Emptiness and gratitude…
Today seems “empty” in a sense. It’s 6 PM, and I’ve been awake (mostly) since about 4 AM. In truth, I’m sure I dozed a bit, but not for most of the bit between 4 AM and 8 AM when Caitlin arrived smiling to help me get up for the day.
I am grateful, in fact feels like tremendous good fortune, to have found and made a basic contact with Dr. Daniel P Brown. His depth of knowledge AND depth of practice in approaching what has been called “the heart of religion” is very likely unmatched in anyone I have met otherwise.
My grandmother passed away when I was very young. She survived, however, long enough to have made an impression on me with her bright eyed and loving doting. After living well into middle age, I can see that these are simply “qualities of a grandmother,” but at the time, it did what it does, and made me feel like a central feature of her universe. Like many grandchildren, I had an unflinching certainty in the goodness and beauty that she was.
That grandmother was also my central connection to anything theological. Nothing complex, but a reliable (and unavoidable) routine of church on Sundays when we were with her. If I knew nothing else, I knew she was devoted to God. At the time, church was generally uncomfortable for me; a large room with lots of formality and singing, I’m pretty sure there was singing. If I was lucky I was relegated to the children’s room downstairs where there would be snacks and games, again nothing special, but better than standing in the pews it seemed to me.
When cancer came, taking the sparkle from her eyes, and even the simplest of animation from her body, but leaving her alive for what seemed an eternity to me, one thing became clear. I don’t know if these are the memories of fact, or just the wild edges of a child’s world, but it always seemed to me that she was alive, but no longer with us for four years.
I remember my fourth birthday party at her house, she and my grandpa’s house, where extended family and friends would gather around the holidays. It wasn’t a Christmas crowd, with giant tree covered with candy canes, tinsel everywhere, and movement in every room; it felt like a crowd to me though. I’m sure there were many around, my mother has four brothers and sisters, and their cousins and aunts and uncles lived nearby. I don’t recall who all was there, mostly I just remember the cake.
It was a big low-slung rectangle, covered in white frosting blue accents. There was a cowboy, and a horse I think, made from that awful hard sugar that as a child I was certain should be delicious but really landed about as far from candy as any brightly colored and seemingly edible cake decoration could get. Even crummy candy couldn’t darken my spirits, and I felt nothing but joy there in her dining room, eyes full of cake, but heart feeling the warmth of the home, of the family, even the cherry tree and great garden just beyond.
So when she fell, the words I remember strike me as callous now; “became a vegetable,” so when she fell silent, inanimate, one thing became clear. Whoever was that God to whom she was so devoted, meant nothing to me anymore. No one I knew and respected would never dream of treating someone who loved them so much that way.
That was the closest I ever came to a relationship with any “spirituality” or religion for many years thereafter. It wasn’t in fact until I think even my early 20s, that I found my way into the actual wilderness, and with the aid of psychedelics, discovered my own sense that there might be something behind the veils.
I did have some pretty profound mystical experiences of some “sentient” quality, what Dr. David Boehm might call the consciousness of the universe, but these are stories for another time. These experiences came in the early days of my appreciation for what would become my meanings for “spirituality,” or religion.
I have been fortunate since then to encounter wisdom holders and sincere practitioners from a wide variety of these traditions of threshold knowledge. I have had the privilege to practice Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, Islamic, Christian, and even some more obscure other, rituals and traditions of inquiry, prayer, and realization. All of these have enriched my life and that final inquiry that each of us has as a seed, sprout, growth, or blossom within us at one point or another.
Dr. Brown teaches a simple Pointing Out Way grounded in Buddhist traditions, but not restricted to those lineages for its tools, and it was with those teachings and his guidance (through the wonders of technology and MP3) that I began my day today. It was in fact, with teachings and meditations on emptiness.
In those hours this morning between 4 AM and 8 AM, I practiced, some formally, and some informally between dozing, meditations on “emptiness of self” and “emptiness of phenomenon.” We do generally believe quite firmly in those constructs, and often orient ourselves to reassure and reify their existence. If you think about it though, those things that seem to exist, me, and the world around, my access to those things is really just that, some form of thought.
Ephemeral thought, wispy like clouds, empty. And yet, these things continue to have the quality of appearance… When I touch this place, that self, those phenomena, sparkle in my eyes like celestial ephemeral diamonds.
But I didn’t mean all of that, when I opened this day’s journal, when I said “empty” in a sense, I really just meant that as I looked back at the day, I was not filled with the very many interesting and rich things that occurred, rather I just experienced a spaciousness, a voluminous opening, free of pressures, hard emotions, tugging thoughts.
It was a lovely morning with Caitlin who has a new job and is excited by it and happily reported the joy she was finding there. The morning’s work was light, and then, just after noon, I made a new friend when David (no, not David, and yes, no, not Dave) stopped by to explore our mutual interest in the field of care, caregiving, generativity, and entrepreneurship.
What did flick gently across my mind like a small bird when I turned to these pages today was the remarkable good fortune I have seemed to enjoy in this life, of all of the really sweet and wonderful people that I have the honor to have met. So here I am, at the end of the day, the ground beneath me still unstable, perhaps even illusory, and what I feel is a wide and open something greater than myself, and me, very small, almost insignificant within it. Almost insignificant that is, except for this enormous gratitude that fills me without adding an ounce of weight to my being.
God gets to know things, we just get to ask questions…