain the colors and the shapes. Relaxed concentration then, is a principle that could bring us closer to the truth of the question 'What is vision?'.
The experience of the kaleidoscope is totally subjective and personal for each and every person. It can't be described precisely in words. However, those who practice for a while already know that relaxed concentration is a truthful principle within the question 'What is vision?'. Despite the inability to share the intricacy of this experience itself, the guiding principle can be shared. And this principle also serves as a plan of action. When we need to look carefully at something we use it and can tap into a quality of vision that is more present and full.
The immensity of the mind (Non-Duality and Revelation)
The question 'What is the mind?' is even wider. The mind is broader than vision and defining it is even more introverted. Let's face it, even the common aphorism "you don't know a man until you walk a mile in their shoes" falls short. We can't know what another person's mind is like in any way. Even if we try to walk, talk and think like them or wear their clothes. There is endless information that composes each mind and makes it for what it is.
Repeating this question in my practice over the years gradually presented some principles that I feel are provoking a certain truth. Putting deliberate intention into bringing them within movement is not easy and therefore, worth mentioning and studying.
Non-duality is one and Revelation is the second.
Non-duality can relate to the idea of the mind being a long string of silk with endless number of silver rings, intertwined and touching each other. Every moment of attention moves one ring that consequentially triggers and vibrates all the rest. The rings that are closer receive more vibration and the further ones receive less.
Another way of thinking about it is as an old school cinema roll that never stops recording. We can look back at old images (memories) but then we will re-record them. If we sit in a sunny room with an open window, we don't record only the image and the experience of our senses but also every association and memory that appears from within. On the way to the open window to observe the beautiful landscape, I remember my childhood trips to the north of Israel and worry about having enough time to visit my family in the upcoming summer. All is being recorded on the film of the mind without any significant distinction between present, past and future. So What is the mind? The rings? The string? The camera? The film? Inside or outside of our window?...
According to Non-duality, all and none at the same time. Each moment of question without distinction is a functional use of this principle. Put it into action and things can become more challenging but maybe also more truthful.
Revelation is the sudden appearance of an
unexpected center that is influential on all that surrounds it.
Imagine you were followed for 10 years by a top-level secret agent (not that it ever happened to me). You never know he's there but there is an ambience of something... different in your everyday life.
You are eating your breakfast and brushing your teeth and the secret agent is there, watching carefully on you in his hiding. You go about your day and he follows you everywhere, creep on you and observe without you ever noticing him. Then, after 10 years he finally jumps out and confronts you. "I was there all along and you've never noticed"! A mix of embarrassment and confusion emerge within you. But instead of calling the cops you notice a sense of irony and even comfort. The realization explodes and fills you up like music. Something was always there but you couldn't put your finger on it and now it finally makes sense. You knew it but you didn't know what it is. Your gut feeling was always right, something was there! That's the revelation.
Something similar happens when someone falls in love. All collapses in front of this newfound center of attention. Nothing is ever the same afterwards.
The mind fully reveals itself in this moment, all of the mechanisms of focus and distractions are being shown and the outer shell becomes transparent. The strangest thing about revelations is that you can't look for them. They have to hit you from the back, or in the moment you least expect it.
Revelation creates a center and non-duality creates a web. They can't coexist in the same moment but they can coexist within the same person. Which for me means in the same space. When I observe my internal space it feels like taking a hike in a huge landscape. Sometimes an individual tree will appear, but there is a knowing that it grows out of an underlying ecosystem. This is the non-dual nature of my mind. At other times the hike is long and enduring. I walk because I've heard from someone that there is a stunning view at the top of the mountain. But I've been walking for days and it all seems pretty dull and grey. Suddenly, close to the peak something clicks, a eureka moment. I look in the direction I haven't looked yet and a huge lake appears on a lower peak on the other side of the mountain. It is not the view I was searching for but everything now seems to worth it. I change my route and jump in.
You can't know the meaning until you arrive, and then it all receives a sense of journey.
Faith and Art
Valuing the importance of non-duality and
revelation is essentially a question of faith. The faith in the importance of learning in order to redefine existence. It is likely that this cycle is exactly what Hindu traditions warn about. A Karmatic cycle that eternally just throws us in a shittier situation than the previous one. But it could also be that if we kick the justice out of the truth we will get a cycle that doesn't end up with suffering. Art for me has been a choice to break out of the indoctrinations and ideologies I was forced to intake in my upbringing.
Art is where things can be reinvented and meaning will be discovered only later. It is also the space for the exciting to be as important as the logical. The high and the low in the same level.
I got further and further from my cultural identity through the world of art. But recently, I learnt that going away can be a wonderful way to accidently come closer. Things move in circles, earth is well rounded and all that Jazz.
Rabi Meshulam Zusha of Hanipol was some sort of a Zen Rabbi. He didn't leave much written work, but the little that
he left reveals a beautiful mind. One that the blew gently
like an autumn wind and moved on without much turmoil and troubles in his name.
Famously, one of the riddles he used to tell his students was this:
"When I finish my time and stand in front of the maker if he will ask me 'why weren't you Moses?', I will know what to answer...
But when he will ask me 'why weren't you Zusha?' what answer will I give him"?
and that is maybe the question of all questions, the one that a well crafted and honest practice should ask every time in the right moment:
Who are you...?