Friday, July 31, 2020

The Simple Action of Awareness

Yesterday I cleaned up my office. I've been working in it at home for over a month and some of the shelves that housed my very eclectic victorian-style collection of artifacts and natural history specimens were too dusty to ignore any more.

I had to take over 100 small objects off two shelves and clean them. They have been collected over the course of a lifetime: fossils, crystals, small figurines made of stone and wood and ceramic, antique Japanese ivory carvings inherited from the Dutch side of the family. 19th century daguerreotypes of family members on my mother’s side, who can no longer be named with any confidence. Chinese plates. Delft plates. Spodumene, emerald, amethyst. Rutile from Graves Mountain, GA. Herkimer diamonds. Arrowheads, trilobites, spirifers, Devonian clams. Feathers, skulls, coral; bits and pieces of dinosaurs and opossums. Flotsam. Jetsam. Religious statues. Bronzes.

Each one of these items has a personal history behind it. Not one of them has a personal history that truly begins with me. I’ve just become a custodian for each of these objects. Taken together, they tell a story, but it’s incredibly complicated. It’s not a story not about me and my interests, but about the world and how it develops: the relationships between atoms, molecules, cells, evolution, art, science, religion, families, cultures, and attitudes. The dialogue that takes place between them involves materials, symbols, space, shape, color, beauty, and history.

Collectively, all of this is what's called meaning: and in the search for meaning within an individual life, a collection of this nature externally illustrates the way we are inside. Every one of the concepts and things I’ve just described emerges not from the inherent nature of these objects, but the awareness that perceives them. In this sense, all meaning arises within awareness: and awareness is a metaphysical, not physical, property. It arises out of an impossibly complex set of relationships that can never—never, ever—be defined or predicted by a computer algorithm. Yet the simple action of awareness holds them all together, in active relationship, at once, and with no effort.

Perhaps it seems odd that everything about the world is formed by a phenomenon of awareness that exceeds the world. Yet this is demonstrably true. No one can take awareness and put it in a bottle and show it to you; it is metaphysical in every sense of the word. So although I inhabit the physical, am formed by it, and have to pay it it's due, it is not what I am.

“I am” is something else.

Every morning I get up and I discover all over again that I don't know what or who I am. If I come up with 10,000 definitions, it turns out that definition 10,001 was inadvertently left out later on in the day. My assumptions about myself and life are continually confounded. Things that I thought worth fear turn out to not be worth fearing; people I’m angry or irritated with turn out to not be worth my anger or irritation. For that matter, all too often, my anger and irritation turns out to not be worth itself. There’s more goodness and intelligence in seeing a sparrow than in my reaction to a lot of things. So my reactions aren’t worth that much either. During this day I’ll probably see that a few times and invest less in them, keeping the coin of my person closer to myself, for down payment on more worthy inner tasks.

Yesterday, I mentioned the silence at the heart of being, and that’s where I began this morning, not knowing what I would write or which question I would examine. It turns out that that is, as usual, the central question, no matter how much the ideas and words around it may shine out of the darkness.

 That silence at the heart of being is where awareness resides.

In my desire, I want to fulfill the potential of each moment.

But if I’m still and wait within myself and receive life, the potential of the moment is naturally filled.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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