* In this exploration of the Eightfold Path, we are seeing how the use of the word ‘spacious’ instead of ‘right’ or ‘wise’ affects our understanding. Please see the previous post 'Spacious Eightfold Path', January 13, 2011 for an explanation of why this seemed a worthy exploration.
In conversation we might say “In my view…” We build our sense of identity upon our view of things, the way we see the world, the beliefs we align with or rail against, and the people we see as like-minded allies or enemies.
“From my perspective…” is another term we might use. Again, we are choosing a particular vantage point from which to observe and react to the world around us. It’s useful to notice what vantage point we have chosen, since it shapes so much of how we participate in the world. Maybe we were born here in this perspective, born to a sense of belonging to these inherited beliefs, obligated to live and live up to them in order to honor or validate our history. Or perhaps we found this perch on our own, and feel the pride of our individual stake in the rich vein we have claimed. How we come to our perspective plays a role in how attached we are to it. Our ‘story’ is our identity. We rely on our story. It comforts us even if it is a terrible tale. It is our tale and we hold it dear, as we share it with others by word or deed.
Sometimes our story seems incomplete and we are in a state of seeking something or someone who can tell us who we are. We search for some kind of confirmation that will give us a clear vantage point, a deserved perch, a deed to this life we are living. ‘Who am I?’ we may ask with the same urgency as a baby bird clambering blindly in a nest cheeping for food.
How does this attachment to our identity and this quest for a defining story, affect our ability to access Spacious View? When we are aligned so rigidly with a viewpoint, or seeking distinguishing marks that align and separate us, then how do we access or value Spacious View, where there are no sides, no mine, no yours, no theirs -- just an infinite field of interconnection and compassionate understanding?
Although it might seem as if we need to get rid of our attachment to our identity in order to access this Spacious View, actually the attempt to get rid of it, or anything, knocks us out of an ability to access spaciousness.
Spacious View is the noticing of perceptions we hold and allowing room to explore them with increasing compassion and clarity. In this case, it is the gift of presence that arises out of noticing the way we cling to our story. We can notice the fear that we are nothing without our beliefs, our thoughts, our personality, our behavioral quirks that distinguish us from others, and our ways of being that mark us as part of this tribe and not that one.
Through the practice of meditation we begin to see the patterns of our thoughts and emotions. In class we have meditated together, making ourselves available to this sense of spaciousness. And hopefully, each of you have been developing or continuing a practice of daily meditation that furthers this sense of spaciousness.
Arising out of the stillness and inner silence, our alignments, our attachments, our judgments, our beliefs – everything that we thought makes us who we are – become visible in the spacious field of awareness that is infinite and generous.
If you notice any sense of defeat when I say this, as you judge your own experience of meditation, know that Spacious View has room for your defeat and your judgment or any other thoughts or feelings that arise.
As we meditate we are giving ourselves the quiet solitude we crave as a natural part of our lives. This is not news. The scientific proof of the value of taking time in silence for ourselves is everywhere in the media, especially in health news, to the point that it is an accepted part of our culture. And yet habits die hard and remarkably few people give themselves the gift of these quiet moments on a regular basis.
By allowing for this quieting down to be a natural and regular part of our lives, insights arise. We see that we are not giving up ourselves and taking on a different perspective, but we can see where our views came from, how they became ingrained or calcified in our patterns of thinking. What we thought was something solid becomes softer and more airy. Through this inner exploration we may find in time that we do not have to defend our views, do not have to hold them so tight, and do not have to make someone else wrong or take sides in order to exist with joy in the world.
When we use the word ‘spacious’ instead of ‘right’ or ‘wise,’ it reminds us to look at the space between things instead of just focusing on the things themselves. On a universal level this is seeing the interconnectivity, the fluidity of being. On a personal level we notice how we are relating to the object in question. For example, we can look at the way we see ‘the world.’ We can listen to how we talk about the world and instead of just accepting everything we say as truth, we can see our thoughts, emotions, judgments and beliefs more clearly. We see that ‘the world’ is not some solid clearly definable thing but a ‘whirled’ collection of amorphous opinions that we may have accepted as truth without bothering to question them.
