Room at the Talmadge, photo by Bianca Dorso
Sir Edwin Arnold (June 10, 1832 – March 24, 1904) was a journalist and poet who wrote “The Light of Asia,” an epic poem about the life of Buddha and “The Song Celestial,” a poetic rendering into English of the Bhagavad Gita.
I think I’ve told you I’ve been having some body energy work done. It’s been terribly interesting: I lie there and sense all sorts of things in and outside of my body. I become aware of a narrative that begins playing out with flashes of landscapes and people I’ve known and sensations and emotions I’ve experienced intruding upon or overlaying the interior journey. The hands-on work by the practitioner or cranial-sacral therapist – call him the Teacher – is quite minimal, as if he is only observing from a great distance. There’s certainly no massaging or Rolfing or kneading or cracking of joints or rearranging of muscle tissue involved, and I keep my clothes on. Yet afterward I feel I’ve really ‘gone somewhere;’ I am refreshed and rejuvenated and the world seems brighter.
Except for this last session. I felt nothing beyond a little tingling here and there. No visuals, no story unfolding, no glimpses of familiar or unfamiliar faces and places, no sense of the ceiling opening up and a celestial presence peeking in on me, nothing. And I said so. My Teacher responded by letting me know that what he had witnesed had been my most profound session to date. I had dropped into still point after still point; my breathing had been in rhythm with the tides, I had gone more deeply than ever before. Or something to that effect, I was too surprised to pay close attention to what he was saying. I replied that I hadn’t noticed anything of that sort, and frankly I was a bit disappointed.
“You are intrigued by awareness,” he said.
I asked what that was supposed to mean.
“It can be another way to dissociate from the body,” he replied. Especially for people, he continued, who are looking for some kind of high. People, for example, who have exhausted all the fun out of drugs and alcohol, and so turn to spiritual practices in order to escape their feelings and recreate that ‘out of body’ experience they once achieved through self-induced or self-prescribed methods. I admitted as how perhaps I had heard of such people, maybe I even knew one or two who’d already consumed their lifetime supply of controlled substances. Was it so unreasonable to think that you might clean out the liquor cabinet and then go in search of an equally effective but less life-threatening and non-habit-forming alternative. Was that so bad? I asked.
Not bad, my Teacher replied, as though there might be a better word for it.
“But it can be an obstacle on the way to becoming present.”
“Being intrigued by awareness is an obstacle to awareness?”
“I see,” I said, without seeing at all. Or maybe I could see enough to be interested but confused. Here I was just trying to Be Here Now, be in my body, be present, be conscious, be aware. But okay, I confess maybe I was also a little bit intrigued by the possibility of some kind of pleasant side-effect for my efforts. I wasn’t out to cop a buzz, or not exactly, but would it be so terrible if it happened?
And yet I think I knew what he meant. There was this contradiction: I said I wanted to be in my body, but part of me was looking to get out of it as well. Part of me was saying; fine, you can’t get loaded the old-fashioned way but hey, maybe there’s another way to zone out. And I tell that part of me, oh no oh no, I don’t want to zone out, I just want to be aware. At which that other part of me, the lower part, is like, oh please. Come on, it says, this dreary present is overrated, it’s hell, let’s get high, have a drink, you deserve it. And I’m like, but maybe we’re missing something. Maybe Awareness is fantastic, marvelous, a circus tent just down the road, glowing in the dark, full of promises.
And yet I wonder. What would it really look like? What would awareness in the light of day be like, without the thrill of a rush or a high? What would I see? What would I feel? Maybe it would it be nothing out of the ordinary at all. Blessedly simple, a relief. Like being able to breathe again. Like walking into a quiet empty room. Clean, well-lighted, and empty of distraction. Just that.