We are surrounded by wonder.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches that each morning when we wake up we should think “How fortunate it is I have woke up. I’m alive; I have a precious human life. I’m not going to waste it; I’m going to use all my energies to develop myself, to extend my heart out to others, to seek to benefit others as much as I can.”
Is this how you wake up more often than not, at ease yet grateful for another chance to play in the streams of ever changing energies? Or do you immediately collapse all awareness into your own individual concerns and your hopes and fears for the new day?
As contemplatives we are training in learning to listen to the experiences within our awareness with increased mindfulness. We train to listen more carefully. Before screaming our agendas to the world it is better to first quietly listen, as if to ask of our body, speech, mind and all the phenomenon of earth, what would you say to me right now? Awaking from our dreaming and dreamless sleeping selves is a good time to recall how many layers consciousness includes. This recollection is easily available if we are able to take a fundamentally grateful attitude towards all the mysteries of being. It is not so easy to access if our fears rule us, for then we want to see our waking selves as the be all and end all of our whole existence. That fear based living is actually even worse for of the waking awarenesses, of which there are many, we give legitimacy only to that ego part that is wholly devoted to our own plans, needs and desires. If all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. In the same way if we are too anthropomorphic in our view, the whole universe is reduced to what we can feed us.
In those first moments of waking there is a power of sorts to set the tone for our day, to plant a small seed with an aspiration to be our better selves and make the most of the opportunity. This morning aspiration practice is teaching us to tune into the humming of our cellular dynamics, the molecular flows of air and the atomic flows of light that greet us as our sense gates come back online. It is a good practice for health of body and mind to rest a moment in gratitude and listen – is there a bird chirping? A partner breathing? Bustling family in another room? Even the hum of traffic can bring a certain reassurance that the cosmic play goes on. Try to rest at ease a moment and feel the interconnected world supporting your spark of awareness. All these things need to be just as they are for you to have this exact moment of consciousness just as it is.
This wider definition of speech as the whole expression of the dynamic nature of phenomenon is also usefully applied to the environment through which you will be moving throughout your day. The too anthropomorphic view only recognizes speech as an attribute of the human race and so finds the whole universe to be mute. It takes some work to learn to listen to the natural world in such a way that its noises are recognized as communications. The earth has grown silent for us. We no longer sense the songs of the forest, river and mountain nor do we hear the languages of birds and beasts as one that means anything to us at all. Perhaps nothing more poignantly illustrates our alienation from the roots of our culture in the indigenous cultures of our ancestors than this hollowed out silence of a deadened world.
We need to redefine language as communication and not just alphabet and writing. This positions the uniquely developed skills of human language firmly within the evolutionary developments of the earth’s biosphere where the bees communicate with dance, the ants with pheromones, the birds, whales and dolphins with songs and the monkeys with an astonishing range from tender to threatening. An appreciation for the actual ecology of the earth cannot help but include a profound awe before the invisible yet very real webs of communication all around us without which life as we know it could not exist.
What is communication? Isn’t it fundamentally about sharing? It is an expression of the energetic nature of all living things. All living things relate to their organic and inorganic environments to one degree or another and these relationships, are they not expressing a communication of one form or another? There is an irreducible social element involved in ecological relationships. No man is an island – nor is any other living thing. No movement is without meaning. Nor is there any action taken or reaction processed that is without an energetic signature expressing the unique ongoing existence of the being involved. This is the weaving of the world of communications we are training to become sensitive to. The heart filled with a love for the earth wants to share in its dancing.
The Dalai Lama’s advice also includes the phrase that is one of the cornerstones of this blog project; a precious human life. Our skillful use of speech is certainly one of the attributes that makes a human life uniquely precious among all the life forms on earth. With the ability to manipulate alphabets to produce words the range of communication, and with it our awareness, is made more spacious. With our communication artifacts we wield a truly magical power: the sentences and mathematical equations by which we communicate our ideas from one mind to another are not subject to decay over time. Today we can read the poets and philosophers of Ancient Greece and recognize a human mind like our own. This magical ability was well named time-binding by Alfred Korzybski whom we encountered earlier. Time-binding captures the essence of the ability of the written words and maths as well as the drawn, painted and sculpted artifacts of our other symbol systems to communicate across time and space.
The books we have inherited from our ancestors are particularly precious to me. I know of no other medium by which a similar level of detail can be shared from one mind to another. In my opinion it is one of the more worrisome signs of our degenerate times that our bookstores are closing and the pundits are seemingly unaware that electronic delivery of text is not the same. The medium is the message; who really reads War and Peace on their Kindle? This is an aside but worth a soapbox moment. The death of the literate class is threatening democracy and poisoning our resilience against Caesars. It is also indicative of a generation consumed with hubris. We are sure there is nothing of value in the past since we are on our way to our glorious future of endless progress taking us to life extension and space travel. Or, to account for the other half of our hubris, we are so uniquely wicked as to be living in the end times so what does it matter what history might have to teach us? I encourage all my readers to read. Read real books; science, literature, history, philosophy – it is your intellectual birthright, your inheritance. Keep the time-binding magic alive and do not let those who would profit from your ignorance win the battle for your mind. Learn to listen to generations other than your own. End of soap box.
This uniquely human form of communication that relies on words is worth considerable contemplation. Have you noticed how your most intimate sense of self is often expressed as the thoughts you think, especially in the more poetic forms? Isn’t it a bit mysterious that this most intimate sense of yourself as an individual depends on a set of words which are wholly a social phenomenon? This is a general experience of contemplatives through the ages: that the most “me” parts inside are found on analysis to include “you” too.
It is a fact that our words, by which we think, each and every one of them, were given to us by the culture in which we were raised. They are a collective invention. After all words are about communication and in communication it takes two to tango. Words carry information only to the degree that we agree on their meanings. They are 100% a gift from our social environment. Last week’s essay mentioned the fuzzy boundaries of the body and now we see another fuzzy boundary. We can ask just where exactly does your self begin and the society of others end when considering the parents, grandparents, teachers and friends by which we learned to speak?
Equally a fact is that the words themselves are arbitrary. They only function due to this social agreement. There is no inherent doggie-ness in the word d-o-g. It is completely empty of such inherent correspondence between the reference and the referent. This too is mysterious and not just a little magical. Who decided b-l-u-e would mean blue? No one. Yet it appears.
I have one last idea about speech to suggest might be worth some contemplative time. In seeking the calm-abiding the thoughts are quieted down, which means the stream of words is given a gentle but effective “ssshhhhh…” Funny how using a word to get beyond words can work this way. To get the trick to work effectively though requires a knack of recognizing the windy, energy filled sources of these conceptual streams. To find them it might help to consider this – your voice is the sound of your thoughts. Now there are many voices but they are all yours and recognizable as such. These voices are the internal representations of your ability to speak. They are yours in the same sense that the collective words that are making up ‘your’ thoughts are yours. The difference of course is that the voice is coming from the collective or social phenomenon we experience as our body. Its source is ultimately the DNA as it expressed itself in your particular Evo-Devo unfolding. It is said that if you listen real quietly you can hear the song on the voice or in the voice or of the voice itself. Those who have heard it say the song has no beginning and no end; that its expression of energy is not in time or of time. But these are just words, of course.