by Alan McAllister, CCHt PhD-phys
Dreaming: I move into a living room. People are cleaning it in preparation for ceremony. They pull out the sofa, revealing an improbable collection under/behind it. My attention moves forward to engage dust bunnies and other trash, several bongs, and a collection of copper wire geometric shapes. The movement of my attention is a palpable bodily feeling. Shiny or dusty, I am engaged equally and in the same way; to categorize, order, and thus control. Surfacing from the dream the feeling of engagement comes with me and the knowing that I’ve been given an experience of something I’ve been thinking about lately and for many years. How to engage the infinity of the world with my limited self?
We were infants learning to order and understand what we experienced, to organize photons in the eye into pictures in our minds; to sort out our feelings and manage them; to create a sense of ourselves and the world, so we might navigate life safely. We are adults trying to manage and sort through all the information that comes to us, rushing like a flood. Our brains filter much of the physical perceptions before awareness, and when they don’t even sound, sight, touch, and smell can be overwhelming. There are no automatic filters for information. The common lament of the modern world is that there is too much to do, too much information, too many people, all calling for our attention.
Is it really too much, or it is the way our attention is propelled outward seeking to make sense of the world, to order and understand it, that makes it overwhelming?
We look outside as infants, because that’s where our sustenance comes from; where the emotions we live within come from; where the hands that bring us toys or change our diapers come from. We learn to perceive and navigate, and this also pulls our attention outwards. When I move outward and engage a part of me takes on the form of what I engage, an imprint is formed in the substance of my mind; a samskara is created, karma arises. This engagement is what I felt in the dream. Engagement from a sense of need leads to internal separations and a sense of incompleteness. It is a circular story. From infancy on most of us forget that in our deep spiritual selves we are always complete and whole. Distracted and fearful, our minds take on the task of managing our world.
Out of the perceived need to work with overwhelming information come two competing, and possibly complimentary, urges. One is an urge to make things simple, to reduce the scope or depth of information, much as our brains simplify sensory input. We find a simple model of things, and cling to it. The world is experienced in these terms, or rejected. The second impulse is expansive, engaging the world to understand and through understanding make life safe or control it. However, the world is infinite in detail and interconnection. So there is an addictive quality to this expansion. It can never be complete.
Looking at genealogy, it is simple for a few generations. With the internet it extends and expands. Ten generations back (200-300 years) you have 1000 ancestors. Another ten generations and you are up to a million ancesters. Kilobytes to megabytes in half a millennium. It rapidly becomes endless. Each aspect of the world is similar. Even the spices in your kitchen are like this, if you start looking into them in detail, there are always more, and varieties, and seasons, and mixes…
We are driven outward looking for the lost state of wholeness and completion, safety and ease. It feels safer if I have completed something, rather than having loose ends. Books, CDs, people, plants in your garden, tasks, jobs, money; whatever we engage leads to more. The more we learn the less we know, though the mind loves to collect it all. It may attempt to figure out how to limit things, but never really can, and may not want to. Eternal job security. In the movie 1900 a man plays a piano his whole life on a ship, crossing the Atlantic, over and over. The keys on his keyboard are finite and manageable. They allow him to engage the world deeply. But the world itself, off the boat, is too large, to complex, beyond his capacity to manage. So he would rather die than get off.
Managing and limiting our mental engagement with the world is a set up. We never get where we are trying to go. The yogis, saints, and hermits limit all external engagement in order to go inside. To find Source, to remember the original state of wholeness and completion that we all come from. Letting go of worldly engagement they cease to create new imprints and internal separations. Feeling into the mind’s impulses to keep engaging, they let them go too. Coming in touch with their Souls, feeling completeness, they release and clear the old separations and attachments. Reclaiming inner wholeness piece by piece.
So become connected inside and be aware of how we engage. When I know I am whole and complete and so engage differently. I can operate in the moment, engaging just what I need to, or want to, then let it go and move on. Engaging from wholeness we connect with the wholeness in what we engage, spiritual wholeness in the world around us. We engage and then withdraw, equally gracefully. This is what Don Juan is getting at with “controlled folly”. Not about shallow engagement, which is another control mechanism, but fearlessly having a deep quality of engagement, and the releasing it to come home to Self. There is no fear, no driven need, just a soft curiosity.
Recovering our pre-existing inner wholeness we engage in deep but defined and limited ways. Letting the world be itself, without having to collect or control it. We are free.