Still Waters

Late this afternoon, after many distractions, I went down to our local lake for a swim.  Although the air was a touch cool by 5 pm, the water was warm once you got in.  Anyway, I couldn’t turn back because there was a gorgeous smiling baby girl under 1 year old being dunked by her parents and laughing a big infectious full baby laugh:  “Your baby girl makes me feel like a coward, plunging right in like that,” I said to her parents.  “Ah, but she has no choice,” her beaming father said.  Hmmmm.

She couldn’t chose whether to go in or not, I thought as I swam out to the floating raft for one last time this summer.   Yet, as I dog-paddled around in my flippers, doing a kind of slow water yoga, I had an experience I’ve had a few times recently. I really had no choice to be in that lake at that time.  Unlike that smiling, splashing baby, I had an illusion of choice.  A veil of thought was spread over the simple yet mysterious fact that I was there.

Through some combination of conditions– late afternoon sun dappling warm water, green trees beginning to turn, being alone in the lake,  myriad other conditions known and unknown, I had the experience of dissolving into, well, just experience.   It was as if the “self” I usually carry with me–a self that feels as if it has soooooo many miles on it by now, yet is constantly being tinkered with, updated–well, it had temporarily fallen away.  It was a glimpsed of what the Buddhists call “no-self,” an opening outward towards life.  Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Turning the Wheel of Truth, a commentary on the Buddha’s first teaching by Ajahn Sucitto, the abbot of a Buddhist monastery in England.  In it, he describes the “middleness” of the Middle Way:  “The ‘middleness’ of the way a Buddha teaches and exemplifies points then to a balance of presence and nonattachment.  Through this we are encouraged to see clearly and insightfully what is happening now rather than reject of adhere to experience.  And the results?  They are peacefulness and true understanding, nibbana (nirvana)–the cooling of the fire, the calming of the wind, the settled quality, and the sensitivity of still water.”

I’m beginning to realize how we much we are, like it or not, inextricably stitched into life.  As the Buddha said, there is a way to be free from suffering, from stress and dissatisfaction.  It is not unlike the way I was dog-paddling today between raft and shore–not unlike that baby, just being there, not avoiding, not grasping, feeling well but turned outwards….

And now the beach is closed for another year.

18 thoughts on “Still Waters

  1. nice imagery. maybe the middle way, in this case is in deciding right away without a giant inner fight. it wasn’t hard to follow your impulse because it was the last chance to gather those particular impressions. so you were happy that you chose action over the thought.

    1. You are right, Scott. It wasn’t a Hamlet-like situation–although the mind did think it knew what it was going to encounter–that it would be like other times in the lake. Yet, the beauty of the way everything came together, the light, the water, the baby, the changing trees, the neighbors I spoke to on the shore…all of it was surprisingly beautiful. Life gave me an impression my mind couldn’t have manufactured.

  2. Tracy said: “A veil of thought was spread over the simple yet mysterious fact that I was there.

    I had the experience of dissolving into, well, just experience. It was as if the “self” I usually carry with me–a self that feels as if it has soooooo many miles on it by now, yet is constantly being tinkered with, updated–well, it had temporarily fallen away.”

    These impressions, which I too have experienced, bring so many questions. What am I? Madame de Salzmann raises this question over and over in The Reality of Being.

    In moments of impressions like these, seemingly, nothing is known. As you say my ‘self’ has disappeared. What is it that remains? And how in states such as this can I be compassionate and responsible for work for all sentient beings on this planet? I have no answers.

      1. Perhaps. When we see, as you saw, do we not also see that the universe is full of love, we are offered love by everything that exists; yet we are mostly blind to it.

  3. tracy, that’s a lovely reflection. thanks for posting it. i’ve been listening for months now to talks by ajahn sucitto via dharmaseed. he is quite brilliant.

    with metta,

  4. Artxulan wrote

    In moments of impressions like these, seemingly, nothing is known. As you say my ‘self’ has disappeared. What is it that remains? And how in states such as this can I be compassionate and responsible for work for all sentient beings on this planet? I have no answers.
    That is why I have difficulty with this concept of no-self since I believe it actually invites me to appear, It is very hard to do. Madame de Salzmann invites me to find out if I have both the need and the courage to look.

    I see I do not have this quality of attention to see inside so as to sustain a conscious connection with the external world. Yet I’ve read and believe that if there is not a sufficient conscious influence in the world, it is doomed

    It seems we can be able to give a quality of conscious attention to the world that it needs if we can first awaken to its importance.

    “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil

    This is what I believe we can give to the world; the results of our efforts towards conscious attention which keeps the connection with above and below alive.

    I’m not Madame de Salzmann or Simone Weil but I can make more sincere efforts towards becoming capable of a more human perspective that is open to creating a connection between the higher and the lower both within my collective presence and as part of the outside world.

    1. I love that quote by Weil, and I agree with your view.

      I’m not sure there’s a difference between no-self and the Self as Madame de Salzmann and others describe it.

      1. Nick you state what is needed quite clearly in a way that I have not heard it before. I’ve heard it said many times, in many ways and it never quite touched me the way your expression did. Thank you.

        As to the no-self question the way I understand that is Jack is ‘the self’. This with all its attachments, habits, all that it is has to be given up in order that another part of us can appear. The self isn’t banished or destroyed, just finds its proper place in our Being.

  5. Art, as I understand it, our personality isn’t to be abandoned but just not be justified as dominant. The husk of the acorn serves as food and protection for the kernel of life inside of the shell. Conscious attention is the action that makes it possible to “Know Thyself.” The growing conscious awareness of our mechanical REACTIONS is a conscious ACTION.

