Everyday Living

The following article by Richard Witteman is from the Winter 2003 Newsletter

As this old friend of a computer whirs and comes to life, as my fingers move across the smooth surfaces of the keys and I explore what is alive and wants to be written about, I am struck by the incredible mystery of being here. These eyes are open, there is breathing, there is the sound of the keyboard and the flash of symbols across the screen. These simple acts seem a miracle — and in the middle of it all is an alive presence which is breathtaking.

What is the nature of being here? Who is seeing through these eyes? In this moment of writing, living seems so simple, and yet as the day unfolds, there is confusion, anguish, and suffering — why is this so?

Looking right now, this is what comes up: Within presence this body is here. At first look, it seems physical, muscular, bony, solid. Quieting down, other more subtle qualities emerge: it is expressive, sensitive, subject to intense pain, vulnerable — and very temporary. Looking more deeply, the bodily reality seems transparent, a field of energy, moving, streaming, resonating. It is vast and complex, a realm of diverse and subtle activities — like a forest or the ocean.

Thinking is here too. Because thinking is so deeply involved in suffering, it is easy to view it in a negative light. At this moment, however, it seems simply to be a very powerful force of nature. Thought has a gossamer, web-like character… a quicksilver quality, and a creative ability to weave stories. In the midst of simply being, in a flash, a story can arise, a universe unto itself, complete with characters, plot, tension — even a narrator. Thinking quickly fills the landscape, obscuring everything. As thought weaves convincing stories, it seems that a whole process is set in motion. Many impulses, desires, and fears arise, and the experience is so strong that bodily presence becomes identified with them — “this is my fear, I am afraid”. The identification encompasses a vast range of behaviors and feelings, all of them thought of as “me”.

When thought combines with bodily experience, a powerful alchemy occurs — emotions surge in tune with the stories. When my insides are churning, when my body is charged with fear, these physical manifestations make the thoughts totally believable. The identification of me and my body as a discrete entity becomes complete.

Thought then seems to add another element to the story, one which colors the entire experience of living. Storytelling makes it appear that seeing and awareness are being done by me. “I am the one who is aware, I am the one who sees.” The imagined fiction of myself takes credit for the vast ocean of awareness — and the presence of awareness becomes proof that “I” exist!

In this way, there is a constant stream of individual and collective storytelling, an ongoing moving picture of my own identity and the identity of the world — one that becomes accepted as universal reality.

It is a kind of magic theater — a multimedia stage capable of casting powerful spells. The enveloping nature of these spells propels us into action with word and deed — actions which seem logical and necessary within the confines of the spell. Many consequences are set in motion, and as each person follows the logic of their brand of storytelling, things get very complicated. Conditions are ripe for suffering.

And it is possible to stop in the middle, to slow down, take a breath, and become curious about what is going on here. In patient listening, in becoming quiet, entering deeply into silence, a shift occurs. Over time, the storytelling, which seemed so solid and inevitable, starts to break up. The process of thinking begins to reveal itself for what it is.

Sometimes, when there is quiet listening, I experience awareness of the agitation and impulse which precedes the flash of storytelling. Today, while working, I could feel the impulse to worry, as it persistently arose.

There was a felt sense of body/emotion/thought — all here together, interwoven. A kind of energy, an intense urge, a developing tension in the body, an excitation in the thought realm. Each time it arose, it was possible to allow the whole wave to relax, to release, to melt before it developed steam. In not picking it up, not feeding it, there was a release of energy, a quality of flowing freely, moving effortlessly. After a while, the wave dissolved without a trace, truly revealing its ephemeral quality.

In the breaking up of the story, as it dissolves, something else is revealed — presence is here, has always been here, has never gone anywhere. It is only because storytelling does such a wonderful job of distraction that it is overlooked. It is possible, in silence, to discover that loving spaciousness is what is really seeing, listening, experiencing, being.

Such a strong impulse — trying to get somewhere, to be something, to look good, to find fulfillment, to find understanding, to find love! It feels like a life or death struggle. Right here, in the beginning of the hunger, to relax, to release — to turn the whole enterprise over to loving spaciousness.

There is great freedom in realizing that these stories do not have to be picked up and fed — what a relief! In surrendering the impulse to get somewhere, as stories dissolve into spaciousness, it is clear that there is nothing but loving presence.