Waking Up Together

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck,” wrote Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

I love the sound of the bell at the end of meditation or, on retreat, waking us and calling us to meditation.

The bell reminds us that the path is really a circle–or maybe a spiral–calling us back to our deepest experience and back to the beginning of this practice, and each time it sounds, we find ourselves on a new level, with a certain understanding and intention.  All on your own, you were to glimpse the true nature of life, enough to motivate you to wish to perceive and live in a different way.  But if a person could accomplish this kind of seeing and feeling following their own lights, I reasoned, why would they need to follow a path?  Why would they need to practice the moral precepts, right speech, right livelihood, and all the rest?  Wouldn’t they already innately understand the why and the how of that as well?

Go away on a silent meditation retreat or go camping in the wilderness or (for the artists and writers among us) attempt to express something true–anything that temporarily shuts down the ambient noise and light of everyday ordinary life. You will begin to understand.  When you wake up under the stars or bend over your work table, you can sometimes remember perceptions and feelings that are usually buried under the known: that we are not meant separate from life, meant to be part of a greater whole.  We can remember a special kind of feeling that is usually covered because it is more still than emotion–a willingness to open and receive life just as it is.  I remember lying in bed in the dark on a silent retreat, waking up to a sound of a bell. I realized suddenly and simply that the sound was not separate from the silence, that each drew out the other, made each other known.

We wake each other.  A friend who was a bell ringer on a silent retreat told me that he felt he wasn’t just waking others but himself and also the bell.  We sound the depths in each other.  We give the search for awakening the living material of our own lives.  We  bring the search to life.  And when we embark on the quest (which can be just for a moment, for the space of a question) we join other beings, not just from contemporary times but from ancient times who sought a way to wake up. The path really is a circle.

I have never gone away on retreat or sat down to struggle with a piece of writing, expecting to feel as if I were with others.  I usually go with the resolve to be lonely and self-sufficient,  often thinking of that great American yogi, Henry David Thoreau, who lived alone for several years in a tiny cabin at the edge of  Walden Pond:  “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. “

And yet, when we seek to know and live and express the truth, we are accompanied.  The Buddhist scriptures describe the Buddha glimpsing “an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times.”  He didn’t invent the Noble Eightfold Path.  In his passionate quest for enlightenment, he rediscovered it.   I picture the path rising up to meet him.  May we all rediscover the way to truth.  May we all wake up together.

I’m writing this near the ocean, an influence that inspires me to realize there is something we human beings have always shared.  But what do you think?  What does it mean to follow a path or a way?

8 thoughts on “Waking Up Together

  1. The circular logic of the pathless path seems unbeatable yet we find at retreats a meaningful and fulfilling silence that wakes us to the continually unknown. The path remains the moment, our attitude and disposition before the tiniest of moments, before the most mundane of tasks. The question, I believe is how to wake up in the midst of a noisy city without becoming a hermit, without the purity of a natural environment. Paying the same attention, being as void as the river and the trees. A most sincere bow to Parabola magazine.

  2. Tracy,

    I often find that we are confronted with this in the everyday world of people. A world that demands certain social norms and unequivocal definitions for things that, perhaps in reality (if such a word can be used), are not separate or strictly defined.

    To my estimation a path or way has become a part of certain traditions simply because it is so easy to be mislead by the many day-to-day choices we make, and to think they really are either/or decisions.

    For example, how often have you been confronted with the self-affirming logic that you must choose a side? ‘You are either with us or against us.’ ‘You have to stand for something or you fall for anything’. These are more than common sayings. They are prevalent points of view. The political world (that is the world of relations between people) is still one dominated by polarization. In English at least, even writing about spiritual practice is littered with contextual words based upon conflict and warfare. How to be a spiritual warrior. Defeating your egoic demons. Killing the parasite that is ruling your life.

    To me the paths and ways that have been developed are careful formulations that have sought to steer clear of this either/or thinking, or of strictly relying upon thinking as the only means to make choices or experience life in the first place.

    It surprises me still that people cannot understand that I often don’t choose sides because I see that polarization of choice as the root of conflict. This doesn’t mean that I don’t make decisions, or have deep seeded feelings about certain beliefs; far from it. It also does not mean there are not occasions when I do choose to represent a certain ideal by ‘taking a stand’ as it were. But it seems incomprehensible to most that there can be a path or way that isn’t rigorously defined. A way of being that might make a certain choice one day and (to some) a seemingly contradictory one the next.

    Walt Whitman’s quotation is one of my very favourites:

    Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

    It is almost a living practice in irony. Buddhism is ‘the middle way’. Taoism is the ‘pathless path’. Judaism is ‘the way to heaven’. Which then leads quite naturally to: ‘what, or where, is heaven?’

    An excellent adviser I once had used to call these things road maps. Only these maps lead everywhere and nowhere. If you follow a path it is very likely that you will get lost, have no idea where you are going, nevertheless arrive at your destination, and discover much to your chagrin and joyous amusement that you never left.

    Which reminds me of another of my favourites, from Ben Okri:

    From a certain point of view, the universe seems to be composed of paradoxes. But everything resolves. That is the function of contradiction.

