“The coming and going
of birth and death
is a painting.
is a painting.
The entire phenomenal universe
and the empty sky are nothing
but a painting.”
Lying on the lawn in my backyard garden, I would spend hours as a child utterly losing myself in the endlessness of blue, watching the white clouds drifting and changing into shapes both familiar and strange, and letting my consciousness expand out to merge with the totality of the Mystery.
From time to time I would be moved to ponder the nature of the appearance of the world of things, including my own appearance. Inevitably, however, I would always get to a point beyond which my mind could not go, and so I would sink back into the comfort and relative safety of mindless abandonment in the beauty and silence of the infinite display above and all around me.
Since I had no way to account for my own awareness of being-ness, I realized intuitively that it could come and go. After all, I was apparently here now, but could just as easily not be. In that sense, my life and consciousness seemed totally arbitrary, and hence there was no real security in any object of attention, whether it be a self, a person, a cloud, or a thought.
This recognition immediately disabused me of any notion of permanence, and though I had not yet witnessed the death of a loved one, I knew that nothing that I loved or cherished or even didn’t like would survive the play of time. It all could go away, just as it did when I drifted off to sleep, and like a vanishing ripple on a pond, it would be as if it all never happened – this ripple of my life, of this world, of consciousness itself.
At the young age of 8 I had a defining experience of total dissolution – all of my existential supports just dropped away in a sudden moment, flinging me into the vast unknown, and leaving me bewildered and mute. It was this experience – the culmination and exclamation point to my backyard lawn inquiry — that profoundly changed my relationship to the world, as well as my sense of self. I could never look at things the same way again, from the viewpoint of a “person”.
Although nominally raised as a Catholic, I did not turn to the religious dogmas in order to make some peace with my experience. All the pious platitudes spouted by the nuns and priests seemed shallow and irrelevant, and certainly unable to touch the depths of what I was feeling and recognizing.
Somehow, I knew that any answers would have to come from within myself, and yet I also realized that my own mind had no way to account for that which preceded it – for whatever it was that pertained prior to the arrival of my own consciousness. Calling it “God” was utterly beside the point, since it could not be grasped by any modification of attention or perception.
Furthermore, who or what was “myself”? Whatever self-image that tried to coalesce as an identity was sooner or later replaced by another, and so there was nothing that I could really grasp that was “me” or “mine”. Settling on or fixating on any particular self-sense was strictly related to immediate circumstance, but had no staying power. Only awareness itself persisted, but what is the source of awareness?
Being de facto inconceivable, any effort to comprehend it all by using the mind was clearly futile, and so this left me with a momentary sense of meaninglessness. Even that sense, however, was soon recognized to be a temporary and non-binding superimposition on the Mystery, and so I was left with no foothold to gain some philosophical traction or security. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to dwell.
Moreover, the concerns of my peers held little interest, consisting mainly of exploiting the possibilities of gross energies for the purposes of self-confirmation, petty gain, and mere entertainment. Observing the lives of my parents and other significant adults, I saw little difference, except in scale. Unwitting players being spun around on a great wheel beyond their knowledge or consent, they seemed not unlike a herd of sheep being led from birth through an often stressful life and then on to a waiting death, without ever seriously comprehending their purpose or true nature.
Paradoxically, a spontaneous feeling of real affection for everyone and everything was discovered pulsing behind the intellect’s impossible search for meaning. This sense of affection had no need for some mental justification and required no rationale. It simply presented itself in my feeling being as a natural characteristic to being alive – this sincerely loving regard, without clinging or attachment, to the appearance of anything and everything. Whatever is, whatever I happen to encounter, is loveable and even beautiful in and of itself, especially considering its poignant brevity and dream-like quality.
However, the pragmatic evidence of experience in the world of relationships also taught me over time that such emotional vulnerability which love and affection elicit could prove dangerous. Humans are complex critters, and are imbued with certain conflicting traits, such as ignorance, violence, and self-interest. These afflictive traits make navigating through their midst somewhat perilous, and so I was forced to learn to discriminate in the objective world, at least until I could find the circumstances in which my accumulated armor could be discarded and I could stand naked and free to be myself, whatever that might be revealed to be in the company of Love.
For decades, I diligently studied the various wisdom traditions, strategies, and doctrines that have been promulgated by the spiritual heroes of humanity, and although I found much that seemed agreeable, in the end, I came to see them all as paintings – subjective fantasies of interpretation that merely served as artful descriptions of that which is ultimately indescribable.
Thus, I arrived at the summary realization that the only recourse, finally, is silence – silence, and unconditionally loving beyond all reason, limitation, or consensus constraint. In such silence, all thought, feeling, perception, inclination, attachment, and position are surrendered, released. In such unconditional love, all are unified in the recognition of their inherent indivisibility, and appreciated as nothing less than manifestations of a divinity beyond words or stories.
May all beings enjoy their own natural freedom and happiness!