Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just Now

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend last week about zazen. In particular, we were focussing on the strange--but, I believe, real--notion that emotions do not exist. There is only thought and physiological phenomenon.

We have thoughts. We believe these thoughts. We have a physical reaction.

Often, that process happens in such a millisecond of time that the two seem inseparable, almost as if even the body had created the thought. Together, we name it "emotion".

But if we can begin to separate the two, even if just for a thin slice of space, and see the two as separate, then we can begin to see thoughts as just that: thoughts. And we can begin, ever so slightly, to enter into experiencing the now.

When I have an emotion, I am having believed thoughts about something and a physical reaction to those thoughts. For example, I'm "angry" about what someone did to me. What is that anger?

First, I am having a believed thought that so-and-so should not have done what they did. I am having the believed thought that I deserve to be happy. I am having the believed thought that the person is wrong. I am having the believed thought that my world should not be disturbed. I am having the believed thought that...and so on.

After naming all of the thoughts around our "anger" (and this can be a very long process in which we can sometimes catch a glimpse of the larger metaconstruct going on in our mind), what am I actually feeling in my body? Is my stomache tight? Is my breathing shallow? Does the frontal lobe of my brain ache? Etc.

Now what is left of the anger? Nothing.

There is only thought and the physiology I experience. Once I realize--experience--this, I can begin to not be controlled by my thoughts. After all, to create thoughts is simply what the mind does. Once I believe them, however, my body reacts and that becomes my reality. But when I can step outside of them, observe them for what they are, I am not totally at their mercy anymore.

My friend and I questioned whether or not it made sense that one could just experience one's body. Doesn't the experience get translated by our mind, thought, in order for us to know what the feeling is?

When washing dishes, can one just wash dishes and experience washing dishes? the mind have to think, "The plate is smooth, the water is wet," in order for me to know the experience? Perhaps not.

What if I just experience the smoothness and wetness instead of thinking about them? What if, rather than thinking about it being smooth, I let it just be what it is? How wonderful would that be?! That would be the "being in the now" that we hear about so much these days. Like hitting my thumb with a hammer, or an intense orgasm, there can be just pure experience of the moment without spinning off to live in the thoughts of the mind and what it makes up about the experience.

Thoughts are thoughts. They are about the future, or about the past. Thoughts, by their nature, can never be about this moment...because that moment just passed. So by naming my thoughts and becoming aware of my experience, I can live more and more in the present. Just being. Now.

Of course, this doesn't happen very often. Not many people can live fully in the moment all of the time (we call them "enlightened"). But we can set aside time to practice this observing and experiencing. Little by little, by practicing and practicing, we can begin to move some of this self-awareness and presence into our daily life.

At least I think so.

(Drawings by Sam Brown.)


Eric said...

I'm not sure I would entirely agree with this. My primary sensory modality is actually inner dialogue, remember? So that's howi experience the world most of all, including the now. To me, the ultimate form of experiencing the wetness of the water or smoothness of the plate would be not just the physical sensation, but the "ahhhhh, this feels good" going on in my mind - in the present. I'm not sure I am neurologically set up to experience physical senses without processing them - immediately in real time - through my inner dialogue. That is my primary way of experiencing the now. I'm not thinking about the wetness or smoothness - I'm experiencing them through the way I take in the world.

And that's how I think just about everything is for me. Intense orgasms? Yep. In fact, if I want to just be "in my body" which is a skill I'm learning, I usually have to experience it through my inner dialogue first.

I was diagnosed by a neurologist as being very, very slightly on the autistic spectrum, like a mild version of Aspergers, and maybe that has something to do with it (although I'm not sure I give much credence to that diagnosis, even though a friend who was head of Tucson Dept of Disabilities said the same thing).

So I would say that it is possible that "the present" is experienced in multiple ways, as are emotions and thoughts, and for that matter, physiology.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough I am reading a book called The new earth, that says about what you are relating about thoughts and emotions. The author calls it the pain body. I should lend it to you sometime

Dennis R. Plummer said...

Hey Eric, I get what you are saying, too, and want to think some more about that angle. If you get the chance and are interested, read Ezra Baida's book "Being Zen." I'd love to get your take on it.

And to whomever anonymous is, I'd like the loaner.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, Ben is also reading Being Zen, it's his new Bible :-) I'll loan you the other book.

Eric said...

A New Earth is a good book. It's by Eckhart Tolle, and on iTunes you can get a free online class he did with Oprah that goes chapter by chapter through the book. I thought that was a pretty amazing thing.

Some people are saying that this is one of the reasons we've had a profound shift in American culture and awareness in which a black man can actually become president based on a campaign of hope and change rather than fear. Maybe there's something to that.


Dennis R. Plummer said...

Can "Ah this feels good" be in the present? Isn't that statement evaluating what I just felt before forming the words?