18 September 2013

Out in That Field

For a number of reasons (including growing up female in the U.S. and the influence of Christian indoctrination during the first 16 years of my life), my first reaction to the emergence of a "negative" emotion in myself is to fix it, to "be nice". Riding rapid transit in the SF Bay area a year ago, a pickpocket lifted my wallet. I discovered it when I exited the train and had neither ticket nor money to get through the turnstile. The first word out of my mouth was "Damn it!" and quick on the heels of that utterance was the thought "Calm down. Anger won't help the situation."

I learned early to view certain emotions and thought streams -- anger, greed, vengeance, jealousy, sorrow, etc. -- as negative. I learned that negative emotions are bad and need to be changed. I learned that being "nice" is the ultimate goal. People will like you...you'll go further in the world...it's what God wants me to be.

I spent several years studying the teachings of Gandhi. In my applied interpretation of the teachings, I strove for a perpetually happy face and contented heart. "Happy" and "content" were positive. No matter what happened around me or what knee-jerk emotional response arose, my task was to return to happy face and contented heart.

There was a battle to be fought, over and over again. Happy and Contented and Peace-Loving faced Pissed Off and Sad and Vengeful with "Put up your dukes! You're going down! Get outta here!"

Sometimes victory came after a minor scuffle; sometimes the battle raged for hours. While the conflict played out, it was hard to focus on anything else; there was often a lot of noise in my head while the forces of good and evil floundered. It required a lot of energy and attention to bring about the change.

This morning, after a pleasant walk, my first encounter with another human being was challenging. For many months, this person has behaved as though he has a complaint with me. He has so far declined to reveal the specifics of the complaint though I have indicated a willingness to hear them on more than one occasion.

I experienced some "negative" emotion in response to his overtures this morning. The "be nice" prompt arose quickly but was just as quickly slapped down by Be Hard. The words that came out of my mouth were nice or, at worst, neutral  but the feeling in my mind and body was "hard."  I was listening, I was responding AND I was not budging. I was not smiling. I was holding a line because he was "wrong" (and not deserving of "nice" from me) and I viewed his grumpiness as negative and in order to "rise above" him, I needed to not be grumpy even if I couldn't make it all the way to "nice."

And then, of a sudden, I felt my consciousness detach from "him" and "me" and all the analysis and rationalization in my head. I floated out to an energy field that surrounded and permeated us and just hung out there for awhile, watching the whole scene. Divested. Detached. Observing with "no dog in that fight." There he was:  saying what he was saying, his face wearing the expressions it wore, his body looking and moving the way it was looking and moving. There I was:  thinking what I was thinking, saying what I was saying, my face wearing the expressions it wore...

None of it meant anything. There were no positives or negatives. It was just two bodies in motion, like leaves in the wind...like water in a stream, flowing free where it flowed free and impeded by boulders and logs here and there. None of it meant a thing.

And a stillness came over me. Spread through me. Something like contentment but with not even a trace of a smile. It was like pure presence. Pure being. Vital, boundless, timeless, meaningless.

I taught a piano lesson after the exchange. I felt rested and very present during the  lesson. My student had practiced more than usual since our last meeting. She played well and integrated new concepts quickly. I praised her work and noticed, too, that I was detached from the praise. My commentary was neither positive nor negative; it was a statement of facts "Your timing was impeccable in that exercise," "Your execution of the two-note slurs was precise," etc.

"Netherlandish Proverbs", oil on oak, 1559, Pieter Bruegel

It just goes on and on. Life unfolding. Every moment holds something to claim and something to deny, something to rale against and something to embrace, something to cherish and something to destroy... Each perspective unique to the eye of the beholder:  one gal's ceiling is the other man's floor. The Holocaust was a righteous campaign to the Nazis and an abomination to peace-loving people. Slavery was a nightmare for slaves and a road to riches for slave-owners.


Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.