Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Spider silk on pussy willows
Sparkill, March 2021

 March 30, Sparkill.

I can only locate myself and remember myself within this life.

There’s a relatively dominant part of every human being that resides mostly in dreams. It’s a submarine operator; the events in it take place automatically, directly beneath the surface of reality and what actually takes place, functioning as a machine of domination that thinks it controls the ocean... and thereby the whole damn world.

In actual fact, life is a real ocean on a real planet with a real atmosphere, and the submarine is a tiny, contracted place with an artificial atmosphere run by a crew of individuals who think they're important, know everything, and can call all the shots. In reality they’re isolated from the amazingly rich variety of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions outside the submarine, which alone contain everything that's needed in order to provide experience, insight, and food for the crew. 

The submarine crew has failed to understand its dependence on the world around it and thinks it’s the only thing with a mission, the only thing of importance.

Periodically the submarine comes to the surface and the hatches open and the crew suddenly remembers that there are such things as sunlight and fresh air. These are like the moments when we wake up and suddenly see that we’re in life—and yet know very little about it. 

No wonder. We’ve been shut in our submarine, pouring over arcane charts of our own exclusive creation, plotting courses through abstract representations of what's actually out there.

I bring this analogy up because of the need to understand our position relative to real life as it stands. The submarine is both our ego and our subjectivity; it has encapsulated itself and submerged in order to hide from the real world. It has powerful elements of combativeness and paranoia in it; it’s a delusional, tiny little military dictator-ship patrolling the superficial parts of our life as though it were actually in charge of them.

The acquisition of Being has something to do — perhaps everything to do — with coming into sensation and becoming aware of the submarine. 

Sensation begins one's existence outside the submarine.

Sensation of Being puts us in touch with the living, breathing reality of our bodies and the chemical interaction of our Being with the planet itself; not a thing of fantasy or imagination, but the actual reality of where we are. 

It’s more important than ever to sense in this way, because humanity is ruthlessly engaged in the wholesale destruction of the reality of where we are right now, and it’s only by re-centering ourselves within the actual, physical awareness of gravity, the pumping of blood and the breathing in of air, that we can hope to remind ourselves both as individuals and a species as to the very natural and organic nature of our relationship—both with ourselves and the planet. Only in this way can we hope to come to respect it and protect it better.

In this sense, coming into sensation, sitting zazen and coming into contact with our Being in a silent way, has nothing to do with attaining some lofty metaphysical space, but rather an encounter with reality as it stands. 

This encounter is both physical and metaphysical; if I characterize it as principally metaphysical, I miss an important point. The metaphysical begins with the feeling of soil between my toes and breath within my lungs. It’s the awareness of this that itself engenders the metaphysical; awareness is both of nature and greater than it at the same time. It has both of these characteristics, which need to come into harmony with one another.

I am as I am; I need to encounter the truth of this. There’s no power washer available to strip my ordinary functions away from me. I’ll be excited, happy; I'll be sad, confused. The aim is not to lift myself out of life as it is but to insert myself into it more consciously. Acknowledge its authority.

I can’t expect to turn the submarine into an aircraft. It will always be a submarine. When it comes to evasive maneuvers its skills exceed my own — it was built that way from the beginning. I need to learn how to use it as a tool for exploration rather than as a weapon.

The difficulty here is that the ego tends to weaponize everything. I don’t know about you, but my own ego is particularly good at this, and it occasionally even weaponizes itself against the other parts of me, because it constantly feels threatened and believes that its life is perpetually at stake. I need to learn how to make peace with this relatively hostile and paranoid entity. Intelligently allowing it enough space to conduct its operations is a part of helping to reassure it. Criticizing it constantly won’t help to do anything except feed its paranoia and mobilize its resistance.

So I begin here this morning in sensation, acknowledging these things. 

My sensation of Being will be my companion all day, if I allow it the space it needs to manifest voluntarily instead of being bullied around by the submarine crew. 

I can rely on the sensation of Being to remind me that there’s a world outside the submarine, even if I find myself stuck in it peering out through a periscope most of the day. I may even convince the crew to surface from time to time and breathe in some real air. That would be refreshing! 

Maybe, in those moments, I’ll remember that I am a human being participating in an extraordinary chemical experiment that extends to every object, event, circumstance, and condition I encounter during the day.

An investment in this experience of the chemistry through sensation can be extraordinary. I can remember that I’m a molecular creature, that every molecule has a life of its own that needs to be respected and given room to participate in the collective nature of my Being.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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