surf through life
From "The Wonder of Presence" by Toni Packer. (c) 2002 by Toni Packer. By arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, www.shambhala.com.

Someone asked, "Does it really matter if we 'wake up' or not?"

A little while ago I took a walk up a hill. What a delightful morning! Warmth and coolness were present at the same time. Gentleness pervaded the air, and birds were singing everywhere. Wet, sodden shoes passed by the croaking pond where tiny little skimmers crisscrossed back and forth on the surface of the water, leaving their ever so delicate tracks.

On the big upper field several deer were grazing. Looking up at the intruder, their long white tails twitched a little as we looked at each other. Then they kept on grazing. Colors dotted the sun-drenched field, and blooming grasses were swaying in the breeze. The fragrance of wild roses filled the air. If you had walked along with me this beautiful morning, we both would have laughed at the question whether it matters if we wake up or not.

Had we been caught up in anger, worry or frustration, we wouldn't have laughed. We would not have seen the lovely vibrant field. We have so many questions. Whence do they arise? Are there deeper motives to our question? Can we wonder about it and look? Someone asked , "Is there such a thing as ultimate, complete and total enlightenment?" Are we really asking, "If there is such a thing, can I get it?"

Where does wondering about complete and total enlightenment come from? And from where does wanting it arise? And the frustration about not getting it? Doesn't it all come our of our deep inner discontent with ourselves, with others, and with the world? Sometimes we can't even say what it is that causes it; we just feel painfully out of sync. There is an inner meaninglessness, a feeling of hollow emptiness. Not the emptiness of vast open space, but a feeling of nothing of value inside, feeling lonely, cut off from happiness and alienated from people. There may be the fear of abandonment, or feeling unloved. All of these things are going on in human beings.

Out of the desire to fill up the inner depletion and find lasting contentment may come questions about enlightenment, and with them the yearning to find meaning and not feel isolated from everything and everyone. The brain creates endless concepts and fantasies to alleviate the inner suffering.

If we become increasingly transparent to these movements of thought and feeling, we will realize that inner pain is not dissolved by conventional ways of dealing with it, materially or spiritually. Money, position, acquisitions or relationships have not brought lasting contentment. Religions beliefs may provide illusions of security and support, but for many of us they simply have not worked. We have wandered from one belief system to another, attracted by promises of salvation, liberation, or enlightenment, but real hunger for truth and clarity can be stilled only with genuine food.

The discursive mind is capable of throwing up doubts and skeptical questions at any time. Maybe we suddenly find ourselves in quiet openness, a profound stillness without any feeling of lack. Then thought comes in and begins to wonder: "Will this last? Can I get it back? Was it real? Was this enlightenment or is there more? It doesn't seem enough." Thinking about a past moment of freedom immediately sows the seeds of doubt by asking, "Is this all there is? It can't be! There must be a more convincing experience than what I just had!" Thoughts grow like clinging vines that choke the living presence. Truly being here is being unknown, unknowable, unadorned. Being here is absence of doubting or affirming thoughts about myself. It is the absence of me! Thoughts that arise about me are just thoughts, with their enormous power to obscure clarity.

Is it our task to find out whether or not there is total and complete enlightenment like the Buddha proclaimed? I always liked the Buddha's sayings: "I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled enlightenment, and that is why it is called complete, unexcelled enlightenment." No-thing, no one to attain it, spaceless space, no one there to occupy it. Just alive presence with the evening star in the sky. Dying to all the stuff imagined and clung to about oneself - what I am, what I was, what I will be, what I could be, should be...

Can we see all concepts as concepts with deepening clarity and wisdom? Not immediately lurching toward something promised in the future that has its sole existence in thought? Can we clearly discern what constitutes thinking and what is actually present right here without needing to think it? Can we discern it effortlessly?

The open windows, fresh air touching the skin, bright sunshine everywhere, all kinds of twittering sounds, crows calling and breathing, pulsating life! Caw, caw, caw, caw...Sensations throughout the body, breathing, beholding it, not the words, but the aliveness of it all. Can we realize now that "complete unexcelled enlightenment" is a concept?

You may sincerely object, "How can I know for sure that enlightenment is just a concept? Maybe it is real. Lots of enlightened teachers have told and written about it. So - shall we then ask together: "What is enlightenment beyond all concepts?"

