Friday, March 17, 2017

ISNESS

Medicine Buddha

I'm into isness (IS'-ness) more than business. What is isness? It depends. I will digress and then return to the business of isness, which is neither somber nor frivolous. 

I fortunately pursued a Jesuit education when I was twelve. My parents were astounded. I was a shy kid, but had good grades in my nun-staffed Catholic elementary. One of the more benign women in black had pointed me in the direction of the Jesuits, who had a prep school on the other side of Boston. I managed to contact the school and apply to take the rigorous entrance exam. My parents reluctantly assisted with transportation and fees. They stated their preference for a local Catholic school in a neighboring working-class city. My working-class Catholic elementary education got me admitted into Boston College High School's lowest entry homeroom, tenth out of ten, Class J.

This is a long way to my point. I did eventually have seven years of Jesuit education, back in the day when it was actually education by Jesuits. Now, like Mr. Trump, the Jesuits have sold their brand to their old schools which are staffed predominantly by non-Jesuits. When Jesuits structured education, they founded it on theology, philosophy, logic and European history. Then a student was encouraged to move on to Classics (Arts/Humanities), Math-Science or Business. I chose Math-Science. 

My basic education in theology and philosophy brought me to independent study of Eastern (Asian) religions as a hobby while I continued in Science. I was also interested in the writings of Freud and Jung, especially in the context of Nietzsche's work. I began to see a progression of thought beyond the Christian-biased official history of Western civilization, which I had been thoroughly taught. 

When I began reading translations of Eastern sources, they spoke clearly to me. Bhavagad Gita, Upanishads and Dhammapada became my favorite sources for some time. I have simply opened them at random throughout the years since. I don't pretend to have any special insight into these texts. I am not a scholar. They have been useful to me in forming my own daily mental process. They speak a comforting language to me. 

Now back to isness. 

Reading Martin Buber's I and Thou in college started my quest to deconstruct metaphysical and philosophical writing in order to see if there was any practical merit in it. After reading sufficient long tomes on being and becoming, I realized that the writers were all grappling with a shadow in the dark, as was I. This didn't sit well with me at all. I am a minimalist at heart. Not rigidly so, like a religious Zen monk, mind you. I am willing to try on new things while maintaining loyalty to my own developed core practice and ethics. I believe this ongoing process fertilizes the soil of my mind, my consciousness. 

Isness came to that mind recently, when I was reflecting on meditation. Actually, isness came to me while I was meditating, to be honest. Isness is more fun than the overused being and becoming. I see isness as being consciously aware of having been, being and becoming all at once in the moment. It is the timeless consciousness so hard to enter and even harder to sustain. Perhaps this is the spark of enlightenment. I have experienced isness few times in my nearly seven decades of life. I will share one example.

One crisp November night in 1987 I was unable to sleep. I left my one-room cottage in Provincetown and walked deserted streets to the edge of town and beyond. I eventually reached Herring Cove without really thinking much about what I was doing or where I was going. It was a cloudless night. I looked above. There was The Universe. Stark and clear. A mosaic of tiny lights against infinite blackness. I realized in a stunning moment that I was propelled, flying, in the vastness of Space, far from the beach in soundless, breathless, effortless joy. My whole was that joy, without body or mind. 

I have no idea how long I was in that state, but I know it was the second profound psychological point in my life. Whenever times have gotten rough, I have tried to recall that particular experience, or its shadow in memory. It has sustained me, erased fear, brought me to a certain peace with earthly existence. It was my most intense experience of isness, though I have had others subsequently. And I do not believe it can be sealed in a can and marketed as religion or self-improvement. I believe that isness comes when fertile consciousness least expects it. All the chanting, fasting and praying to some deity will not bring it unless that fertile consciousness is open to simply being what it is in a special moment. 

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