    To me, whether you choose to use one of the available road maps or not, what is means to follow a path is to never be set upon a destination. Nor can you be concerned with when you arrive. It is like my Dad always said, “We’ll get there when we get there”. ;)

  3. Hi Tracy, This is how I follow my path.

    Today’s gospel is based on Matt13:44-46
    It is on the Kingdom of Heaven.Jesus says it is like a treasure buried in a field. So, how do I find it? If it is “buried”, I think that reading scripture helps me to find it,…what speks to the “ground of my being”? I graze on the words, chew on their meaning, look more deeply. In this case I know that life or the kingdom is not really lived so much at the surface, but needs depth, “grounding. This is what I get every morning in my Lectio Divina. It’s a great way for me to start out my day.
    The kingdom is a treasure, so what tresures do I find in my field? Most importantly I find a conection to my Creator. Ssometimes it’s not so easy to get there, and I need to do a little more digging, or clearing away of weeds. But get there I do.
    I usually find great peace when I do this “digging”, and then “resting” in what I have found. However, I know that if I want to keep it , I must “give it away”. (Coincidence of opposites). This scripture tells me that I need to see what treasures I find in this field. Is it my love of God and all humanity? If so, how can I be of use? Can I look for way to be of service? Can I be single-minded in my pursuit of the treasure? That might mean to go back mentally for just a quick second to that field during the day to “remember” (put back and make whole my members). Sometimes it means that I need to speak to my spiritual director , or my mentor for guidance. Surely we are a people who need people. What is it that I need to do today to stay on the path of that great field…”the kingdom of heaven”?
    Many times it is just to realize that it is here, right now,in you and in me, and all I need to do is acknowledge it and give thanks!
    My haiku for the day
    Kingdom of heaven
    Most valued teasure of all
    Nothing else matters!

    resolute (word for the day)

    Peace and attention

  4. Hi Tracy

    Over the years I’ve come to realize the best path for me begins with striving for presence or what Gurdjieff called Man number 4. Plato refers to the same idea and seems to be the best for dealing with the defense of imagination I’ve experienced around me.

    Rather than emptiness I believe in the cosmological structure of a conscious universe which includes levels of reality and materiality. Striving for the presence of Man number 4 allows for receiving help from above free of the descent into imagination that furthers Man’s potential for conscious evolution.

    At one time I was the divorced musician living with the town witch. Now I am just trying to acquire and retain a conscious human perspective that initiates beyond the confines of Plato’s cave.

    “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe this is only accomplished through a “middle” we have as a seed that establishes a conscious connection between levels of reality, above and below: Jacob’s Staircase.

  5. “the Path”, as I see it, is a constant reminder to continue being in that correct understanding of what is real. From the time we are born we are programmed to think that we are special, separate, entitled, and yet when it comes to self, we let in every ones energy, we think and act according to what others expect of us. We are like drones without a self. How we act is not how we intrinsically understand or feel we should act. The duality of that, although often not understood, creates dis-ease.

    When you go on retreat, you shift into that space of being, that understanding, that we are all connected physically, mentally and spiritually. We are taught, and spend much time practicing on how to protect ourselves from the dark energy that most people carry around them, and that we willingly let into our energy space. The same with living like a hermit. It is a big step on the path, to be able to be by yourself completely, for a long time. However the real test comes when you have to deal with life’s issues, and not go into your separate defensive self. To stay grounded in your beliefs, and avoid the temptation of the old familiar. To be one of all and yet not be drawn into the drama of the dream.

  6. The path seems long and circuitous, and it sometimes seems that the harder I try to visualize it and follow it, the more elusive it becomes. Occasionally, however, the divine chooses to bolster my faith and courage by revealing a glimpse of the ground on which I tread, a signpost, a landmark, a hint that I am on “the right path”. Today, as I read your reflection, I realize that for me yesterday was one such magical day. After decades of having hidden my artistic and creative nature, I risked revealing some of my work to a long-time and dear friend. Much to my amazement, she shared my wonder and awe at the truth of Nature that I had attempted to capture in my graphite drawing. Our bell had been rung. She began to resonate with the divine frequencies that had inspired me to draw, and I became aware of the necessity of allowing the divine to use my artistic abilities (which of course are a gift from the divine) to subtly reveal itself in this realm, to those whose eyes are open.

    Thank you, Tracy, for your willingness to share your gifts of thought and writing, so that the bell may ring for your readers.

  7. I’d like to share something with you that vivifies Tracy’s OP. There are these bell ringing moments that allow us to experience a higher perspective and then we are back in the norm.

    Yesterday July 29, is the birth date for the Armenian painter Aivazovsky. Someone sent me this video that presents some of Aivazovsky’s paintings together with the song from Exodus and suggested I feel the contrast with the commercials.

    I found that when I listen and watch I can experience human aspiration that longs for freedom and the inner questioning associated with the struggle for presence and hope in chaotic life threatening situations. The song is about the struggle for home and freedom. Aivazovsky’s art is about struggle and freedom along with the search for reality beyond the sky and horizon in the context of the sea. Put them together and it can be powerful.

    However when corrupted by commercials a person can also see how quickly the feeling of awe and the attraction to what is greater than oneself disappears. The bell rings but soon the normal disturbances appear that swallow me up. One benefit of a retreat must be temporariy freedom from commercials so as to acquire some immunity from their effect.

    I’ve read that the Crucifixion was actually a conscious drama. The Resurrection was possible only through the conscious experience of the Crucifixion. When I admit the affect of a commercial on my presence, I can see how far I am from sustaining the openness that awe invites much less being truly conscious to life’s experiences.

    If you are open to shock, watch the video and experience the affect of the commercials. It reveals what denies the aspiration for human freedom, whether outer or inner, regardless if it you believe in freedom from samsara or Plato’s cave. I lose the big picture by getting caught up in incidentals. The commercials seem offensive when in this context but ironically they do not lose their attraction in my ordinary dream state. Anyhow:

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