Posts Tagged ‘emptiness’

I’ve noticed in a lot of my writings about walking, I invent a secondary presence. Thus, the walk is carried out by a “we” rather than an ‘I’, even though most of my walks are solitary rambles. I do this in other writings too, so we have a doer and a witness to the doings. I tell myself it’s a device for avoiding repetition of the tiresome, egocentric ‘I’, in which ‘I’ play the hero of my own adventures. Instead, we include the reader, so creating the fiction of their presence. It places them in the story and makes the writing a shared experience, even though it wasn’t.

But, as if that’s not complicated enough, I suspect there’s more to it. And that ‘more’ boils down to the fact I know there are actually two me’s, that we are all a sort of Royal “we”. How is this? Well, the first person is the felt and remembered sense of who we are. It consists of memories and emotions, and we identify with it strongly. This is the Ego, the ‘I’ of our life story. And then there is a presence, which I do not call a person, as such. This ‘presence’ is one step removed, what some would call the watcher of our thoughts and feelings. Without the watcher, we would not be aware of being in the world at all. We would be like an eye trying to see itself, we would be unconscious of ourselves. I get that. It makes sense.

However, others, more firmly rooted in the material world, say that’s all nonsense. For it to be true, to become aware of this so-called watcher, there must be another awareness, they say, another step removed. And then another. And another. We invent an infinite regress, they say, which is the philosophical spike on which all balloons of flimsy, self inflated metaphysics end up impaled. But I don’t know.

The watcher is different. He does not judge, and in not judging is not bound by the ordinary rules. In my case, it’s a patient fellow who observes – yes, it’s definitely a fellow. If I go looking for him, he’s never there. But when I sit down to breathe out a little space in my head, he settles in to watch as the things in my head arise and subside.

There is a school of thought which says this watcher is the same who watches us all, that the watcher is akin to the universal ground of being, or something, looking at itself through our eyes. Again, I don’t know. It’s possible, of course, but it seems a grand thing for me to be so well-connected, and I hesitate to give myself such airs. Also, the fact of my watcher’s gender does rather suggest there may be a layer of presence between me, and the void, the void being, to my mind, gender-neutral. The void is the watcher’s natural territory, though, and, since the watcher is me, in part, it is also my own territory. This is something I both know for sure, yet have also forgotten to be true. I have forgotten it on purpose, in order to live in the material life, without complications.

I know I’m losing you, because I’m losing myself, now. But let’s stick with it a while longer, see what drops out.

There is a dimension of consciousness we are unaware of, most of the time. We have always overlooked it because a strictly materialistic society does not equip us to recognise it. What is it? It’s hard to say. Can religions tell us anything? Religions are like signposts pointing vaguely towards it. But, in themselves, they are not ‘it’ and can be somewhat distracting in the fanciness of their language. Myself, I prefer the austere signpost that says’ Zen’, of which I know little, only that Zen says it is a finger pointing at the moon. This means one should not mistake the finger for the moon. And by the moon, we mean ‘it’, this other dimension of consciousness, the one we are not aware of.

Religions use a lot of words, a lot of stories. Have you noticed? And it’s all too easy to mistake their words, their maps, for the territory, all too easy to fall down and worship the words, to make an Idol of their promises. What promises? Heaven. Paradise. The Lord God Almighty, if you like. In Buddhism, the term used for this stuff is Emptiness. This, to my mind, is more helpful, since it points to no thing, and how can one idolise no thing?

I admit to a certain bias in my thinking here, but persuading ourselves it’s okay to idolise some thing, we also give rise to ideas of space and time. And such ‘things’ are inappropriate concepts for a no thing, which by its own definition, or as near as we can manage with words, has no existence, as such, at least not in spatio-temporal terms. No space. No time. No thing.

I’m definitely losing you now, I know. I’m floundering too. But there’s still a thread here worth the tailing, and I’m sure it’s all much simpler than it sounds, that if we keep teasing away at the puzzle of it, we’ll eventually get it, and then the signposts will all make sense, and we’ll realise they’re all pointing in the same direction, which is at you. The spaceless-ness, the timelessness, the emptiness, it’s all in you, because you – or rather we – are ‘it’.

