S P A C E
by Benjamin Dix
arising… lingering… dissolving…
between breaths, thoughts, feelings, heartbeats,
between the sounds and between the waves…
between the notes of a melody does the music make,
nightingale’s nocturne and blackbird’s aubade.
…between dawn and dusk.
between rising and falling…
between birth and death…birth and death…and birth…and death…
between earth and air
between each moment…waxing and waning…
between effort and ease
between thought and action…chaos and stillness
before the storm and after the smile, the frown…
Without doubt, there are far more poetic verses and countless other profound teachings that touch upon the nature of impermanence and the observation of space between the arising, lingering and dissolving of events within our experience, both on and off the cushion. Though what is intended to be expressed here is the value of inquiry, the importance of daring to look deeper within our own direct experience and to put things to the test, to take what we uncover and cultivate in formal practice and bring it to our everyday lives, to narrow the schism between on the cushion and off the cushion!
The Buddha stated that “just as you test gold by burning, cutting and polishing it, so too well examine my speech. Do not accept it merely out of respect.”
Now whether our practice is based on secular modalities or that of spiritual traditions, I personally don’t find the concept (or practice) of examination to be held with any exclusivity among a particular spiritual or religious tradition, moreover, it is a concept that is far more strongly associated with the sciences than anything else.
Just as a goldsmith is trained in methods to test gold or an astronomer to examine the far reaches of the night sky, so too can one examine the nature of their own experience and investigate the nature of mind…
What is it that allows phenomena to arise? What occurs between one arising and the next, between arising, lingering and dissolving? What is it that we come in contact with when we attend to an arising? Where does all of this occur…unfold…and dissolve?
By directing our attention to the event of an arising within our practice, we may come to some understanding that for an arising to unfold there, first of all, needs to be space for which it can emerge. Alongside this space, there too must be causes and conditions to promote such an arising (dependent origination) and further causes and conditions to support its duration and dissolving. As for where this space exists, where the causes and conditions emerge from and where arisings come and go, it all occurs within the space of the mind.
Through formal practice we are able to come into contact with this space, observing or even knowing how it pervades all phenomena, houses all of our experiences, attitudes, held views, fears, worries, joys, desires, judgements and anticipations.
Through calibrating the lens of mindfulness, we observe more clearly the arising duration and dissolving of sensation, feeling tone or object of mind as an experience that is not fixed, constantly in flux and therefore impermanent.
Observing our experience as it arises, watching it evolve, becoming more… becoming less… just like a cloud in the sky, its formation a result of causes and conditions, its shape and size at the mercy of the sun and wind, the cloud constantly changing within the vast space of the sky.
Secondly, we may also begin to tend to the space itself, to the spaces in between arising and dissolving…between inhalation and exhalation, between what is experienced as one thought then another, the space between one tactile sensation and another, perhaps even tending to the space that occurs between the swaying of attachment and aversion.
What is it that we observe or experience tending to this space…more or less thoughts, stillness, vividness or dullness? Is there room to investigate further, to refine the attention, tending to the space from which experiences arise, linger and dissolve? Perhaps it is like watching an ocean swell rise without cresting or breaking, just returning to the vast body of water from which it came?
Each moment of space provides a possibility…..
As a place to begin, observing the space between ‘extremes’ noticing how thoughts, feelings and emotions are experienced before, during and after may awaken us to the notion that each moment of space provides a possibility. A possibility to respond with greater clarity and wisdom rather than mindlessly lashing out or resorting to habitual behaviours and reactions and in turn not solidifying our experience…but how?
Like the goldsmith that tests gold through examination, cutting, polishing etc. one can test the solidity of experience through investigation.
If anger arises, for example, we may be able to come in contact with the fact that anger isn’t what it first appears or feels to be. Is the anger different from the anger before? What are the qualities that define this anger? What are the components to it, temperature, tone, shape, sensation, does it shift in intensity? What are the conditions that allowed it to come into experience? Is there resistance to its call or is there ease? Is it familiar? What does it have to say? Is it permanent? Is it possible to observe anger without identification, is there room to dial down the volume of the me, my or I, in other words, is anger exclusive to me?
Observing our experiences within the framework of mindfulness, watching events arise, unfold and dissolve and tending to the space to which they take shape in, further cultivates and refines our attention to life off the cushion, to those moments (spaces) between event and response (or sometimes, reaction).
These spaces are without a doubt the very moments of possibility, the opportunity for us to respond with balance, lucidity, awareness, wisdom and compassion, awakening to the knowledge that our response further promotes and gives rise to the next experience and the next and so on…contributing to further causes and conditions not only for ourselves but for all of those around us.
Meditation and mindfulness practice are not exclusive to nor reduced to the time we spend on the cushion, the more we practice on and off the cushion we witness how informal and formal practice support each other.
Observing the experiences and arisings of the day to day, joys, confrontations, desire, anger…radically accepting direct experience, however it arises, not shaping it in one way or another, not steering away from one nor striving for another. Knowing that our direct experiences are impermanent and always changing, the result of causes and conditions arising, lingering, dissolving in the space of the mind is where the real practice resides.
Benjamin is a Melbourne based classical musician and dedicated meditation practitioner. The vibrant and rich teachings of contemplative traditions have been a source of Benjamin’s personal practice for over 20 years.