Posted inHenry's Messages

Angst

September 23, 2014

“… If we could just flip the angle of light, the trick of perspective, we would see exactly what we do not see, rather than what we do see…”

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What about the angst we modern humans are heir to, the “vague nameless dread” that comes with our moral and spiritual uncertainty, as Yamada Koun Roshi calls it?

We live in an age where religious and moral certitudes have disintegrated. We no longer live within a web of understanding that can be taken for granted. Ever since Hamlet cried out, “To be or not to be?” as if both were equally valid, we have lived with an unease, the traditional means of assuaging which has been unavailable to us. We know too much. The Bible is a fairytale. Religion is an opiate, said Marx; it’s a case of infantilist regression, said Freud. At the same time we know too little: what are we doing, spinning on a speck of stardust in a vast web of galaxies like a cosmic blanket woven of threads of light, threads that are actually nothing in the end, so vastly huge its scale might as well be infinitesimal also?

This vastness without a compass, a dizzying abyss of relativity, gives us no obvious direction in which to turn for guidance, reassurance, succour. What are we to do? How are we to feel at home, to belong, to recognise our path?

Oddly or otherwise, a singularly apposite answer has been arriving in the West over the past century: the incomparable Dharma of Zen, or meditation. Zen, or meditation, simply asks us to study, embrace and surrender to what is. Its promise is that through doing so we will find exactly what we are seeking, even though we are incapable of framing or expressing what it is that we seek. Yet the exact shape of our distress will match the exact response of relief; the angst and its corresponding redemption will fit perfectly. All we have to do is accept it precisely as it is, even in our inability to know even the shape of our distress.

The Way is always just outside the scope of the lamp of consciousness. The true Way is just beyond our knowing, always. Yet it is constantly trying to show itself to us. Because it constantly is showing itself to us. Yet we don’t see it. Yet we do somehow feel its dynamic ongoing presence. It’s like hearing a constant sound yet not realising it’s the ocean; or seeing as we do, yet not realising that it is light itself we are always seeing.

The situation could seem grim were it not so wonderful. The wonder is this: we only have to study and fully allow what is. The solution is never absent. The resolution is always piercingly present. The angst or malaise we feel in our hearts is the spear-tip of reality. But it is also our resistance to that reality. In other words our very angst is paradoxically exactly what we are seeking.

It’s like negative space. If we could just flip the angle of light, the trick of perspective, we would see exactly what we do not see, rather than what we do see. We could surrender our adherence to matter, and suddenly be inundated by anti-matter, or dark matter. The negative space, which is so sublimely positive, would overwhelm us. To the extent we release our resistance to what is at any given moment, we also surrender our self. To the extent we do that, we give life to everything else. By dying, we fructify all else. By giving up ourselves, we give abundant life to everything else.

Perhaps it is a little like Jesus on the cross. At first he is in an agony of separation and aloneness. Why have you forsaken me? is the cry of the lone self. Then he surrenders that separate self, and reawakens to his boundless connectedness, and from that place of ultimate love, he cannot help but grant life to all: forgive them, forgive them. To forgive is to allow, to nourish and wish good for. Grant them abundant life. They just don’t see what they’re really doing, what they are really being, who they really are. But they are that nonetheless. Let them be. Fiat lux! And fiat everything!

By Henry Shukman, from our November, 2013 newsletter.

Image: There is and there is not -Paradox, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0, from flickr.com

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