synthetic zero

April 3rd, 2011

In a post on the IDP blog, Nancy Thompson quotes John Welwood’s Towards a Psychology of Awakening:

If the absolute side of our nature – undifferentiated being – is like clear light, then the relative side – differentiated being – is like a rainbow spectrum of colors contained within that light. While realizing undifferentiated being is the path of liberation, embodying qualities of differentiated being is the path of individuation in its deepest sense: the unfolding of our intrinsic human resources , which exist as seed potentials within us, but which are often blocked by psychological concepts.

….How fully the suchness of you shines through – in your face, your speech, your actions, your particular quality of presence – is partly grace but also partly a result of how much you have worked on polishing your vessel so that it becomes transparent.

There’s another twist to this story, however. One way of thinking of things is this:

ABSOLUTE / (relative)

I.e., sort of two “levels”, with the absolute the big container of everything, which differentiates itself into the relative, where all the “stuff” is and where “things happen”. This picture has its value, but it’s also very misleading, because it makes it seem as though these are two different levels of reality which are somewhat independent of each other, or where you have to kind of reach out from the relative world to pull in something from the absolute. The absolute reality starts to seem sort of far off, a bit detached from ordinary concerns. But there’s another picture which I think is a bit more accurate, or includes more features of what is actually the case, which is captured in the Buddhist Heart Sutra:

form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form

The way I imagine it is something like this: ordinary things are like an iceberg, where you see the top of the iceberg but it’s of a piece with this larger and larger ice but in fact the iceberg itself ends up being connected with the entire universe if you really fully appreciate its full substance. This is not just a theoretical idea but something that is concretely present at all times. It’s something we can actually rely on. The way “spring cleaning” is usually presented is: in order to work with relative “things” (the self, our concerns, things, other people, etc.) we have to use other relative “things” (psychological ideas, moving stuff around, arranging our lives). And there’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. But there are alternatives: that is, to participate more fully in this vastness of even ordinary “things”, to follow those out and allow them to become more what they actually are. From a psychological perspective this could just be something along the lines of appreciating the unconscious, all of that which we’re not ordinarily aware. But the point is, that which we’re not aware of can be directly relied upon (like an athlete going into the “zone”, not attempting to control every element of what they’re doing consciously, but relying on processes and forces far outside their conscious control, which tends to improve, rather than degrade, performance.) Problems which seem very intractable in ordinary space become much less so when you have a larger dimensionality to work with (which is where we all really live: we don’t live in just the apparent conscious reality, we live in the whole enchilada.) That allows us to live in both the relative and absolute worlds at the same time, to appreciate them as the same world. There’s a spaciousness present in each ordinary moment which is always available, but we don’t ordinarily appreciate. We aren’t limited to the confines of Flatland; we exist in a much larger dimensionality, even if you consider the “much larger” to just be that which is beyond conscious awareness. It’s a different sort of approach to spring cleaning.

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