Sunday, June 1, 2008

Consider Space

If genuine happiness is a legitimate spiritual goal, it probably makes sense to occasionally consider the nature of unhappiness, of suffering.

Lots of words can be used to describe and catalog unhappiness, but occasionally I find myself with an abstract, energetic sensation of this state. Beneath surface definitions of unhappiness, I'm aware that, for me, unhappiness is about the loss of space.

Space, for me, is a critical element of happiness, and when I lose touch with it--when thoughts and feelings and sensations and phenomenon become too dense--freedom and perspective become frozen. I"m not very happy at these times.

Fortunately, this sense of densness--this feeling that my feelings or thoughts or problems are all that exist--is entirely my own delusion. The truth is that space is always present. It is the background out of which all things arise, and into which all things return as they fade away. Modern science tells us as much: space is far more prevalent than matter, and even our perception that stone is solid is our delusion. What we take to be solid rock is largely made up of space between atoms hovering near each other in a strange sort of magnetic hypnotism.

The truth is that no matter how severe my problems or how dense my mood, there is always and forever far more space present than we know.

The inherent spaciousness of all things is really all that is meant by "emptiness" in the Buddhist sense. In our practice, we're really seeking nothing more than to rest in the spaciousness out of which things arise and return. Rather than defining ourselves according to temporary phenomenon, which by definition have no solid reality, we choose to identify with the spacious backdrop instead.

This isn't the normal way of seeing the world, to be sure. The traditional antidote for human unhappiness is to acquire, to solidify, to gain, to eat, to buy, to collect. And the first legitimate glimpse of the void, which for some people comes during meditation, can be unnerving, to say the least. It's unknown, strange, and frightening. Bit by bit, though, as practitioners, we begin to experiment with resting in the void, in the genuine spaciousness. What we find, to our surprise, is that this isn't a frightening place at all, but an exceedingly secure and trustworthy one. Physical matter shifts and degrades and reincarnates, but spaciousness never changes. Reconnecting with that space, once an alien landscape, becomes like going home again after a long, troublesome journey.

The best approach to unhappiness, I've found, is to seek space, to let it into myself and to inject myself into space itself. And then I rest there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Today I experienced some moments where I was tempted to believe the irritations surrounding me were all that existed.

Instead, after remembering our recent conversation about space, I walked away from the situation for 20 minutes or so, breathed deeply, and remembered how trivial these irritations are, in actual fact. Sure made them easier to address.