If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is—infinite.
~ William Blake
As we live out our questions and move mindfully through the comings and goings, the flotsam and jetsam of life, it becomes apparent that there’s something far greater than our own existence looming just outside the zone of our small, subjective awareness.
It seems unmoving and gigantic, yet it’s always fluctuating and beyond any descriptive adjective or calligraphy in the catacombs of human expression. If our thoughts, dramas and opinions about our experiences represent an apparent foreground, then the space beyond—the unknown and vast wilderness—might represent a background.
What if a switch were to take place within the mind in which we begin to perceive and relate to the borderless unknown, rather than the smallness of the things we give credence to in our immediate vicinity?
What might happen if we were to examine the totality of reality—the greater movements—and we were to embody such motion, witnessing it in this life, right now? Here’s some food for thought as we descend into the background:
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.”
This piece offers an alternative way of relating to the apparent foreground in our lives and in turn, experiencing the richness that comes with embracing the vast background lurking just beyond the ego’s judgmental periphery. It also offers a simple way to enrich our lives through letting go of the mind and inhabiting the greatness of infinity within each given moment.
Opening the doors of the mind and putting the ego aside, there’s enough space present to reach a calm understanding that something large is moving around us and flowing right through.
In meditation, we can experience the “largeness” as something evocative, peaceful, transparent and fickle to inhabit fully. There’s also always something pugnacious there—within our own minds—which pulls us away, back into the realm of human experience: picking up the daily paper and yelling at the television screen.
Yet the more we dip into the waters of largeness, the more we acknowledge it out there and in here as a substantial part of the totality of experience. It’s a given, like an old friend or a trusted partner, as it wraps around each moment and issues it forth.
Sitting with this pervasive, unknown vastness forms a bond of kinship—a kind relationship in which one provides the nourishing freedom of the unknown, while the other learns to unwrap this quality within him or herself.
As we deepen our relationship with the background, we begin to relate to it. The foreground loses its importance and we are less likely to be tossed and turned in our apparent problems and issues. There’s too much space surrounding life, and life is too impermanent and large to categorize into smaller compartments for our ego to create judgmental walls.
Thus, there’s an opening of the mind, an inner acceptance, and a mirroring of the background itself—for the wilderness of the background knows not of what is negative or positive, east or west. Trusting the unknown and taking down the walls of our created “known” worlds, leads to an intimacy with this life.
Stepping out of a prescribed view and a loaded mind, is fresh—like leaving a stuffy and “safe” vehicle to walk up valleys and touch the moving and meandering faces of groaning glaciers: to feel the power of a storm or the softness of worn down, velvet leaves. The intimacy is here in the mind and all around, and it might be a transformative experience to realize it and live it out throughout the duration of our stay in this life.
When our internal walls fall down and we shift focus from the foreground to the background, there’s something fresh and new within each experience. The infinite moment isn’t closed-off, commented on or created within the mind, but comes from an indefinable somewhere or something else. It often has the feel of alien tentacles as it appears from unknown depths and dimensions, but it is nonetheless part of us and, so in time, it takes on the flavor of something delicious and yet totally beyond the confines of taste.
Your heart consumed; what will you do?
The realm of the unexpected and the unknown is the realm of freedom because there’s nothing that adheres to our prescribed desires and wishes. Coming in from nowhere in a form that cannot be grasped, a new moment experienced as it is, without the boundaries of our likes and dislikes, is liberation. And this liberation doesn’t come from anywhere else other than the simple and sustained examination of our minds, moment-to-moment.
Falling backwards into the framework of 100 billion galaxies and meeting them is like this—so simple, right here, and buried within the experience of each human being.
It emanates from the edge of a table, a rocking chair, or within the sound of silence: merging our mind with these ordinary moments and melting into space, issues forth a serene and wild clarity—one born of unfettered reality. Allowing ourselves to be swallowed whole in the unknown wilderness is a spiritual right of passage that might lead to profound depth and the unfolding of a kind heart.
Robins occasionally land in the shrubs outside my home and call out to herald the coming morning. They’re waking up, socializing, discussing worm business or posturing to neighbors, but their songs nevertheless reverberate and die off over space and time. During such moments it’s possible to breathe and feel their calls rippling through my heart and I feel a close connection with life. I also experience this while writing and watching a flickering candlelight or pushing an ecstatic child on a swing.
I find there’s no difference between meditation, the practice of mindfulness, or the experience of this mind and this life as it unfurls. They are one and the same—interdependent, deeply connected and springing headlong out from the wilderness of the background, moment after moment. The largeness, the vastness, the universe, the mind—the unknown wilderness of which opens us to experience the myriad possibilities within the streaming present, are nestled right here:
A life without the mind’s compartmentalization or boundaries is a way into intimacy.
The expansive wilderness bestows gifts upon us when we’re able to remain clear and present. Butterflies, close encounters with sickness, curious Barn owls or yipping coyotes, come and greet us—entering our foreground. When the background is in view, there’s no distinction between the three, for they are all part of the incalculable oneness.
An old Zen master who had fallen ill commented on this when he said, “sun-faced Buddha, moon-faced Buddha.” Whether one is happy or sad, healthy or ill, the pervasive Buddha nature remains wrapped within the sinews of each moment.
Cultivating a connection to the background in life and within the mind, and treating the wilderness and its gifts with openness, might tear down your mind and transform your heart. It could be a delicious experience.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
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