Spacious View is always supported by questions, by curiosity, by a compassionate exploration of the relationship between things, especially between us and the things that matter to us. So take for example, the way we see a person who is important to us in our lives. Instead of focusing our thoughts on the person as if they are solid, separate entity, we can focus on the space between us that is so filled with belief, thoughts, emotions, judgments and opinion. We can see the degree to which we react when they say something or do something that sets off particular patterns in our behavior. Instead of focusing on them and how they should be different, we focus on our thoughts about how they should be different. We notice the physical sensations associated with these thoughts, the emotions that arise with the thought. We see the inter-related nature of this little storm system that sets in, spawned by a behavior on the person’s part that perhaps irritates us.
Spacious View allows us to see that the world is not some stagnant place with a bunch of solid objects bouncing around banging into each other, but a rich web of interconnection. When we begin to notice the web, these interconnections become more alive, fresh and wholesome, rather than calcified and rigid.
No doubt at some time in your life you have felt held by someone else’s calcified view of you. You have felt the stranglehold of being seen as something solid and unchanging. Perhaps someone who has known you all your life or someone who only knows you in one role can’t make room in their view for all of who you are. So you know how chaffing and exhausting it can be to be viewed this way, how it brings up feelings of having to prove their view wrong and has the potential to set off a whole series of unskillful interactions. Noticing this, we shift gears from perceiving ourselves to be solid, separate, crashing and careening objects in space to seeing how we are more akin to microcosmic points on a macrocosmic web of infinite interconnectivity, able to see all the strings of thought, emotion and sensation that interplay along the pulsing vibrating threads of life. That is Spacious View.
As we discuss Spacious View we might notice that there is something familiar here, something that sounds perhaps a lot like what people say they experience when they experience the presence of God. They talk about having a sense of being deemed okay as they are, forgiven for their human imperfections. Accepting a higher power is a response to an awareness of there being a vantage point that is infinite and all-encompassing. How does God, for those who believe in God, seem to be able to hold all the mess without getting dirtied by it? God by nature is transcendent and intrinsically personal, infinite yet never distant.
Every earnest accounting of an experience of the presence of God suggests this spacious awareness, this spacious presence that arises when we quiet down and open our hearts to what is, whether we are in a place of worship, out in nature or on our meditation cushion.
‘Defending God’ is an oxymoron, because the minute we fall into ‘us against them’ and ‘our belief against their belief,’ we fall out of spaciousness, out of the intimate and infinite experience of God.
It is not surprising that people of all religions have found that meditation and Buddhist teachings enrich their experience of their own religion, regardless of what religion it is. Training in letting go of attachment to the story and simply being available for the spacious sense of ‘union with the divine’ is revitalizing for any spiritual life.
There is nothing we have to give up, nothing we have to turn against, and nothing we are destroying or denying when we simply sit and open to what is. We sit quietly with generous infinite nature and let it be what it is, let it go unnamed, because the naming and claiming creates a trap of attachment. We notice it all, even the desire to claim it. We relax into its vast compassionate embrace.
As a useful exercise during the week, take some time to focus on your relationship with either ‘the world’ as you perceive it or a particular person about whom you have a lot of emotional volatility or a situation in your life about which you have strong opinions and a sense of struggle. Notice, and perhaps write down, what happens when you shift from talking or thinking about them to noticing your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Question your assumptions and beliefs. Is this true? How do I know this is true? Give this exercise the time, space and compassion to allow all that arises to be acknowledged and honored. Notice any wanting to change your mind, or to prove your beliefs to be right, or to make yourself wrong, or to want to be ‘better.’ These too are just thoughts. Let them arise and let them go as part of your experience.
This is a life-long exercise, so have patience and compassion.
Hold the experience in Spacious View.