The following article was adapted from a talk by Toni Packer on Day 4 of the September 1994 retreat.
In a group meeting someone said: “Hearing you talk, it sounds as though there should be no wanting. That I should be free from wanting. And yet, I wanted to come here and here I am. I want to live and enjoy life. I don’t feel I can let go of wanting.”
Let’s clarify right from the outset that we don’t talk in terms of “letting go of wanting,” or “being free from wanting.” There is no talk about overcoming anything. Rather, we speak in terms of seeing, being aware of what goes on, in myself, alone and in relationship with others.
It’s an interesting thing to observe and to realize that we already listen with certain categories of thinking which are well-established in the brain from past history. How does it happen? Can we watch? Here is a talk on wanting. There may be a certain inflection and intensity in my voice as the nature and consequences of wanting are looked at and put into words — the pain that ensues from not getting what one wants, or from losing what one once had. The conclusion is then drawn in the listener, without anyone actually having said it — it happens automatically — that Toni has said wanting is bad — one shouldn’t want. Be free from wanting!
So, in listening to a talk here with each other, can one also be aware of the quick conclusions drawn by the mind? That seems difficult, doesn’t it? How rapidly thought slides into conclusions: “it shouldn’t be like this, it should be the opposite way.”
Is there a resistance to listen and to look at what goes on in ourselves, a resistance to listen without the safety of a point of view? Difficulty in looking without judging something right or wrong? It is so strange, so alien to this conditioned mechanism of listening, so radically different from how we’ve been brought up always thinking in opposites: good and bad, right and wrong. If you’re not good, you must be bad. If you’re not diligent, you must be lazy. If I’m not intelligent, I must be stupid. If people don’t like me they must hate me.
So — is it possible to hold still this instant, hold it, and just look at what is happening right now? No conclusions?
Someone is talking right now, but there is also looking — I’m not just talking from rote memory, but am looking at the same time. So in talking/listening, can we all look together and watch, hold still, keep looking, keep wondering and listening? Without falling into this trap of opposition, either opposing what is said or thinking that the opposite of what is pointed out must be the good and right thing to do, to be.
Can we look at wanting? Having spent a lot of hours quietly — sitting or walking, lying down, working, eating — it becomes quite obvious, doesn’t it, that wanting is going on most of the time. Manifesting in restlessness. Wanting something different from what is going on, and imagining, scanning, searching for something better, for something different. Has that been observed?
Right now there is a buzzing sound, someone is sawing somewhere. Can we just listen? Without any resistance? Without opposition? Or is there wanting it to be quiet? At this moment it is quiet!
It is true that wanting can have results! You wanted to come here. We wanted to go to the moon and we made it. Someone wanted to be president of the United States badly enough, and there he is. Wanting can have concrete results.
We are looking directly at this process of wanting in ourselves, without falling into mere intellectualization. One can very easily follow something intellectually and not look directly at what’s happening in oneself. So right now can we evoke the memory of something that we have wanted, recently… today… last minute… this moment? Are we doing it?
And what we want right now, this moment, isn’t that a concept, an idea, a picture? Wanting to be free — is that something “real”, or an idea, a picture? Imagining ourselves walking joyfully through the “world,” freely through “life.” We have an idea about it and can verbalize and picture it. Wanting something delicious to eat, wanting to be attracted to someone or look attractive to someone. Wanting a different mate, a better place to live, to meditate, a better job. Right now all of this is imagination and idea, isn’t it? Can we agree on that? Can we look and be silent with what’s there?
Is wanting led on by an idea, by a fantasy of what could be there for me, where I could be better off, happier, more peaceful, more purposeful, more creative, more loved, more needed? On and on, imagining possibilities?
What comes up in fantasy spurs energies throughout the body to be somewhere else. Thinking of what could be, what I could be doing, what I could have. And thinking about where I am right now in comparison. Either the energy to go get a new thing, the new companion, the new job, or confusion: “should I go there or should I stay here?” All generated by the dynamics of wanting and not wanting, which are two sides of the same coin. Our constant, perennial restlessness. Getting away from what? To what?
