Seamlessness and the Self
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you’ve probably noticed my penchant for the word seamlessness with regards to ultimate reality. Seamlessness, to me, conveys a deeper reality than does interconnectedness. Whereas interconnectedness implies individual entities in relationships of mutuality, seamlessness conveys a reality beyond separation, beyond individuation, beyond compartmentalization.
When I first moved into the neighborhood where I presently live, none of the backyards in the immediate vicinity were fenced; they all just kind of blended together into one big tree-filled expanse. It was beautiful. Over the years, though, as old houses got torn down and new ones were built and as people with young families and dogs moved in, more and more fences went up and less and less of that expansiveness remained. The seamlessness that had once been so readily apparent is now almost completely parceled up into little areas of separateness. This is precisely what our ordinary consciousness does with the seamlessness of ultimate reality.
As our understanding of Buddhism deepens and we begin to glimpse the nature of emptiness, we become more and more aware of the artificiality of the boundaries between self and other, this and that. What we may overlook, however, is how much we treat our internal reality as we do our external reality. In other words, we parcel up the seamlessness of our internal reality just as we parcel up the seamlessness of ultimate reality. Now, this might sound just a little bit bizarre so let me clarify what I mean with some examples.
An example that will likely resonate with the Buddhists in the room relates to practice – the practice of Buddhism, that is. People who aren’t raised Buddhist don’t just become one overnight. It’s a gradual process. Buddhist practice might start out being “only” what we do when we settle our butts down onto a cushion, for instance; or maybe it’s something that we “only” do when we head on over to the local Zen center. As time goes on, perhaps, we start to tune in to the fact that practice encompasses what we’re doing as we drive down the highway, or work out in the yard, or come to grips with some major life stressor. Somewhere along the line, though – lo and behold – practice becomes something that we’re doing every minute of every day. (Okay, okay, how about more often than not, then?) In other words, as practice deepens it transitions from something that is very compartmentalized – something that we’re only doing some of the time – to something that is seamlessly integrated into, ahem, every breath that we take. Of course, this example need not be constrained to practitioners of Buddhism. Anyone aspiring to expand their faith experience from something that they engage in only on Saturday or Sunday, or whenever, to something that they are every day of the week can surely relate to seamlessness in this regard.
Okay, now how about an example right out of left field? Some years ago I was the lucky recipient of a surprise birthday party. Yes, I was lucky – lucky to have someone in my life who cared enough to want to throw one for me, and lucky enough to have people in my life who wanted to come. I have to tell you, though, it was a very disorienting experience! You see, there were people there from the company that I worked for, and from the bike racing team that I belonged to, and numerous others from various disjointed circles of old and new friends. In hindsight I realized that what was so disorienting about the experience was the fact that my relationship with each of those people was so much a function of the context in which we usually saw one another. It wasn’t so much that I was not being myself with any one of them – it was just that I wasn’t the totality of who I was with any one of them. Each person only knew one of the partitioned aspects of who I was and it was up to me to keep track of who I was with each of them – not an easy task at a crowded party without any of the usual contextual clues. Needless to say, it was exhausting having to clamor over the rubble and debris left behind after all of those fences that had been compartmentalizing the various areas of my life had been torn down!
I’m fairly confidant that everyone can relate to that experience to at least some degree. The fragmentation of the self seems to be a fairly common manifestation of the complexity and conflict inherent within our modern society. By “necessity” and, yes, by choice we partition our lives into separate little areas. When we’re here we can be ourselves and when we’re there we have to keep our guard up. We have a mask that we put on when we’re in this situation and a persona that we adopt when we’re in that one. This group of people knows that most embarrassing of truths about us and that group knows only what we’ve allowed them to know. Perhaps at work we’re the expert – the knowledgeable one who’s cool and calm and in charge; but when we’re engaged in our favorite pastime we allow our passions to burn unchecked as we give ourselves over to whatever activity we’ve decided to allow to affect us in that way.
But it’s not just a matter of keeping track of whatever compartment we’re in at any given point in time. Even when we’re fully aware of where we’re at we’re still checking our “instrumentation” in order to make sure that we stay within our prescribed parameters. We "meter" ourselves out in order to ensure that we don’t give more of ourselves than we’re prepared to give – whether that happens to be our time or our resources or our effort or our compassion. Like someone grudgingly reaching into his pocket at the behest of yet another panhandler we go through our lives – with one eye on whatever situation has presented itself and one eye on our meters. What keeps us from really giving freely of ourselves? Is it because we think that there won’t be enough left over for ourselves? Is it because we’ve passed judgment on the worthiness of the situation or the person? Is it because of a false belief that we have little of value to offer, or that we’ll get swept away by circumstances out of our control? Is it pride? Is it because of a belief that anything that we might be able to do is just a drop in the bucket compared to a need that is unimaginably great?
Spontaneity, Authenticity, and Congruence
Seamlessness, with respect to the discussion at hand, has woven into it various threads such as spontaneity and authenticity. Without having so many fences to watch out for and meters to keep track of we become free to behave totally in accord with the needs of the present moment and whatever circumstances are arising. We become free to act with spontaneity. Likewise, without having to keep track of what mask we’re supposed to be wearing or what persona we’re supposed to adopt in any given situation we become free to give it the totality of who or what we are – in all of our authenticity. Authenticity is unrehearsed, uncontrived, and unadorned.
Another thread that’s woven into this seamlessness of which I speak is congruence. The concept of congruence is probably associated more with the work of counseling psychologist, Carl Rogers, than with any other person.
(1961) says of congruence: Rogers
Though this concept of congruence is actually a complex one, I believe all of us recognize it in an intuitive and commonsense way in individuals with whom we deal. With one individual we recognize that he not only means exactly what he says, but that his deepest feelings also match what he is expressing. Thus whether he is angry or affectionate or ashamed or enthusiastic, we sense that he is the same at all levels – in what he is experiencing at an organismic level, in his awareness at the conscious level, and in his words and communications. (pp. 282, 283)
Hmmm…, that sounds a lot like the seamless integration of all aspects of being.
Spontaneity, authenticity, congruence – what keeps us from actualizing these traits with every breath that we take? What keeps us from truly experiencing this totally seamless way of being? I would venture to say that there is one emotion more than any other that stands in our way – fear. We fear that the voice of our inner truth will lead us astray. We fear that we will not be accepted as we are. We fear that giving of ourselves will diminish ourselves. We fear the randomness of good fortune and bad and so we pass judgment on those less fortunate in order to make ourselves feel entitled to that which we have. We fear our own impotence in the face of overwhelming forces that seem always on the verge of sweeping us away. We fear not being worthy of our position in life and so we pretend that it is all our doing. And we fear that we don’t matter – that nothing matters – that our very existence is without any meaning whatsoever. Yes, fear is what all of our fences and meters are all about. Ah, but what is fear, anyway, but our forgetting that we are a seamless manifestation of the seamlessness of ultimate reality?
Rogers, C. R. (1961) On becoming a person – A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company.
Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank
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