    It isn’t a matter of giving up anything at first. To “Know Thyself” serves the purpose of allowing the higher parts of our common presence to develop.

    Conscious attention is quite attractive. Simone Weil was capable of sustained conscious attention. When she died in 1943 there were seven outsiders at her funeral. Now she is known and loved around the world because she embarrasses us. I know it happens in me. I know she had become capable of something valuable that I deny myself.

    Julia Haslett is a filmmaker who questioned why we have the right to document suffering. Then she discovered Simone and that quotation I previously posted and it became clear what conscious attention can offer in the world. She along with Fabrizia Galvagno decided on a documentary to be released in the future to raise questions.

    You can see the trailor here and the obvious effects she had on others because of what Albert Camus called: “her lucid madness for truth.”

    Simone is one of those rare beings that are beyond classification. She is like a comet that entered our world, stirred things up, and left leaving us feeling inadequate with questions. Her life, dedicated to the experience of truth, invites us to think and feel in a way that is not our norm but closer to a tue human perspective. If it existed more in the world, everything would be different.

    1. I watched the video and when I saw the part that said she died at age 34 of self starvation I was ‘floored’.

      While there have been many humans (and non humans) who have given much to humanity those who have been of particular significance for me are: G.I. Gurdjieff, Madame Jeanne de Salzmann, Lord (John) Pentland, William Segal, Henri Tracol, Carlos Castaneda and my parents and grandparents as well as the land on which I was born and raised in the deep hills of Alabama.

  6. Art, Simone really didn’t die of self starvation. Actually she had been working with Rene Daumal translating sanskrit and I know that they both died of TB. Once in the hospital and very sick, her doctor was annoyed that she refused treatment. she knew she was dying and didn’t fear it. The doctor didn’t like being rejected by a woman so wrote that she starved herself to death.

    Simone used to read the paper to her parents when she was five. She became aware of war and how the French soldiers lived on rations. She did the same in support. Somehow she became aware of world hunger which is why she became a Marxist and highly regarded by Leon Trotsky. In her college years she believed that Marxism could feed the world. Through direct experience she learned what Gurdjieff explained to Ouspensky which is that what happens is a result of our being. At that point she began her spiritual journey and she died a Christian mystic.

    Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Simone countered with “revolution is the opiate of the masses.” She of course refers to the fact that our being determines our life.

    Who else was an intellectual influence on Leon Trotsky and Pope Paul V1? This is what I mean. Who else could understand the connection between atheism and the essence of religion like Simone? She opens us to the need to awaken.

    “Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.”
    – Simone Weil, Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine
    the Simone Weil Reader, edited by George A. Panichas (David McKay Co. NY 1977) p 417

    I don’t know of anyone other than Gurdjieff who could express such a concept with such clarity since it comes from her being.

    She is really expressing the importance of Man number four in the world as described by Plato who she loved.

    The Work and Simone Weil are complimentary. Simone awakens one to the need to search and the Work teaches how to become able to search since we don’t have a “lucid madness for truth.” You can read this excerpt on attention from Simone but it is through the Work in our hectic society that makes it possible:

    “Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object. It means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of. Above all our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it.”

    “Absolute unmixed attention is prayer. ”

    I feel the Work in Simone. When I read this gem, I felt like it was written by someone in the Work that understood how the presence of Man number four can open to help from above. She wrote:

    “Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace.”

    She made the transition from atheism to the direct experience of the mystical truths of Christianity.

    You are lucky that from who you’ve mentioned, you’ve found some very special people. Some go through their whole lives without being so lucky.

    There is no Simone School or anything like it. There is just Simone whose life is an awakening influence. I know that those attracted to Simone will be attracted to the Work and she just may inspire some to find it. Consider this aphorism from Gurdjieff:

    19. Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West—and then seek.

    That is what she did with complete dedication to truth. Can we profit from all of this? Not unless we feel the awakening need to try.

  7. You mention that she and Rene Daumal knew each other. Daumal was one of Gurdjieff’s students. He wrote a book titled Rasa which I have but do not understand. He also wrote a wonderful book titled Mount Analogue.

    If you haven’t read Madame de Salzmann’s notes, The Reality of Being you might be interested as it touches on many of these ideas in a very different way than most of ‘the work’ texts.

  8. Thanks for the tip Art, Madame de Salzmann is well worth reading. I intend to do so.

    About this question of still waters, I remember reading Dr. Nicoll in volume 1 of the Commentaries write something on Karma Yoga which vivifies for me two ways of stilling waters.

    Maurice Nicoll P. 88

    Karma Yoga is the science of action with non-identifying. This phrase must be rememberd by everyone. It must not be changed into “the science of action without identifying”. The essence of Karma-Yoga is to meet with unpleasant things equally with pleasant things…………………………………

    Action without identifying seems to be a form of escapism, a lack of conscious attention, normal for a lot of New Age thought for the purpose of being happy. Yet what Dr, Nicoll describes is the opposite of escapism. When I first read the following from Simone, I thought of Dr. Nicoll. The problem of course if we are willing to be open to it and to become capable of it. Stilling the waters is easier in quiet meditation, but she practiced it in the hectic world she voluntarily put herself in. Are we satisfied with pleasure as a goal or do we seek something more?

    “A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.” Simone Weil, from — Gravity and Grace

  9. we can learn so much from the innocence of children. even as they grow their untainted logic is so pure and insightful. enjoyable and well written…i was right there with you and right now i want to drive over the hill and go surfing, but i’m not going today.
    the thought that came to me was i was there with you…i turned to you and said, “lets float on our backs, enjoy the sunshine on our faces, and hear ourselves breathe…”

    much love and respect,

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