04 September 2008

Things As They Are...

Things As They Are:
Fluidity and Awareness

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

I am in love with this poem by Wallace Stevens, which among other things begs the question, what exactly are 'things as they are'? The poem shows us that 'things as they are' are not solid, but mutable, fluid; not objectively frozen out in space but perceived by someone, by experience. And that experience, that fluidity, is a conversation, with both an active and a receptive flavor. That experience is both ordinary and extraordinary. It is a tune beyond us, yet ourselves.

All of which is beautiful, however, a bit abstract. In Buddhist circles and books, one hears a lot about 'being with things as they are'. What does it mean here? It means that you don't practice Buddhism or meditate to become calmer, or because you told someone that you think you should meditate, or because you want to slow down thoughts, or lower your blood pressure, or even because you want to be kinder or change your life. We meditate because we want to be more aware, to know 'things as they are', in other words, to know what's going on in the deepest sense, inside and out.

Being more aware makes one kinder, calmer, and wiser. But the motivation is to be more aware, the practice, to practice being aware, and the action is being aware. And the more we hide or ignore certain realities of our experience, in meditation or in our ordinary life, the harder it is to cultivate awareness. The more deeply aware we become, the more natural, the easier, the purer our wish to be aware.

We all have mixed motivation. But I have found that when I want the results of meditation but do not feel interested in it as a process - a process of being aware - it becomes simply another way to suffer, however apparently subtle or noble. And of course outside of sitting meditation we can cultivate awareness every moment - we do not have to have special conditions for that, though some conditions certainly help. A cushion and a relatively quiet place to sit are useful. But mainly what's needed are a little guidance, spiritual friends, and most of all, the desire to be aware.

(image "The Old Guitarist" by Picasso)

1 comment:

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