Finding a Poignant Combination of Kindness and Wildness
Treading along the path of mindfulness and passing through the shifting seasons and landscapes of the inner regions might lead to an opening—one that presents us with a glimpse of the inconceivable. Coming across an experience of vastness, an instance when there is too much room for our thoughts or even a definite sense of self to get in the way, might feel as though the bottom drops out beneath our perception and the moment stretches out through the trees, across the bay, and past the fading edges of the Milky Way. What we had been building since birth—our identity, the concrete “who” we believe we encompass—slips off to the side like an airy garment and we are greeted by the thusness of life in this moment.
A profound transformation could be a simple and yet wonderful meeting with the now and then our natural mirroring of the undeniable openness that comes with the acceptance of space. Leaping into the mind and allowing the unknown to consume us might be the most interesting, life-altering move we can undertake in this life.
Though the practice itself takes place in the now, the process of peeling down hardened layers of self takes time. It isn’t much more different from a patient, slow cooking roast, a flock of geese flying overhead and children running about the kitchen, hungry but lost in the frenzy of familial games of uncles morphed into marauding pirates and ancient dinosaurs.
The French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin described what it felt like to unravel himself into his internal sense of vastness when he wrote:
“I took the lamp and, leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my innermost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path had faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came–arising I know not from where–the current which I dare to call my life.” [i]
The author fell into something rich and large as he continued along the path inward. Descending into the mind he unraveled the tightly bound layers of the “who” he thought he was, encountering different versions of his identity until there wasn’t anything or anyone to hold onto or know, only emptiness and the sense of freedom that comes with letting go of a cliff face to witness the rough callus on your once gripped hands. A kind of real, non-discriminatory spaciousness ensues—one that lies at the heart of life and transcends the discernments of the thinking mind. The experience itself might be similar to floating on the edge of a supernova or resting quietly on a dried stream bed in the soft lighting of the evening: tantalizingly free and permeable, the current that carries us flows through the mind and covers the earth.
De Chardin’s story isn’t a totally unique one, just well put—a beautiful articulation of the common archetypal spiritual theme of melting down into the present while deepening into one’s internal vastness.
Buddha, reflecting the Zen tradition’s tendency for simple and yet mysterious stories and examples, described what the experience of the inner world feels like on a moment-to-moment basis a little more evocatively than De Chardin. He said that inhabiting the present is like fleeing a ravenous tiger and grabbing hold of a vine suspended over the edge of a ravine for safety only to discover that there is another tiger waiting hungrily and patiently below. While the gravity of the perilous situation settles in, you discover a luscious strawberry dangling next to you and with one hand you grab it, take a large succulent bite and exclaim, “How delicious!” Practicing awareness and descending into an unknown reality full of tigers, ravines, strawberries, attachments, laughter, grief, despair, sun, rain, autumn, sickness, life and death implies meeting what comes into your life head on to be with the immediate manifestations streaming out of infinity.
Mindfulness is here. When you sit with Buddha’s story and bring it into your experience of stress, and then into your moments of delight, forgetting who you are, you might spontaneously utter, “How delicious!”
There is a quote from Roshi John Tarrant that I have mentioned several times in other posts:
“Kindness and wildness is a poignant combination.”
Focusing on the breath and stepping into the now, kindness and wildness naturally bleeds out into your experience of life from an inner source. It isn’t any more complicated than that.
Allowing life to be life, and the experience of what is present to be the experience of the present, without imposing our narrow views on it, is turning toward the fundamental heart of living—the open space that runs right through the core of what it means to be intimate with the life that is here. Coming and going, descending and rising are part of the natural flow of what enters into the now and dribbles into the mind. Meeting this current means being open enough to be with what is with us in the now and having that sense of freedom drive our continual convergence with life. Going on the journey into the mind is the path that presents us with the opportunity to enmesh ourselves into the fabric of what holds us, to grab the moment by the intertwining strings and step into the experience of the life that is here.
De Chardin’s discovery of an embedded, innate current, Buddha’s taste for precariously dangling strawberries in the face of a seemingly adverse situation, and Tarrant’s fondness for kindness and wildness point in one direction: this mind.
[i] Teilhard de Chardin, quoted in Inward Stillness by George Maloney
Editor: Brianna Bemel