And this emptiness is not empty. It is not really a ‘no thing’. Rather it is a no word. Like the Daoists say – the way that can be named is not the true way. And so, in the same way, the emptiness that can be described – in words – is not true emptiness. And inversely, the emptiness that cannot be described, is not truly empty. What it is, then, we cannot say, except that the secret lies within it, in the unmanifest, in emptiness, and you find that inside of you.

That’s all well and good, you say. And even if it’s true, what the use, if you can’t put a name to it, and the ultimate destination of life, of living, is this empty place? Except it’s not. I already said it wasn’t really empty. That’s just a figure of no speech. And what the use is, we can, at times, feel it in our experience of the world. And the feel of it is spacious and, like the watcher of our thoughts, it passes no judgement on what arises. And then, to the other guy, the guy we’re inclined to believe we really are, the world feels, of a sudden, and quite simply, and literally, awesome, and we no longer mind the noise of it.

You still don’t get it? Well, neither do I really, and I’m sorry I can’t put it any better because I’m groping towards the end like everyone else. And it’s only words after all, but let’s take a walk, and see if we can find it anyway.

Apologies for rambling.

Thanks for listening.

Read Full Post »

tmp_2019020318023776334.jpgThe bothy was built of stone, all randomly coursed, with a chimney and a neatly pitched, though slightly sagging slate roof. The door and windows were in good order, the woodwork showing a recent lick of green paint. It stood a little inland, but still within sight and sound of the sea. At its back rose the darkening profile of the mountain, though the precise shape of it was as yet only to be guessed at, it being capped by a lazy smudge of grey clag that wasn’t for budging, not today anyway.

It was the thing they all came here to climb, a multitude of guide books singing its praises, but I was only interested in it as background. Maybe tomorrow I’d get a better view of it.

It had been a few hour’s walk from the road, where I’d left the car, and a lonely stretch of road at that, five miles of single track from the cluster of little houses down by the harbour, this being the only settlement on the island. Then it was a mile of choppy blue in a Calmac ferry to the mainland, and a region of the UK with a population density as near to zero as made no difference.

It had been a shepherd’s hut I think, a neat little place kept going by the estate, a lone splash of succour in an otherwise overwhelming wilderness, a place that, even then, centuries after the clearances, still spoke of an awful emptiness and a weeping. It’s a scene that remains in my mind fresh as ever, and I have to remind myself this was the summer of  ’87, that an entire generation has come and gone since then who have never seen or known such stillness. But time stands still whenever I think of it. I’ve only to close my eyes and I’m there.

It was clean and dry inside, just the one small room, some hooks for wet kit, a shovel for the latrine, a rough shelf of fragile paperbacks. The floor was swept, a little stack of wood and newspapers by the fireplace, a half used sack of coal, and there was a pair of simple bunks, one either side of the fireplace. As bothies went this was small but relatively luxurious.

I lit the fire and settled in. It was late afternoon, June, cold and blowing for rain – typical enough for the western highlands that time of year.

There were only about a hundred bothies in the whole of Britain, all of them in lonely places, and I’d set myself the task of photographing every one. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t like I was going to write a book, or pitch a feature to the National Geographic or anything. I’d tried all that, and was already waking up to the somewhat sobering conclusion I was irrelevant in what had become an increasingly hedonistic decade. This  wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because all of that was looking set to burst any day now, and many of us were braced for it, wondering what the hell was coming next.

I’d just turned twenty six, and if I’d learned anything of use by then it was this: establishing a purpose in life was everything to a man, whether that purpose seem big or small to him, or to others, it didn’t matter, and we all get to choose, but here’s the thing: the best choices always seem to run counter to the Zeitgeist, and it’s that problem, that paradox and how we deal with it that writes the story of our lives.

Me? I’d chosen this.

I always shot the land in monochrome because I had a notion you saw more in black and white. I used an old  OM10 with a Zuiko prime lens, still do in fact. But the camera was just an excuse really, like a magnifying glass you use to get a closer look at a thing. I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly, still don’t really, but I’ve a feeling I was closer to it then than I am now, sitting here in 2019, over thirty years later. Now, I’ve no idea where I am, feel lost in time, actually, and finding it harder every day to convince myself I exist at all.

