Reverence for life: Mind without thought

Am I aware? Do I notice life beyond the framework of my own culturally constructed perception? What if I could see the forest as through the eyes of a chimpanzee, as Jane Goodall tried to imagine working with the chimps in Gombe, Tanzania.  I read her account one day following David (a chimp she observed and which related to her easily) where he was in a tree and she simply lay on the jungle floor gazing up through the tree canopy without thought. The pristine space of an empty mind–empty not just of the everyday, second-by-second inner chatter and uncontrolled ramblings of the mind–but totally blank.

Not only to have respite from the chatter, but more the space in which to see what is–I mean what Buddhists might call the “suchness” or “isness” of things.  What a thing is in and of itself might be apprehended more clearly before and apart from any human-made attributions which come from languaging. Jane noticed that with the arising of language (this is a tree), the very application of language to define reality creates a distance from the “isness” of something. For the thought-word is but a symbol pointing to something else.

And what is that something else?  Actually, if we’re honest with ourselves, we will realize that we don’t know what “something else” is. Rock, tree, bird, ocean are all words pointing to realities that, in their totality, remain mysteries. Describe water–cool, warm, moving, tastes good, hard to hold in my hand. If you had never seen water in your life, and then stepped into a pond for the first time, how would you describe or experience it? Embracing, cleansing, death-making, playful?

I have a sense that as we go beyond the useful, but in an essential sense, the artificial boundaries of language and the perception it shapes, we enter into the highly fluid realm in which all things can be experienced through relating to them as having some essence, which we experience within ourselves as spirit, or numinosity or life-like quality. When we say the world feels sacred, my sense is that comes from this perception of autonomous life or spirit in each thing–like the rock, the tree, the bird, the stream is a “being” different from me but, at the same time, feels kindred in having its own “being” like me. Dr. Albert Schweitzer called this experience of intuiting the essence of things as a reverence for life.

Surely, awakening has at all times, and today is no different, involved such a realization. But can we make the space to let the world of mind go?


Out Beyond Ideas

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase
each other, doesn’t make any sense.

Jalaludin Rumi