Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich


To be is to interbe. —Thich Nhat Hanh

2014 is closing shop, and for me its wares have been bountiful. Also I am feeling, more than I can remember in past years, that this moment of transition is more than a date on the calendar.

I want to end this year of gleanings by attempting, however clumsily, to find measurable words for this immeasurable transition.

A teacher whose talk I stumbled across the other day on YouTube distinguishes between a “stage” and a “state” in the life of practice. I recognize that difference. A stage is one of those periods—an hour, weeks, months—when at least in some aspect of our lives, we can directly perceive, experience wordlessly and with more clarity than ever before, the nature of reality. We know inevitably that this is the state where we are heading, where we—however briefly—are. That stage becomes a state when it is no more than our normal daily life—perhaps with brief interruptions. (The Buddha had visitations from Mara even after his enlightenment.)

I feel that at the cusp of 2015 I have entered another such stage. It now seems clear, although I didn’t think so at the time, that the bliss I have experienced in recent years or months contained an “I.” Not an obvious “I”—that is how it could be missed—only, and yet critically, an I of slight separation. My experiences of interbeing—the flow that Buber names “I-Thou”—have often been a series of ever more frequent yet discrete events, even as their flavor has more and more penetrated into and pervaded my life. And in these years those experiences of undifferentiated flow, at the hospital and outside, were almost always with other human beings.

What I perceive now embraces all the non-human realms. Now my own life experience has led me to appreciate, with non-human as with human beings, the profound difference between interconnection and interbeing.

At last I can know experientially that everything that is in the world and cosmos not only “has” spirit but is spirit, spirit that I share, spirit that I am not separate from.

This change in consciousness came fully to the fore a few weeks ago as I was looking out of my window across to a golden treetop in the first morning light. I was no longer simply looking, I was moving quietly, naturally into her golden leaves, then into a cloud, then the sky.

I could sense wordlessly that I was not just receiving beneficent energies from the world around me, as I have in the past, but by my very nature was participating in those energies. There was not a cloud there and a me here—the cloud was inhabiting me and I was inhabiting the cloud. Just as I experience with the human beings in the hospital and rather instinctively now with people I encounter elsewhere, I knew there was no distinction between these non-human spirits and mine. “We are all one” felt not like a bumper sticker and more like a reality, with the “we” expanding to the cosmos. That morning it became obvious that the dissolution of all the false separations—that dissolution which the Buddha calls “non-self” or “emptiness”—can of course only create a profound sense of belonging.

The ultimate joke: in order to belong to everything I must become nothing, and if I belong to everything, how can I ever be nothing?

In the days since that morning I can rest in this awareness walking down an alley, feeling no boundaries between my ”self” and the asphalt, or in a coffee shop with the mugs or the woman in her christmas sweater. It seems auspicious to me that only a little over a year ago, I was noticing that there was no significant separation between my spirit and the spirits of Grace and Gregg and Andy (October 23, 2013) or the folks in a coffee shop (October 30, 2013)—just as that morning I became aware, perhaps even more seamlessly, that no significant separation exists between the spirit of tree, cloud, sky, asphalt and mine.

The feeling is deep peace and also: no big deal, well of course.

With that peace comes an awareness that underlying all the separations that we perceive when we see only through the lens of conventional reality, there is a shadow of alienation, hostility. Not surprisingly: separation states, No, you can’t come in. Until separation dropped away, I was completely unaware that there was that trace of hostility in my relationship to the rug, the stir-fry pan, the purple scarf. A great tenderness has ensued.

Even if this is only a ‘stage’, it is entirely clear that this is the state I belong in.

Of course I’ve been invited again and again through my lifetime to relax into this belonging, this reality. I’ve valued Buber for half a century, and when someone asked him if one could experience “I-Thou” with a tree, he answered yes. I’ve read about the Japanese artist who taught his students that if you wish to paint a tree, you should sit and look at it without picking up your brush until you “become” the tree. I’ve had a sense that this was possible. With or without LSD and whether we identified them or not, we have all had these experiences of interbeing with the non-human world, and I have as well, probably more often than even I was aware. Still, it’s clear to me now: “Interbeing”—Thich Nhat Hanh’s skillful choice of a word for that undifferentiated mingling, rather than “interconnection” (the joining of two separate entities)—has been for me a question of discrete events rather than a relaxed and unremarkable confidence that this is my relationship to everything that is.

This shift of perception has awakened me to an even deeper appreciation of the yoga I practice almost daily, as I take in an aspect of that practice which I never fully realized and now has a profound and joyful meaning for me. Yoga which means “union” is often presented as the union of mind and body. I see now that the entire world of the asanas invites us to experience union not only as the union of our individual minds and bodies, but as our union with the entire animate and inanimate world—and it even asks us to dispense with those common distinctions. In a setting that is already powerfully conducive to experiences of non-self, we are invited to flow seamlessly and without differentiation into and through a dog, a lotus, a crow, a tree, a scorpion, a cobra, a warrior, a bridge, even a mountain.

Yoga intends us to know that in life as well as in the asanas, we participate boundlessly in the non-sentient as well as the sentient world.

Before we left the desert three years ago, during our last Chi Gong practice outside while the sun was brushing the mountains with her first light and lighting the ocotillos and the doves who were resting on the branches, Bettina chanted softly from some deep quiet place she often visits, “You are the desert. The desert is you.”

We are the desert with all of its inhabitants. We are the ocean. We are the noisy city. The desert, the ocean, the noisy city are us.

—December 30, 2014