Anyway, I’d gone out and I was squeezing off some shots of the bothy against a grey sea, just playing with compositions and line for the better weather I’d hoped would be on the morrow. And quite suddenly, was so often the way there, the clouds tore open a hole, loosing from the eternal gold beyond stray javelins of what I’d hoped was a revelatory light, touching down upon the water as if to illuminate the very thing I sought. It was all very dramatic,…

And that’s when I saw her.


Read Full Post »

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Whenever we observe ourselves asking this question, of our selves, we can take it as a sign our energy is low and our brains so far out of our heads we’ve lost our vital perspective on life and begun to expect something back from the world other than what we’ve already got.

When we write online it means we have found the conduit to traditional publishing closed, so we direct the stream of our frenetic output to wherever the words will stick. We keep a blog, we put stories up on Wattpad, and Smashwords and Feedbooks. And the pressure that would arise in our hearts, were we denied any platform for our work, as in the old pre-Internet days, diminishes. We feel temporarily sated. Thus we answer our own question: we write primarily for ourselves.

Or rather we should.

The temptation with online media however is that we can all too easily get hung up on the statistics the media providers provide us with. How many people have read me today? How many followers do I have? How “influential” is my blog? How many messages/comments/likes? How many downloads of Langholm Avenue, of Push Hands, of Between the Tides? And how much more attention might I attract if I wrote one more essay/poem/blog-entry/novel?

Of course all these questions can be reinterpreted as meaning: does anybody know or care I’m here at all? Such existential angst is lurking pretty much at the bottom of us all, and whether we write or not, it is always through some form of expression, verbal or visual we test our status in the world. We push at the world and observe its reaction. And learn from it.

Before the advent of social media, we were restricted in our potential audience to the small circle of people whom we actually met day to day. And to this circle we would brag, and flirt and preen, and tell our anecdotes in order to feel liked and accepted by the degree of warmth and humour and friendship we received back. Now of course, our potential audience is global. We can brag and preen and flirt with the whole world if we so choose. And if we do so choose, it will drain us to a dried up husk. It will make us feel only the more stupid and small, the exact opposite of the dream to which we aspire; the dream of wholeness.

I do not use my Facebook account in spite of Facebook’s periodic nagging for me to do so. But I do not understand how anyone would think the minutia of my life worth keeping up with and see in Facebook only a mask that would allow me to present a side of myself that is fictional, aimed solely at attracting admirers, as a movie star attracts fans. I might post pictures of myself in aviator sunglasses perhaps, while driving my sport’s car, or while climbing a mountain , or while diving into an azure sea from the deck of a yacht while a blonde haired long legged girl looks on adoringly. But I would not post my morning face, my toilet habits, a picture of the cupboard under the sink where I keep my junk, nor of the hairs that habitually block the plughole of my bath, for these are not attractive things and add nothing to the fiction of the attractive, likeable, followable me.

In attracting admirers, we become temporarily reassured of our existence and our possible importance in a life that can seem otherwise empty and meaningless. Thus my three hundred followers can be interpreted as making me a more important person than the man with only fifty followers, while the man with ten thousand followers makes me feel rather inadequate to the extent that I must comfort myself with reassurances that he is somehow cheating.

The brain, the thinking organ, is a fickle creature, lost in a moment, gone like a whippet into the forest, chasing shadows. We think this, we think that, but there is no longer sufficient part of us remaining, residing in the presence of our bodies, to actually feel the fact of our existence at all, and whatever the obscure fact of it is, not to mind it in the least. Indeed the only person we really need seek the approval of is our selves. And by our selves I mean the greater part of our selves, the part who is the watcher of our thoughts. Only there will we find our rest, our peace, and our permission to simply be.

If you follow this blog, then of course I write in the knowledge of signed up listeners and I appreciate your company. But the most important listener for the writer is that inner part of himself, without whose approval nothing he wrote would possess the necessary sincerity to make it worth anyone else’s reading.

Read Full Post »