Thursday, February 19, 2015

Please Stay Tuned! - That Which We Already Know

Winter is a time of transition for me. Last year at about this time I came up with a book idea that quickly took the form of a fairly robust outline. In addition to envisioning its three parts, nine chapters, prologue, and epilogue, I also envisioned writing it here on Crossing Nebraska, blog post by blog post – in as close to sequential order and final form as I could get.

Of course, I'm speaking of That Which We Already Know, the introduction of which was posted on April 4, 2014. The beginning of Chapter 9, the 29th installment, was just posted yesterday, February 18, 2015. I’ve had a great time with this project so far, and I do hope you've enjoyed reading it. However, I now realize that I’m at a crossroads.

I don’t want to leave any interested readers hanging, so I’ll just tell you what’s yet to come. Chapter 9 will focus on meditation – an activity that allows us to manifest that which we already know in a fairly structured and intentional way. I also want to tie up loose ends and draw connections with earlier material along the way. The epilogue will then serve as a final wrap-up. In order to move forward, however, I have to go back and edit and have fresh within my mind everything that I’ve posted up until now. This part of the process will take a month or so.

Thus, I’m going to have to sign off for a time. When I return, the buds will be popping, a warm sun will be shining on our cheeks, and I hope to be able to speak of plans to get published copies of That Which We Already Know into the hands of anyone who would like to read the finished product. I’m excited! In the meantime, interested readers may check out what I’ve posted so far by looking for posts with the tag “That Which…” attached to them – all 29 of them, not counting this one!

Wishing you a safe, contented, and contemplative close to this winter season!

                                                            Thank you,

Image References

Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:

Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mind and Body Are Not Two - That Which We Already Know

Chapter 9

It likely goes without saying that I was a quiet child – one pulled as if by some magnetic force to places of solitude and solemnity that were not always easy to find. You see, my father was a young school teacher with a growing family at the time, and our house was of a modest size. That and the fact that entrance to my older sister’s bedroom required passage straight through mine meant that I had no quiet space to call my own. I had to find it. I sought it out.

For this reason, too, the Nursery was my refuge from the moment I was old enough to venture out beyond the garden gate. I could be alone there whenever I wanted to be alone. I could enjoy silence there whenever I needed it – weather permitting, of course. Perhaps that is another reason why Mark Patrick’s tiny room seemed so appealing to me – sparse as a monk’s quarters though it was. Sure, his half-brother, Joe, was around for at least some of the time, but things must be different with a brother, I likely reasoned.

Notwithstanding the tight home quarters growing up, I still managed to find some time and space in which to be alone. One such place was in my parents’ bedroom during the day. No, we weren’t allowed to play there, but enjoying silence wasn’t play as far as I was concerned. Thus, I must have felt that I was well within the rules whenever I stealthily slipped inside for the sole purpose of being alone.

My parents kept a clock radio on one of the shelves of their headboard. It was a 1950s model that they’d received as a wedding present, with a pink plastic case that had ridges molded into it around the clock face and over the speaker next to it. I got to know that clock well. I climbed atop the bed and lay in front of it with my elbows on the pillows and my face propped up in my hands. I liked to swipe my fingernail across the plastic ridges covering the speaker. It made a sound like a tiny plastic xylophone due to the varying lengths of the ridges over the circular speaker opening. Above all, though, I liked to listen to the drone of the clock motor as the second hand traced out minute after minute after minute.

The electric motor hummed steadily as the second hand fell past the five and the ten and down toward the thirty. Errrrrrrrrrr… As the motor lifted it from thirty to sixty, however, it had to work a little harder. Err, rerr, rerr, rerr… And so the minutes had a rhythm to them. The motor lifted up the hand and let it fall again. One minute. It lifted up the hand and let it fall again. Two minutes. Err, rerr, rerr, rerr…, errrrrrrrrrr… Three minutes. Err, rerr, rerr, rerr…, errrrrrrrrrr… Four minutes. The motor lifted up the hand and let it fall again. Five minutes.

I became fascinated with the workings of my body and the passage of time. My heartbeats came too quickly for me to measure, like the seconds slipping past. My breath, on the other hand, was much more easily quantified. It took thus and such time to go from inhalation to exhalation and back again, but the longer I lay there, the deeper I settled into stillness, and the more drawn out my breathing became. It was quite natural that I eventually took to seeing how long I could hold my breath.

Now, anyone who’s ever tried to see how long they could hold their breath quickly realizes how it’s done. You breathe deeply and quickly for a number of breaths, culminating with one big inhalation right before you begin watching the clock. Something begins to happen, however, as soon as you actually hold your breath. Your awareness recedes from the outside world and becomes much more focused on the workings of the body. The beating of your heart begins to slow. Your thoughts, too, begin to slow. You become aware of every gurgle in your tummy and ringing in your ears. You notice the changing colors and flashes of light that play across your field of closed-eyed “vision.”

