Wednesday, January 24, 2007

falling off the boat, safe in our undoing

Within the context of a discussion on meditation, I found the following poetic image in Jim Finley’s book “The Contemplative Heart”. It is unique. I have never read a description of contemplativeness quite like this. I find it non-abstract, something I can get my mind around, and right on.

"Imagine that you are on a large boat crossing a vast expanse of water. There are many people on the boat, all of whom are enjoying a party of some kind. In a moment of carelessness you fall off the back of the boat into the water. Everyone on the boat is having so much fun that no one sees that you have fallen overboard. Treading water, you yell and wave to no avail as the boat continues on its way, growing smaller and smaller, eventually disappearing into the distance. Realizing that you cannot tread water for very long, but that you can float for a long time, your strategy becomes that of floating until, hopefully, those on board will notice you are missing and, in doing so, will come back to rescue you. Now in order to float you have to relax, for if you tense up you sink. And so there you are, all alone in the vast expanse of water, floating, relaxing, floating, relaxing. How would you be relaxing out there? Knowing your life depended on it, you would be relaxing very seriously. You would be relaxing with all your heart. Each time fear arises, causing you to tense up, you renew the letting-go embodied in your life-saving relaxation. Tensing up, you relax, tensing up, you relax – a life saving dance in the midst of the sea!

"Then a most extraordinary thing happens – floating there all alone, looking up into a boundless sky, it dawns on you that you are being sustained in a vast Presence that sustains you whether you live or die. While at one level it would be truly tragic to drown, to go under, to face the scary end, at yet another level, too big to think about, there arises a bliss beyond feeling. There is granted a body-grounded realization that even in going under you would remain sustained. You would remain safe in the undoing. Floating there, beyond the dualism of life and death, in a timeless moment beyond time, anchored invincibly in a boundless sky, you realize that in drowning you would become what you already are. You would become one with the primitive sea of unmanifested Presence your presence in the present moment is manifesting.

"If, while floating in this wondrous awakening, you were suddenly to see the boat coming back to get you, you would no doubt experience a profound sense of relief and joy. In being pulled back on board, you might be overcome with emotion and weep that your life was saved. But deeper down within yourself you would know that you were being pulled back on board as one transformed in a great awakening. You would know that in some profound sense beyond the power of thought to grasp, beyond the ability of words to describe, you were saved out there in the midst of the sea, where, in an unto-death dance of choosing to relax, choosing to let go, you found a life beyond life and death.

"As seekers of the contemplative way we have indeed fallen off the boat into the sea. At first the falling was isolated to our moment of spontaneous contemplative awakening in whch we found ourselves momentarily sustained in a body-grounded awareness of the abyss-like nature of the concrete immediacy of the present moment. Each falling ends in being pulled back on board, which is to say, ends in our once again returning to our customary ways of experiencing the things to which we are accustomed. But little by little this pattern of falling and returning, falling and returning forms our character, making us someone whose daily living has become imbued with a quiet, inner desire to live in a more abiding awareness of the ever present depths. Our sitting still and straight in meditation is our free choice to leap into the sea. Or perhaps, more true to the experience, it is our free choice to ease ourselves over and over again into the fathomless sea of presence the present moment manifests. As we become seasoned in the self-transforming power of simply sitting, we become ever more habituated to a sustained state of body grounded serenity. We become ever more habitually at home in a pure and simple awareness of the divinity or the present moment manifesting itself in and as all that arises, all that passes away. "

- “The Contemplative Heart”, James Finley, pp 70-72

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