Let us delve profoundly into this question, not asking for other people's descriptions of experiences, not looking for promises, not expecting to know for sure, but questioning out of not knowing, inquiring meditatively, deeply, darkly, until we don't know anymore what is "enlightened" or "unenlightened"! In silently wondering deeply without knowing, the conceptual world is left behind. Are we going into the question in this way?

All too often our yearning for something to alleviate the inner suffering gets in the way of deep inquiry. Rather than asking, "What is enlightenment?" can we question our inner feeling of insufficiency? We have tried to fill it with fantasies of all descriptions, with entertainment, acquisitions, achievements, relationships, spiritual searching, and solemn vows - anything to fill the aching void. But have we ever really explored it directly, unconditionally?

Becoming conscious of it in or out of retreat, can we be with the ache of emptiness, not calling it by any name? Let all labels fly into thin air and stay with what is here, discomfort without calling it discomfort. Staying here with what's indefinable. Not resisting, not fighting, not looking for anything else. Just letting what is here be here in its entirety, physically, mentally, totally. Letting it be without knowing. Not becoming the doer for or against it. Just this quiet presence in the midst of the silence of chaos. In this there is an unfolding transparency. It happens when one sits patiently, silently, unconditionally. By "sitting" I simply mean being totally with what is here. Not moving away or toward something else, just remaining with the whole thing - an intense presence that includes all the bodily sensations, breathing, wind-storming, raining, sunning, birding, coughing, fans humming - everything right here, all at once, without a seam. Observing thoughts coming up, emotions about to be triggered, physical sensations arising and more thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations unfolding and abating - being with it all. There isn't any place to escape to. Everything is here without separation.

Let thoughts come up, let them reveal themselves for what they are and disappear. It all is the stuff of dreams, traces from the infinite past. Thoughts may trigger fear, but fear too can become transparency. When it arises, here it is. Let it be. Don't call it by name - labels attract memories and reactions from the past. No need to have any feelings about it - they too are empty. Fear is an unavoidable occurence in our habitual self-centered consciousness. We can not possibly live the illusion of a separate me without experiencing fears about what may happen to it. But illusions and dreams can also be seen as just dreams and illusions, even though they can arouse tremendous inner turbulence in the form of horror, agony, or pleasure. It is all part and parcel of human consciousness manifesting as separate me and you.

Sitting quietly, watching things come up time and time again, a tape may be playing: "Is that what meditation is all about? I don't want to spend the rest of my meditative life watching endless repetitions of garbage." But the important thing is not what is seen but the quality of the seeing. When a person asks, "Is watching the comings and goings of thoughts and emotions all there is to meditation?" I say that it all depends on the quality of the watching. Is it consumed by judging, by feeling guilty, ashamed, or impatient? As those mental movements occur, see them for what they are and don't be disturbed by them. That is choiceless awareness - no separate watcher occupying center stage. The inner show is simply displaying itself on its own and needs no particular audience, no applause or rejection. Let it all happen as it is happening in the infinite space of open presence.

Is choiceless awareness just another dream, a new illusion? Thought can turn anything into a concept by thinking and dreaming about it. See it when it happens and don't be fooled by it. Choiceless awareness is not an illusion. It is here for human beings like you and me. Tranparency unfolds on its own, revealing all there is as it is, in utter directness and simplicity, without need for a director.

Actually, awareness is here even during times of darkness. Presence never goes anywhere. This is not a dogmatic statement but a simple fact that each one of us can come upon.

See the cloud, the darkness! Hear the wind! Feel the breathing! Smell the flowers! Touch the swaying grasses! Clouds, wind, thoughts, breathing, fragrant flowers, and grasses change all the time, but seeing is here without time. Even though doubts may obscure it, it is here the instant the mind stops and every cell of the body opens to hear and see and be.

No need to bother one's head about what has been said. Being present is all of oneself, not just the head! We are this entire living creation from moment to moment without a break. Walk innocently through the fields, into the woods, along the ocean beach or in the city streets with the sheer joy of aliveness, its infinite movements and sounds and fragrance - the love of it all without making a thing out of it!

Are we here?

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