Saturday, October 17, 2015

A simple thing

Red Tailed Hawk, Tallman State park
Photograph by the author

We spend a great deal of time seeking to be satisfied in life. As one ages, the question of what one is satisfied with changes; and there comes a point where one wonders whether we shouldn't just be satisfied with putting one foot in front of another. 

Dionysius the Areopagite suggests that we ought to be satisfied with simple things and simple thoughts when it comes to life and to God; and I think that Brother Lawrence must have felt the same way about it. Yet we live in a world, and in times, where it seems as though everyone is determined to make things more and more complicated. Technology, media, and the Internet have not simplified anything: they are tangling the world into more and more complex knots of information like a ball of fishing line that becomes increasingly snarled authority you pull on it. Every opinion races in every direction; every object competes with 10,000 other objects that offer nuanced different versions of each other.

Let's try to imagine complexity this way: hammers have been around for, oh, say, 10,000 years — and with a few variations, a hammer is a hammer. You use it to pound nails. They look pretty much the same; and there is general agreement about what a hammer ought to look like.

Now imagine a world in which every five minutes, some genius comes up with a new kind of hammer, and proclaims it to be the hammer that will save the world. The Internet is kind of like this: all it is is a tool to exchange information, and yet people are pitching it as a miraculous fix for all of the complex problems humans have. All of our technologies are more or less like that; they ignore the fact that the problems we have don't come from outside us; they come from inside us.

This insidious habit of making everything outside ourselves more and more complicated — fervently believing that the more complex things are, the better they are — is incredibly destructive, but the world hasn't really swallowed that one yet. In the meantime, our institutions and our societies are collapsing under the weight of the complexities we are loading into them.

This is a reflection of our inner state. Meditation and contemplation ought to be a process of emptying, of simplifying; we ought to be trying to bring our life back to the basics, sensing ourselves in our bodies, and becoming attuned to our Being— not our psychology, which is a different matter entirely. 

Our psychologies are complex but shallow; Being is simple, with much greater emotive depth. 

Psychology relies on Being to manifest — after all, without Being, there can't be anything at all — but Being does not rely on psychology. One must become attuned to one's organic existence and the simplicity of it in order to understand difference.

This brings me back to my most beloved subject, sensation, which is the heart and soul and essence of the threshold of Being upon which one can base a practice.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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