The following article by Richard Witteman is from the Spring 2008 Newsletter.
One of the things I love about this work is how practical it is in everyday life, how the spirit of inquiry keeps bringing me back to direct experience, to what is here, right now.
The spirit of inquiry has a quality of simple honesty. A willingness to be with the tapestry of feeling and sensation just the way that it is, no matter what the weather. An honest and intimate in-touch-ness with what is really here.
This doesn’t have a hard edge – it’s not a mechanical exercise, a willful overcoming of the wandering mind. There is the flavor of something familiar, a feeling of coming home after wandering lonely roads. A sense of moving from the black and white shadowy world of distracted thought, to the immediacy of vibrant colors and rich textures.
No matter how far thought and imagination may range, no matter how many times there is caught-up-ness in a story or impression, the possibility of taking a breath and waking from the dream is always present. Home is always here.
Recently, someone asked me what I have learned from years of experiencing this meditative way of being, and this answer spontaneously came, “I’ve become interested in what is here.”
How many days and weeks have been spent being interested in what was, in what might be, in what should be… in what was lost, in what I might get, in what I might lose… in what I want, in what I definitely don’t want? So many impulses to pursue the fleeting promises of safety and love, fulfillment and security, of finding happiness. Discovering, time and again that these promises lead only to labyrinths – where each turn leads deeper into an unsatisfying maze, into a deepening dream of separation.
Considering this now, I feel this is the heart of meditation: Simply being interested in what is here – being more interested in what is… than in what was, what will be, or what should be.
Being interested in what is going on here, in this moment, in this body – including everything. Getting to know that which is under our noses and yet seems so elusive and distant. The full resonance of sensation, of color and light and sound, of feeling, thought and imagination. The subtle realms of impression and feeling and vibration and resonance which go beyond the usual categories of thought and emotion. The full, rich current of being alive, the whole continuum of being… beyond any sense of what should be, what should not be.
This kind of interest has a different quality from what many of us have been taught, an interest which seeks to understand through judging, comparing, and referencing – evaluating our experience in terms of beliefs, assumptions, and identity.
When I am comparing and judging, curiosity turns from the immediacy of experience, and seeks understanding in thought. I become interested in the image of what is here, a separate object which is now weighed, analyzed, measured, and compared. Attention is no longer in the body, in the color of the moment, but in a thought created world.
The spirit of meditative inquiry is an open interest, an open question. A question that leads not to seeking answers, but to the immediacy of what is: seeing what is fresh, what is unfolding, what is arising. Being interested in the wholeness of what is here, in the mystery of what is – including the mystery of awareness itself. If I don’t try to name or define the dynamic of this moment, then what is here, what is really going on?
We have heard these words many times, “Just be with what is here!” It can seem like a monotonous and even tedious idea. A kind of lifeless repetition. But as we begin to stay here, we discover that what is being referred to as “here and now” is a wonderful and unfathomable place, with dimensions and qualities beyond our wildest imagination.
Staying here, we discover all kinds of realities we never dreamt of. Even our well described thinking, our emotions, our psychological habits… when we stay with them, when we pause and listen and feel, the reality revealed is vastly different from our explanations and definitions.
In this way, life is not divided up. We can stay at home with life in all its aspects – inner quiet life, the activity of thinking, doing things, talking and relating, the larger social world, money… all of this, one whole undivided continuum. Being interested, staying, feeling, looking, hearing, letting all of life be itself, revealing its nature, unfolding, creating, changing, dying…
And in being interested in what is here, a wonderful thing is revealed: even though it feels as though we are lost and struggling and separate, the truth is that we never did leave home. Separation really is just a dream. We cannot actually be separated, we can only imagine alienation and separation.
The interconnection of all of life is so complete, that absolutely nothing can happen on its own, we can never actually be alienated. Our very existence is an interconnected expression of wholeness, no matter how much our thoughts may protest that it is otherwise. Maintaining suffering is a losing battle. How can a drop of water pretend that is not a part of the river, even as it swirls within countless currents while gliding towards the sea?
This spirit of meditative inquiry is not something reserved for special occasions like the silence of retreat, or when I am in a really good space. The practicality of being interested in what is here is that it is really useful in times of stress and difficulty. Amidst the pressures of everyday life, amidst the overwhelming world situation, at work and at home – pausing to ask what is really going on, to feel the wholeness of what is here.
Everyday living generates such powerful currents – strong pulls to follow the call of thought, to imagine ways to protect ourselves and our family, to find love and fulfillment, to seek security and stability. A collage of emotion, feeling, and thinking.
Staying here, staying with our direct experience of what is going on, we can begin to notice what is occurring, we can experience in real time the dynamic activities which so strongly influence our emotions and moods.
In the midst of anger that only wants what it wants, to ask the question, “What is going on here? What is this dynamic experience I am calling anger?” To feel this within the wholeness of the situation – including the people who are here, the feelings in the body, the temperature of the air, the qualities of the room, the sounds. To see how these thoughts and feelings are not taking place in isolation, to feel the context of everything that is occurring.
We begin to feel what it is like to stay here, no matter what is going on. To keep asking the honest question, to return our interest to what is here, to be intimate with this moment. To realize that all of this is taking place right here, all the imaginings of the past and future, the imaginings of what should be – all of this is nothing more than the dynamic activity of this moment.
As this here-ness starts to feel like home, it becomes possible to notice when the restless call of thought arises. The call to go on the quest, to enter the labyrinth, to achieve something great, to become enlightened. The promise so compelling… “Follow me, and you will find happiness, security, fulfillment, love, abundance, wealth.”
Right here, in mid-stream, as the body quivers with the pull, to pause and see the call for what it is. And to recognize where the call will take us – to know the destination is a labyrinth of restlessness and confusion, unfulfilled promises, receding dreams, loneliness and separation. A turmoil without end.
The other day, in the midst of a particularly strong and sticky pull into a painful story, the question arose, “What is really going on here?” Staying with the currents of thought and feeling, something shifted. The pattern of this pulling into the labyrinth made itself so plain, so clear… as another question appeared.
“What is more important, pursuing what I want… or freedom?” With this, there was a huge sigh, and the feeling of letting go of something that felt oppressive and intractable. In one breath, it simply released its pull. It was so clear that this pursuit, which seemed so important, was not really needed, it really could just be let go.
What an amazing realization. The turmoil, the complicated pursuit of what we think will make us happy… it really can be let go.
And in the spaciousness of letting go, when I am not preoccupied with pursuing gain and loss, what is it that is here? What is this open space, this being-ness we call awareness? If I let go the name, if being-ness becomes an open question, what is the direct experience of being, of presence? Is there an observer who is aware? Does awareness have a source, or a beginning or an end?
Staying with this open question, not trying to answer it with words… letting it dissolve my ideas of self and other. Just the sky of awareness, opening and swallowing all the bits and pieces of what I think I am, all my theories, beliefs, and assumptions. Swallowing my pursuit of happiness.
Discovering that real happiness is right here in presence, in the simple joy of being. In coming back to what is here. Pausing, taking a breath… being, simply being.