Thus, like a stone sinking to the bottom of a lake, I went down…, down…, down…; there to settle on the bottom, immersed in glorious stillness. Err, rerr, rerr, rerr…, errrrrrrrrrr… The motor lifted up the second hand and let it fall again. It strained and then relaxed. My heart pounded in my ears. It did its double thump and then relaxed. It double-thumped and then relaxed. My mind became the motor lifting up the second hand and letting it fall again. My mind became my pounding heart – slow and solid... Boom…, boom…, boom… My mind became still…

After not too long, though, my mind became the urge – increasingly insistent – to take another breath. It became the sensation of wanting to take a breath... It became the sensation of needing to take a breath... It became the work to keep from taking a breath... And then it became that next breath – glorious…, expansive…, fresh…, life-giving…, rejuvenating.

Children are expert at such things as this. They wonder and they watch. They pay attention. No, it might not be what adults want them to pay attention to, but they do! And so it was that it made perfect sense to me when I first encountered the teaching of a Zen meditation master who said that the body and the mind are not two. It made perfect sense to me when he said that we do not become enlightened with the mind. We become enlightened with the body. It made perfect sense to me because I knew it already. I’d known it when I was a child, but then I forgot!

To be continued...

This post is a retelling of a childhood event.
It is meant to be illustrative of the non-duality of body and mind.
It is not meant to advocate any meditations that involve the holding of the breath.  

Image References

Antique Radio by Joe Haupt via
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:

Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Universality of That Which We Know - That Which We Already Know

The Universality of That Which We Know – End Chapter 8

Chapter 8 has focused on those spiritual attributes that children innately possess but which tend to fade away or become obscured as we grow older and continue to engage in the process of self-formation. Ironically, it’s often only after we’ve fully matured and begun to struggle with our “grownup” life that we begin to sense that something is missing. Our experiences of loss or our lack of fulfillment frequently prompt us to engage in some form of religious exploration in the hopes of finding what we don’t yet even realize we once enjoyed without any effort whatsoever. And so we struggle some more, and perhaps we grow even more jaded, disillusioned, or unfulfilled along the way. It can be hard to find what we’re looking for when we’re not even sure what it is!

My hope for this book, then, is that it encourage seekers to look close to home before assuming that the answer lies in or on the other side of some intricate practice or presently incomprehensible teaching. We need only to recollect that which we already know. Indeed, at their core, the various religions exist to guide us to something that we already know. Unfortunately, even those in positions of religious power do not necessarily realize this to be so – enamored as they may be with their intoxicating feeling of specialness.

Religion stems from the deepest and most universal longing that humans share. It is rooted in the very neurobiology with which we experience the world. Whatever ineffable religious visions, ecstatic states, transcendent experiences, or sensations of communion with God we might enjoy arise from this neurobiological structure that we all share. It is only after we try to put these ineffable experiences into words and position them within some presumed metaphysical framework that the various religions of the world become recognizable.

Most religious adherents, however, swim only on the very surface of their respective traditions where the waves may appear to be very different than those of any other religion. They never dive into the depths – where the waters become still, and the crashing of waves is far away, and the ineffable is actually experienced rather than merely spoken of. So, too, with many religious leaders. Like good ship captains they dutifully steer their passengers through calm and stormy seas alike, without being able to guide them to that place of universal stillness.

That which is universal is present in us from the earliest age. My explorations in this chapter of wonder, belonging, trust, acceptance, and humility are meant to facilitate our reengagement with these universal depths that we used to know so well. Perhaps what I’ve written here will serve to deepen and strengthen your experience of whatever religious tradition you might call home. On the other hand, it might also serve to bolster your belief that all religious experience is merely a mythic interpretation of biologically explainable phenomena. I am not in control of what you may do with that which you already know. I intend only to bring it into greater awareness.

Wonder, that wide-eyed, direct experience of reality that was so common in our childhood has never left us. It has merely been covered over with knowledge, explanation, and conceptualization. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with knowledge, explanation, and conceptualization as long as we don’t let it get in the way of our direct experience of reality. This is where wisdom comes in.

Belonging, that sense of safety, connection, and even oneness that we hopefully experienced in our families of origin and in our earliest experiences of the natural world still remains – if only as something that we long to re-experience in some way. We used to trust in our belonging so completely that we were fearless, and totally free to be whatever it was that our being was blossoming into in any given moment. Along the way, however, we got sidetracked with fleeting concerns that are meaningless in the ultimate sense. The recognition of the fleetingness of these concerns is wisdom, too.

The acceptance of that which is comes much more naturally to children. The realization that our various struggles with the ever-changing circumstances of our existence need not be so is a return to the wisdom that we once embodied. Before we came to believe in, crave, and celebrate our ability to control every aspect of our lives we embodied the humility to realize that we could not. This, too, was the innate wisdom with which we were born.

So, it is one thing to recognize these spiritual attributes as being present in, if not integral to our childhood being, it is another thing to recognize these spiritual attributes as having a place in our adult lives, and it is another thing altogether to work towards making these spiritual attributes an integral part of our present day existence. Shall we count on our recognition of the meaningfulness of these attributes to somehow elevate them to regular appearance in our day-to-day lives? Shall we hope that our insight into their importance will, in and of itself, precipitate their actualization? This will be the topic of the next and final chapter of this book. I hope that you will return in order to read the conclusion.


Image References

L’Extase by Jean Benner via:
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:

Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank