We are in the midst of an extraordinary moment in history – witnesses to and participants in a global unravelling. It is a potent storm fuelled by three converging vectors: the untold damage human activity is inflicting on nature; the disruptive virus that nature is inflicting on human activity; and the ideas of power, inequality and entitlement, ossified within human institutions, that are inflicting pain on fellow humans.
There is no telling when this storm will pass, or how it will alter our world. One thing seems certain to me, though: it’s never been more important to ground yourself in being and feel yourself aligned with and carried forward by your deepest purpose. This short essay reflects on the nature of those challenges.
Your body takes up space in the world. Everyone’s does. But think about it for a moment: the space your body occupies is not an encroachment on the world’s space, or an intrusion into it. Nor does it represent some kind of annexation, wherein your body claims ownership over that space and holds it separate from the world. The space your body takes up belongs to the world as much as it belongs to you. The world courses unstoppably through it. That happens in the form of light, sound, gravity, electromagnetic waves and particle streams, of course. But also with every breath you take, with every morsel you eat, with every tear you shed, parts of you are turning into the world and parts of the world are turning into you. So the space occupied by your body is not where you hoard the self, but where your self and the world converge in a living partnership. There is no ‘me’ apart from that partnership. That partnership is the process of your being. It is the fundamental nature of your reality.
Listen to Philip reading this piece:
Your life is carried forward by that partnership for all the days you spend on this earth. Your existence depends on it: you cannot dissolve the partnership without dissolving your life. What you can do, though – and what we all tend to do – is to grow forgetful of it. Even as the partnership continues to sustain us, our awareness of the body tends to dim as we learn to contract our thinking more and more into our heads. We leave the spaciousness of being and hem ourselves into the consolidations of doing. We come to observe the living convergence of self and world through the static prism of idea, and eventually we stop feeling it. Which means we stop feeling our reality.
The values and hierarchies of our culture encourage that retreat from our natural spaciousness. We are told to uphold a fiction of the body as a mechanical thing that operates in a mechanical universe, and to fabricate a sense of self that stands aloof from all partnership. But there’s more to our culture’s message than mere encouragement. I think our culture is so attached to its fantasies of independence, domination and control that it looks upon the spaciousness of being as though it were a death threat – because once you feel the spaciousness within your body in its continuity with the spaciousness of the wide world and beyond, the self-important ego suffers an existential shock, and can tailspin into confusion and disorientation. Your cherished little concretized certainties are suddenly awash in a tidal wave of mystery.
The spaciousness of being hums with every possibility. Every consequence of past events ripples untraceably through it as though through a fathomless ocean, as does the potential for every event that is to come. Like the quantum vacuum, the spaciousness of being is the empty nothing out of which everything is birthed. And even as the spaciousness of being contains your body, your body contains it. All that lives through it lives also through you.
The body can recover its natural spaciousness when it empties of expectation and comes fully to rest in the present. But that process of emptying directly contradicts our cultural directive to secure the self within a fortified boundary. So let’s look at that emptying. To allow your body to truly come to rest on the earth and in the present, you need to find ways of opening it to the present and the earth. And that undertaking will necessarily draw you into a process of deep undoing. It requires a dismantling of the body’s inner barricades and divisions: bringing voice back to the silenced shadows within its flesh; dissolving its congested anxieties; softening any resistance you might have to belonging to something larger than yourself; and disarming the insensate patterns held in the body that fortify you against uncertainty. As all those frozen energies yield and thaw and harmonize, they open within the body a cavern that is spacious enough to receive the world – a cavern that welcomes the empty nothing out of which everything is birthed. The currents of the transforming present course through that cavern within, even as they flow through the spaciousness of the world around you.
The spaciousness of your being is like the space within a bell – it is what enables you to attune to the world. Such attunement is very different from sitting in your head and noticing the world ‘out there’. Attunement enables the world to be also felt ‘in here’ – in the empty resonance of your being. It allows you to come home to the fundamental reality of your life: feeling ‘your’ space as a continuity of the world’s; feeling your life as a continuity of the world’s. Moreover, as you attune to the living world that holds you, you cannot but awaken to the intimacy of your partnership with it. That partnership summons you to come and play and give the whole of your being to help ease and deepen the harmony in which you live. And you’ll find that the service or task to which you are summoned is one that directly activates the gifts of your deepest nature. By surrendering to what the world is calling from you, then – by allowing your being to be so profoundly activated – you also surrender to the flowering of your fullest humanity.
Feeling your life carried forward by that partnership relies on your ability to sensitize the body’s spaciousness to the spaciousness of being to which it belongs. But there is a compelling reason we tend to consolidate within ourselves and barricade the door against our fundamental nature. The spaciousness of being is something you can join, you can be carried by, you can dance with – but it is not something you can control. And in a culture that obsessively asserts agendas of control over the natural harmony of the world, that partnership looks scary. Control is what we trust. Harmony, a property of the whole, is way beyond control. You can find guidance in the world’s harmony, but you will never dominate it. Furthermore, if you accept that guidance and undertake the work it is calling you to, it will not offer you a map, a clear destination, or any assurance of success. All it can guarantee is that by giving your life to what the world is summoning you to, the whole of your being will come alive, and your purpose will be illuminated by being lived.
A body trapped in its own consolidations is like a singing bowl filled with sand: it cannot ring to the world around it. When you cannot yield to the spaciousness of being and attune to the world, there can be no felt partnership. There can be no palpable guidance. You are immunized against the juicy exhilaration and wonder of feeling yourself being organized by the mindful whole. What you are left with instead is your aloneness, and the endless, stale task of organizing yourself.
It seems our culture has made a choice: we would rather feel ourselves alone in the world than to feel ourselves not in control of it. By siding with the fantasy of control, we turn our backs on the experience of feeling the whole moving and speaking through us. We miss the grace and wonder of life itself. On the other hand, once you identify a choice that your culture has made on your behalf, you are free to begin forging a new one.