The journey is afoot. And yet, isn’t it always the case that it is?
If we go on a short trip somewhere, the trip doesn’t begin when we step away from our home and into our car. It begins long before that.
There’s the original idea and inspiration to travel somewhere that then leads to the possibility of it, which then develops into the reality of a plane ticket, a ho(s)tel reservation, a promise of arrival to a friend or relative, or some other external support to help organize the internal free-for-all, all of which occur before the physical foot takes its first step.
And yet, even before the original idea, there are a myriad of factors that give rise to that idea. Maybe an image from a book that we read decades ago has been lingering in our psyche, only to be triggered by a conversation with a stranger, which then takes a few months for the initial inspiration of a trip to Bali or Laos to come to consciousness.
And there are countless other contributing factors, each of which has its own seeming origination point, where each so-called "origination point" has innumerable other causes, and on and on, ad infinitum.
So where does it all begin?
The journey begins long before we’ve even conceived of it, long before we were even born, long before the earliest of our ancestors were even born. Whatever journey we may be on has countless causes and conditions that have led to where we are now. What appears to be a journey beginning is really only an external marker of an inconceivably vast and lengthy journey, not so much of oneself, but of Life expressing itself through us.
This recognition that who we are, what we are, where we are, and where we’re heading are all simply a convergence of countless contributing variables—which naturally includes our volition and choices—lets us see that it’s not so much an individual who is traveling through space and time, but Life itself as expressed momentarily through a temporary gathering of factors called a human being, self, or in this case, moi.
The Buddhist view is that humans are this temporary collection or aggregate of five factors: consciousness, mental activity, perceptions, feelings (or sensations), and form (or material body). We are an aggregate, not a singular entity. It’s as if clouds that are drifting in the sky temporarily come together to form a shape looking like a dragon. Similarly, we too are a temporary coming together, both of a material nature as well as of the four other aspects. These five aggregates collect and flock together briefly to form a shape and nature looking like a human, and when the karma is dissipated, they disaggregate. That is, we are an infinitely massive swirl of infinitesimal elements, each constituted by even smaller elements, ad infinitum.
In this way, Life, Death, and that which can’t even be conceived of have been swirling around together for an eternity and will continue for another eternity, and as a speck in that cosmic swirl, this rather verbose speck swirls in recognition of its own temporary speckness.
But why should all of this matter? On one hand, it really doesn’t. Each droplet of water doesn’t need to know what’s happening for it to flow with the rest of the ocean. But if you’re a droplet that resists the flow (as if you could), then it could be helpful. In short, seeing the utter boundlessness of things can lead to a lightening of weight. I mean, how could we not when we see and acknowledge our own speckness of being that is also interwoven within the entirety of reality and non-reality? With that view, it’s not so hard to relax a bit. Not in a jokey way, but in a way that can be freely-established with greater reliability than waiting around to hear the next funny joke, although once things lighten up, lots of things can become funny, joyous, full of cheer and humor.
When we begin to draw closer to a spacious and far-reaching view that sees things as they are, we also needn’t feel good or be lacking in pain to access a lightness of being. We can confidently abide in lightness and openness within such pain. Sometimes our hearts may break, and yet, there is peace.
While watching a movie, we sometimes cry and bemoan the tragic fate of a protagonist. These sad and sorrowful feelings appear in us and we feel them. And yet, remembering that we’re watching a movie, or knowing that we are, changes our experience of it. Imagine the horror (with some movies) if we believed that what was happening on the screen was real!
And yet, many of us do the same with our own lives, thinking that we’re some discrete individual, living a life that’s real when we’re really just a temporary expression of Life itself. But if we can remember the inconceivably vast and eternal dance of Life itself that we’re a tiny and yet infinite part of, we can watch our own lives fall apart, or even those of other characters in our movie, and wish with all our hearts that it weren’t so, and yet, we can feel something underneath it all—a kind of love... a kind of grace.
Approaching and accessing this grace doesn’t come about by white-knuckling our way to some coerced faith or by forcing a belief upon ourselves. Not does it come about through striving, at least as I've found. Instead, it comes about through letting go, the deepest kind of letting go which recognizes that we’re only so temporary in the most unimaginable kind of movie or dream being co-written and co-created with our help, as we also appear in it. And this letting go is the same as relaxing about the whole thing. It’s what allows us to move with a deeper flow of things.
This largest of views is also what allows us to truly co-imagine and co-create together with the entirety of the universe. By acknowledging and inhabiting our very temporary speckness, we meld into the larger swirl (as opposed to asserting our separation), and by melding, I mean that we come into union with, and in union, we become a part of it. When we become a part of it, our choices also become a part of the larger swirl's choices. We don't simply drift around as a droplet. We also get a say in the larger movement and dance. Or maybe it's that we come to recognize that the wish of the larger swirl is, and always was, the same as our own.
Those are just a few of the reasons for why seeing things for what they are matters. When we can see things from the largest and longest perspective imaginable, things lighten up. There’s more space there. And that space allows for grace, which offers to us the free will to choose that which is already being chosen.
Sometimes I look at Orion in the night sky, and it feels so close, as if if it were right there within reach. And yet, it’s the same Orion I knew when I was ten years old, which even then I knew was light years away. And yet, this feeling of closeness. Or farness at other times. I see that it's a product of mind. Or conditioning of mind. If I live my day thinking of my life with all its socially-agreed upon concerns, and a trip to Asia as a discrete event as if standing on its own apart from an eternal movement of causes and conditions, then Orion feels light years away. Of course, “that’s the facts, don’t you know?”
And yet, when I live my life from a perspective that recognizes that I’m a tiny link in an eternal and infinite web of co-arising phenomenon, this same collection of twinkling lights feels within reach, as if I could stir the stars with my own and the universe's infinitely reaching hands. Sometimes I’m surprised and maybe even a little disappointed that the sky doesn’t just open up and reveal something entirely unexpected. It keeps feeling like it should, and I expect that it’ll happen when the time is right. I’ll be sure to report it here when that happens, and also, when I accidentally walk through a wall as I was warned by a lama many years ago after she confided to me a cheat code to the Matrix (which is really what I'm trying to work out here, or what I'll always be trying to work out here in this life).
The last few weeks at home in Chico were for me, interesting and strange. Days littered with sublime yet ordinary moments. A continual flow of clues, happenings, and encounters, some sweet, others uncanny, and others challenging and unsettling, and even with the last, I felt carried through it all. I believe we’re always being carried but many times fail to see it. Or fail to feel and discern how we are, continually. I’m only learning how to lean into it better. Trusting.
My favorite idea of the past week (one that guides me): The ground and path appear before us as we place our next step.
Here are three photos (only three since I'm still on the continent):