Guest Post – Self In A Pocket

The following article first appeared within The Logogryph a blog written by Tom Wharton in Edmonton, Canada. I must say the idea embodied in this post caught my attention, in a thoughtful kinda way. As does much of what Tom writes. He lectures on creative writing and is a published author, so I feel I have no place to be making even basic edits. Capital letters at the start of paragraphs for example. So it comes to you as is.

biking in the hot sun, legs pedaling, breath like swift waves rushing in and out, heart bumping around in its bone room, remembering a half-waking dream last night in which I saw one of my characters set aside some small part of herself, I can’t be very clear about what this “part” was or where it came from, it was more an idea than something concrete that I could “see” (but then again maybe that’s what all dream images are — more suggestions to the mind than actual experiences), she was putting part of herself into a secret pocket, a kind of little bag like kids put marbles in (back when kids actually collected marbles), and when I woke up I thought well, that was a rather clichéd symbol about the hidden part of oneself, the part we don’t let others see (as often happens when one’s thoughts are flooded by the aquatic emotions / impulses of the half-dreaming state, trite ideas seem profound and original and brimming with meaning, but quickly cool and go brittle in the cold light of waking consciousness).

but just now, on the bike, in the heat, crossing a busy intersection with the sun flashing off car metal and people streaming along the sidewalks and me with my own streaming, flashing thoughts zinging along in my head, the idea of someone setting aside or pocketing a part of the self merged with the sensations of biking, and for a moment there were just the sensations themselves, without inner commentary, without past or future, and the thing kept in the pocket was Self … itself. I can’t explain it very well at all, I’m afraid, because it wasn’t an idea exactly. It was a momentary image with no labels on it, and if I try to explain it or conceptualize it, I’m only going to kill it. But what the heck:

There is a physical body, and a consciousness, and a stream of moment-by-moment experience, and in a secret pocket there is a self, like a favourite marble or an ID card or a passport. Always carry it with you because you never know when you’ll need to prove that you are. Not who you are, but that you are.

And then the insight was gone. The intersection was crossed, the passport was checked and stamped, the thought dissolved into other thoughts, the stream flowed on….

Distracted Away From What?

Walking out early this grey morning with spring flowers, peeping through the cold earth. Hikers and dog walkers braving the brisk air. The birds active. Chirp, twitter, chirp and ???!!!X – What?!!! Looking up and there they were. Two Macaws, carrying on loudly, perched high on a chimney pot. Between squawks and flappings they upended into the pot. For what?

Anyway, I did know about the Macaws and had seen them low flying up the High Street one late afternoon recently. They are big, they are colourful and they are loud. (They and the man who flies them can be viewed on video.)

As I walk, the morning sound scape goes largely unnoticed. So it is with the visual scape, and the smell scape too for that matter. Only with something like the sound of the Macaws or the sight of first flowers will I notice, briefly. They escape from their background. The Macaws had their tasty inside the chimney pot, the flowers had the call of the sun to concentrate their attention. And so it is with me and the brown fluff from my socks. There it is, dark spots on the light coloured bedroom carpet. My attention is captured, briefly.

I can tolerate the spots on the carpet. However at some point I will get out the vacuum cleaner and have a good go through. Oh, and how that go through can last if I am not careful. There is always more to clean. More and more and more and then there is the recycling and the organizing of stuff. And before I know it I’m cleaning the registry on my computer at midnight. (No. I don’t do that!) This is harking back to Adrienne’s post on Distractions.

It is so easy to become carried away in ones’ day. One thing leads to another in a never ending stream. Responding to conditions or becoming carried away by them? And carried away from oneself. That (oneself) is not the self absorbed one. The me that worries unendingly about me and how to make me a better, happier, fitter-more-productive-me. And it isn’t anybody else or anything thing else either.

I have several emails waiting to be answered. This post could well answer all of them at once. Over focusing on ones foibles, faults and general life angst is, if you haven’t got the point yet, like becoming obsessed with dirt on the carpet. Buddhist practice is not about getting the carpet perfectly clean. Or about becoming in any, and all, of the endless ways one can imagine. Yes, there is cleaning to do and the loudness of the squawking is to wake one up, to get ones attention. Just that. And yes the carpet is just fine as it is – even with, so called, flaws. That’s why I say so called distractions.

Just what is it we think we are being distracted away from?

When The Bell Rings

So just what is it that moves us? How is that the bell is answered. Just what was it that got me from sitting, to standing, to walking? What got me to answer the bell? Or to do anything for that matter. And the simple answer is intention. When the bell rings my intention is to answer it. Bells are a big part of monastic practice. They signal that a new activity is about to start. So this activity needs to be wrapped up in order to move on to the next one. For all there is of course the internal bell calling to us to move on to the next thing. Which means putting down this thing. There is, hopefully, the intention to answer/respond to the call of conditions as they present. To the very best of ones ability.

Adrienne writes (in effect) about listening to the bell and what sometimes rings louder. That is, so called, distractions. Distractions in themselves are not a problem. Being awake to distractions, and remaining awake, indicates the intention to get out of the cozy bed of whatever and get on with answering the bell. So. Intention, coupled with direction (next thing), equals action.

….I have my well-practiced methods of avoidance and I see them for what they are. I am not sure that searching for the reasons for my reluctance or the source of my difficulty is particularly useful or relevant, however my awareness about what I do means that I want to change and do things differently.

From Distractions by Adrienne Hodges.

And my continuing intention is to continue to write here. Having this time to rest and reflect and not post so regularly has been good.


Posted by Adrienne Hodges
Following on from my last post the question I have had in my mind has been what stops me from doing what is good to do?

And lo and behold daily life brings me an answer. On Tuesday I facilitated a couple of workshops for parents. We talked about how, quite often, we can focus on housework and chores (in some to the point of being Obsessive/Compulsive)as a way of avoiding trying to resolve difficult relationship problems. One parent spoke about how she polishes the floor until it is spotless because she does not want to address the fact that her son is angry all of the time and won’t speak to her.

This level of honesty and willingness to look at the truth was both humbling and encouraging. I wondered what I do as avoidance techniques? Here are some of them: I watch too much TV, I agree to the requests/demands from my family far too readily and I decide too quickly that I am too busy, that I haven’t the time or that I really do need to search EBay for that next bargain fabric!

Sharing my practice with the readers of Jade Mountains is something that I want to give a regular commitment to but the doing of it has been a bit of a struggle. I have my well-practiced methods of avoidance and I see them for what they are. I am not sure that searching for the reasons for my reluctance or the source of my difficulty is particularly useful or relevant, however my awareness about what I do means that I want to change and do things differently.

And this is me……. getting on with it!

Inner Shifts – Outcomes Emerge

As is quite often the case with Andrew, and other who study with me, our thinking and insights run in tandam. This has happened with this most recent post from Andrew. We both recognise a certain shift has taken place.

I’m finding my retreat/reflection time has moved me on in a way I am not quite able to articulate at this moment. When, and if, something practical comes as an outcome, I’ll let you know what it is.

I have recently found myself reflecting quite a lot on aspects of research into the brain which seem to show that we frequently make decisions in a relatively primitive part of our brain some time before our conscious reasoning part of the brain comes up with our explicit reasoned and rational account of the decision. It seems that somehow the decision is made before we are aware of having decided it. Many aspects of our spiritual training seem to follow this model too. Specifically, things often seem to change or shift in us some time before we have any real understanding of what is happening.

From Things Look Different – Something Has Changed by Andrew Taylor-Browne