Being here, simply being here can also be an idea. People tell me: “I suddenly realize that `being in the here and now,’ has just been a concept.” Is it? Right now, this moment? The sound of cicadas, the fresh air — are these concepts? Is this humming-buzzing-chirping a concept? Maybe it is, but it’s also more than that, isn’t it? Let’s listen quietly…
While listening I was holding the breath . And now a deep breath to make up. The body is so intelligent. The heart is beating quietly right now. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Faintly. Faint sounds of whatever. Wheels on the pavement. There’s some imaging there, but that’s also present and does not disturb the listening. Trying to picture a cicada. I don’t even quite know what a cicada looks like. Like a grasshopper? Pictures in the mind. But the chirping is clearly audible. And it’s right here, isn’t it? Doesn’t it permeate this whole room and one’s entire being? It is one’s whole being! Not if the thought persists, “I’m sitting inside and the cicadas are outside. I hope they are outside, I don’t want them inside hopping across my mat.”
How quiet can the listening be? Quieting down more and more and more and more, there is the transparency of concepts and words that arise, of like and dislike.
Does the thought arise, “I don’t have quietness but I want it”? That thought brings discontent, restlessness and the sense of separateness: “What must I to do to get it?” Can thoughts like that be listened to, quietly?
Listening to the hum of wanting. To images that may be there of what I want. They need not trigger the energies to get away from where I am. Let the energy remain here. In listening. In sitting and sensing. In openness. Just being. Not knowing what is next. Not knowing where I will be tomorrow. Or this evening. Is that possible? For a moment to sit without knowing what will be? The turbulent thoughts for a moment not agitating the body to go and get, which means more imagination of how it will be when I get there. In quietly listening now… [Toni imitates the sound of the chain saw]… what is it all? What’s sitting here? This moment…
The movement of sounds, the movement of physical sensations, and yet all of it happening in a vast silent space of no motion at all. Listening right now to all the movement inwardly, outwardly, has no motion of its own! Listening is simple, here, quiet. Unmoved. Like a mirror reflecting what’s there. No — not a mirror. It’s not a mirror right now. Everything is simply here. Moving without motion. No movement away from listening, just looking, attending, being, no knowing what the next moment will bring.
Does wanting arise? Watch it. Wanting to have it, wanting to be this, wanting to be undivided, wanting to be whole and complete. That’s all idea, isn’t it? Or is it real?
When it’s real there is no wanting, because everything is already here. Not to be gotten to, no
t to be had by anyone. It’s our true being.
Watch the wanting. Quietly, without movement, watching the movement of wanting.
What I could be… what could be for me… what I don’t have… what others may have… Can one sense the movement of thought? Because that’s what it is, movement of thought going along with movement of body. They go hand in hand. One person this morning said, “It’s so clear, thought is a physical sensation.” It appears this way, transparently, as physical movement, physical sensation. Thinking and sensing and feeling all go together. Can we pay attention to the body manifesting the thinking, with its agitation, an agitated body, a tense body, headaches? Can they be sensed? Feel it without thinking, “I shouldn’t have it, I shouldn’t feel tense, I should be free of the headache.” Can one sense the movements of those thoughts, how physical they are? Tensing against tension. Resisting pain. Such a subtle movement of thought-body. But it all becomes transparent in this stillness of awareness.
Wanting is not just mental, psychological, conceptual. It’s very physical. And can that be allowed to be felt, rather than wanting to turn it into its opposite of not wanting?
What happens when wanting is quietly, dispassionately observed? Dispassionately meaning not meddling with it, not interfering, not resisting it, just watching. Where is it?
Can the body relax in awareness of itself? It sounds paradoxical, to relax in awareness of the tensions. No need to interfere, no need to do something about it.
This is the essence of this work: awareness without doing. This needs awareness of our compulsion to do, which is physical, mental, psychological, observable. Compulsion to do something. “What should I do? Go for a walk or sit? Or should I lie down?” And thinking goes on and on and on. Why not at this moment, wherever one may be, sitting down, lying down or walking, watch it: the confusion. Confusion of thinking. “Should it be this or should it be that?” It’s all thinking, but the body goes with it. The body is thinking. Every cell is also thinking. “Should it be this? Should it be that?” Listen to the cacophony of it. Not excluding the saw and the cicadas. And the smell of fresh, wet air.
People bring this up a lot: In a place like Springwater, without much of any structure, it’s so difficult to decide what to do. Can one listen to the whole orchestration of indecision? The sound of it [Toni hums]… and the body humming along, tensing along, confusing along. And do nothing about it. There’s nothing to be done! Listening is not doing. It’s natural, it’s open, it’s without effort. It’s no effort to hear that saw, is it? Someone laughing, heart beating, cicadas chirping… is it an effort? Is it an effort to listen to the inner confusion? Listening to it lovingly, gently, embracingly. Listening without doing violence.
Whatever state we’re in right this moment, what is it?
