At Home in the World

I picked up Tarthang Tulku’s book, Love of Knowledge, and the page it flipped open to naturally was about the self “not being at home,” according to my notes, about isolation. Wherever we turn, the author informs us, whether to outward objects, or inner feelings, we never seem to find what we’re looking for. We are not satisfied. We are not “at home with our experience.” We are trapped between yesterday and tomorrow. Spiritual claims to being “present” and “open” usually yield nothing but a new and fabricated identity, nothing in the way of real transformation or connection.

What does it mean to not be isolated, from one’s world, from the world? What does it mean to not be isolated from one’s surroundings and community? A real practice in a tradition will give access to good practices. Good practices, such as sitting, will slowly cleanse the lens of perceptions. When slightly cleansed, it is possible to begin tuning into the senses without their being completely problematic.

The balance between renunciation and mystical experience is key. It is worked out differently in different schools of thought. We can’t just enjoy the senses heedlessly. This goes back to the beginning of the discussion, the self isolated in a world of things. Pursuing objects for pleasure somehow doesn’t solve isolation. A lot of the time, it just highlights it, in a cruel way, as if the world were laughing at us. Look, you tried to bridge the gap with outside stuff! That just solidifies it!

At the same time, many find it hard to relate with a purely renunciate perspective, or they take one on (seeing the world, maybe, as corrupt, demonic, or unmanageable) and it becomes another game, another persona, another way to separate oneself. I heard someone once call this playing the “preacher,” railing against all that’s wrong with society, and others, the way things are. It’s not impossible, but I don’t see people in this role achieving very much, practice-wise. It’s too safe a position, and an obvious one.

I’d like to end this by sharing a few moments of feeling at home. As I understand it, feeling at home in the world is not the same as feeling comfortable in familiar surroundings or feeling comfortable in something habitual. It’s something usually separate from those things and deeper. I get this feeling a lot of times from being around trees and looking at them. I get a little spooky around trees, and I’m sure I’ve creeped some people out by looking a little too intensely at trees. I get it from animals too. Both seem to exude an energy or light that is a little easier to pick up on than other things.

I will also add nonaggression and proper distance. When I feel some connection to the world, I don’t think I’m being aggressive. I don’t feel this way usually if I’m angry or uptight or pushy. Moments like those happen plenty, and sometime right after feeling a connection with life, but not during. The aggression seems to unbalance things or corrupt the feeling. I seem to remember some discussion of dralas from “Shambhala” where noise and aggression were said to scare them off. Also, distance- when I am very much in my head (too far) or very overwhelmed (too close) I don’t have as much sense of being at home, so part of the process is working to establish what they call proper ma-ai (“combative distance”) in Aikido.

Overall, what I’m talking about is based on my own understanding and limited experience. It is the fruition of formal practice, taken out into the world, and this can apply to any kind of religion or school of thought. Again, the emphasis on applying feelings or lessons from “the cushion” to out in the world de-emphasizes the renunciate impulse seen in some lineages. In an age when entertainment and distraction haunt most, renunciation may be more problematic than it has been in the past (since what we think of as withdrawing from the world is usually not a real turning inward, but a kind of cocoon).

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