A comment from Jackson on my last post, regarding creating sacred spaces in everyday life:
This is fantastic, Drake! The question I ask myself is: How big can I make my sacred space?
Can it be bigger than a room? Could it be the whole house? Could it be the whole street? Could it be the planet itself? Could I stretch out really far and contain the entirety of the Universe within my sacred space?
If I did that, I would reside within my sacred space forever.
A reply, in three parts:
I. IMAGINATION EXPERIMENTS
You are in your backyard, an open winter’s plain, with a camera in hand, and a spindly birch stands alone before you. A sparrow flies to a far branch and begins to tweet, and you turn your head to the stimuli. The angle of vision shifts. Light and shadow form a new composition. “Snap” goes the shutter.
It’s the high summer. You are lying in bed, looking out the window to the same tree. Feeling hot, you switch on the fan above you. You look again at the cedar, now full and green. Coolness on your face brings your attention back to the fan. You look up, and follow one blade’s spin, slowing its orbit with your concentration.
That fall, standing in line at the grocery store, you are a bit bored. You need to get home, and the fluorescent lights give you a headache. Your jaw tightens. The cashier is taking too long, and the little kids up anew spots ahead are getting annoying.
Or, rather, you catch yourself growing annoyed, blink well, and exhale. You breathe down into your soles, let your arches rest, and feel the ground beneath your toes. Frustration melts into relaxation, and the environment shifts: the lights illuminate, the cashier is thorough, and the children’s whimsy delightful.
Light and shadow recompose. The blade slows.
A smile alights on the corners of your mouth.
II. PHENOMENOLOGICAL CONFESSIONAL
When I was a boy, I played lots of video games. I remember, in my early illiteracy, begging my sister to read to me the text of RPGs. As with many of my ilk, the screen, I think, shaped the way that I relate to myself.
I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror, one of those places of childhood epiphany, and touching my face, thinking, “this is my body, this is the one I get.” I had, through the analogy of SEGA, thought of my body as something I was “playing,” the character given for this life.
Using myself as an example, I tend to identify with the witnessing screen of my consciousness, rather than this body, as me. And, contrarily, I tend to see others as their bodies; it takes consideration to realize that in this other collection of parts lives a consciousness, with a history of breakups and best friends and ice cream preferences. Unexamined, I harbor a frayed mind/body dualism: I am only my mind, they are only their bodies.
Descartes would suggest that this consciousness and this body are running parallel to one another, and do not intersect. This seems silly, as this mind and this body are constantly interacting. When I hit my head on something, consciousness knows it too.
Going back to childhood, the screen conditioned me into a mediated identity. There was the subject, consciousness, and the object, the body, which have a mysterious degree of separation. We often talk of “having” a body, but rarely of “being” a body. Perhaps this is a reason that so many, including myself, tend to neglect, or even harm, our bodies, which are somehow so far away. But it is in the body that the consciousness is in the world. Rather than being mutually exclusive, mind and body are mutually inclusive.
Our bodies are constantly communicating with us. “Listen to your body, listen to your body.” But what is it saying, and how do I listen? Most obvious is “HUNGRY” and “SLEEPY!” but what are the less obvious elements, the tension in the shoulders, the pull in the hamstrings, saying to us?
A teacher once told me that all body tension is emotional. And with meditation and yoga my incredulity had eroded. It seems that it is a sensitivity to these feelings that is needed to udnrstand them. It is a though my body is a class of students, and each part wants to be called on to say what happened over the weekend. That tension, or that peace, radiates in consciousness, and out into our surroundings. The mind is manifest in the body, the body manifest in the mind.
Relationship is everywhere, and everywhere we are shown ourselves. The other reveals us … The whole always throws the parts into relationship, polishing the mirrors. What we see happening in the external drama we can be sure is part of ourselves. It is said that a cow walked across the entire city of Baghdad and saw only some hay that had fallen off a wagon. Likewise, some people travel all around the world and report back that everyone tried to cheat them.
Coleman Barks’s commentary, The Essential Rumi.
III. CONSCIOUSNESS AND ENVIRONMENT
When first laying eyes on the Himalayas, or Monet’s <em> Water Lillies </em>>, one may emit a soft “ah,” a soft vocalization of placid awe. This awe extinguishes anxiety, and the conscious mind rests on the beauty it beholds. Correspondingly, the body relaxes and releases. For a moment, the “I” and its projected barriers are gone, and consciousness is unseparated from its environment. The lover dissolves into the beloved, and this is, to me, the essence of sacred experience.
What is important to keep in mind is that consciousness does not exist somewhere else; the phenomena we experience through our senses are not behind a screen, the mind is not mediated. The state of consciousness is reflected in the body’s posture and movement, the tension of muscles and joints, in the tone of voice, in the feeling communicated by physical touch. As well, the state of consciousness frames, or perhaps even defines, what one takes away from a particular location.
Christianity and Buddhism agree that the body is a temple. The body exudes its consciousness, and if one makes safe refuge within one’s body, the way that the druid feels in Stonehenge, or the francophile in Montmartre, the sacred space of the mind expands, and the peace of that consciousness acts as a temple blessing to all those that interact with it.
Last summer in Dharamsala I received a teaching from the Dalai Lama, and walking from his throne to his car, he turned to his right and, for the briefest of moments, His Holiness connected eyes with me, and I froze in elation; all my ideas my ideas fell down, and he turned back to his path, and I cooed and clapped in a fit of Lama-induced love-hysterics.
What is the well-spring of said swoon? How is it that His Holiness radiates radical peace, through the medium of air into me? I do not know, but I sense that in that lustrous mind of his is a calm ocean, and that serenity of consciousness is manifest in the body.
In loving, we train ourselves to love more. In perceiving the beauty of the world, we make ourselves more vulnerable to seeing the beauty that is inside us. By stepping into the quiet beauty within consciousness, and gain an appreciation for this foundation of living, we in turn open our aesthetic aperture. In the calm abiding of sensing beauty in the “screen” of consciousness, one begins to appreciate the beauty of the body. This threefold sensitivity to beauty, at the seat of consciousness, as part of the body, and within space, creates a sustainable, positive, psychological ecology, transcendent of “everywhere.”