Wondering. What is going on right now?
It’s not what we think! It’s simply what is. As long as we think it’s this or that, good or bad, we aren’t listening. We already have formed an opinion about it, and we know, “this isn’t worth it, I don’t want it, something else must be better. I want that — not this. Not pain. Not confusion. But this is what’s here right now. I’m not suggesting you dredge it up. It’s there when it’s there.
How quietly can there be listening to the confusion of wanting and not wanting? All the conflicting wants.
We talked about it in one meeting, how often it happens that you go to a doctor, because you have a symptom, it’s painful, it’s really bothering you. You begin to tell the doctor about it, and he starts asking questions. You look freshly, then and there, and it’s not there! Where is it? Darn it. If only I had come yesterday! You leave the office and there it is again! I wonder whether it has to do with a moment of shared, intense looking. I’m not saying it’s so with all symptoms. Of course it isn’t. And I’m not saying they’re only in one’s mind. Just that if one really looks completely at whatever is there and is with it unconditionally — what happens?
Someone told me this morning, “… there are many decisions I ought to make in my life, but it’s very clear that as long as thoughts are buzzing about what I should do, how it will be this way or that way — as long as thoughts are buzzing about, I better wait. Because no true decision comes out of buzzing thoughts. There has to be a settling down in quietness. Empty of buzzing.”
The buzzing is: “Where will I be happier? Where will it be better for me? What will be the ideal situation?” Buzzing around within this self-centered network. We’re not saying it’s bad. Or good. Let’s just watch it. It’s there for all of us, this network of self. We’re not saying get rid of it. Just watch it. That’s where confusion is constantly generated, through buzzing thoughts about possibilities, alternatives. And this person says, “it’s very clear, knowing what to do cannot come out of this buzz.” If it does come out of that buzz, confusion continues.
Does one say, “If I am in a buzz, then what do I do?” Nothing. Nothing. We’re talking here right now, we’re not talking a week from now or last month. Just this moment. That’s enough. This moment of buzzing. Being with it. The words may sound trite, mechanical. Don’t let it be that. It’s fresh. I’m not talking mechanically. Being with it means listening. Wondering quietly, “What is it?” Not knowing…
Open. Open to the confusion, the buzz, the hum, the agitation, the queasy feeling, the headache, the tension. Cicadas chirping.
Being like a mother holding her crying child without feeling guilty about it. Maybe one of the hardest things. One has tried everything. The child is still crying. Can we keep holding it tenderly?
Someone made the comment, “It often sounds as though nature were pristine, pure, good, healing, while everything having to do with human beings is programmed, compulsive, unintelligent.” The person continued, “I refuse to accept that. Human beings are not all programmed. Not all automatic. There is freedom, isn’t there? And intelligence. And not this separation between us and nature.”
I wondered about this, why do we feel so good walking through the meadows? The sparkling grass, the flowers, raindrops hanging from the leaves and branches. Clouds and animals. Why does it feel so healing? So in touch. Is it because a leaf does not think? And therefore does not vibrate with confusion? It’s either a little brown bud, the first green glossy opening of tiny leaves, and now bright yellow, orange and red. There are no regrets here, no wanting. No fearing. Does the leaf want to come out? Is it afraid to turn red? I don’t know, I’ve never been a leaf. Nor a tree. It doesn’t affect one this way. It’s all here the way it is: cracked branches, upright ones, dried, crumpled leaves and nibbled ones. A lot of nibbling has gone on for these leaves. There they are, full of holes, like the finest of lace. Somebody put some out on the dining room table. It was neat to see: nibbled, holy leaves. Almost transparent. No sob story emanating from them.
I’m not denying that there is freedom. Of course there is!
But there is a lot of buzz and fuzz in this thinking organism. Which is no one’s fault. It has evolved this way, and now we’re stuck with it, or we feel we are. Caught up in our thinking, in the emotions triggered by thought and memory, and taking for real what is imagination about ourselves and each other. Imagining the dream to be true! The pain that goes with it, the suffering, or the momentary ecstasy.
Can that buzz of thinking, of imagining, of wanting and fearing, and the organism humming along with it, can it clear up in quiet listening and looking? Be seen for what it is and seen through? Not changed, but seen through. In openness, stillness, emptiness.
Not the words.
Chirping of cicadas and breathing and people moving, leaves rustling and gentle rain dropping… is that thought? Wanting? Or is it just happening, plain and simple, with no on
e doing it?
No one doing it. No one.
That is all.