"This is the story of a full immersion experience. I recommend you
retreat to your own cabin in the woods, or a deserted beach. If that's
not possible hide out in the bathroom or broom cupboard. Give it
quality time and attention. Life changing potential is much closer
than you imagine."
- Tim Price.
By: Ajahn Kalyāno
(with a little help from The Son of the Elk-Rider)
At weekends Mr. Foibles leaves his business in the city and seeks peace in the forest. Mr. Foibles stayed at his cabin in the mountains. It was a log cabin of traditional style with a grass roof. In the summer this was heaven. The forest stretched across the mountains as far as the eye could see. One could feel as though one could roam freely forever and a day.
By day he roams the forests – like a daring tourist returning to his customary resort – and by the night he would observe the stars, in an attempt to integrate the vastness of the universe into his own very heart. Arriving at this cabin was to Mr. Foibles perhaps somewhat similar to when orphans discover their true parents – an occurrence of reconnection with the heritage and fold which fate had ascribed, after having it concealed by the surges of the turning tides.
The cabin´s flagpole that served to raise the spirits with a defiant flag in the midst of winter was like a mast to a cabin afloat in the vast forest, the hills like the waves of the sea. The ship's bell that could call a helping hand lay silent in the safety and abundance of the summer. It would seem it would last forever. The grandfather clock stopped long ago and stands as if frozen in time. Only the rusty iron speaks of time from stillness, the sailor's chest that reminds of travels long past, extending the mind's horizons. The upright chairs speak of manners at dinner, the armchairs, thread-bear and sagging of the rest of a working man. His cabin was old with many paintings on the walls. Was this an expression of love manifested and made visible through a perfect symbiosis of diligence, artistry and meticulousness; or was it a vain sensualism? Or could it be either depending on the eye that was looking? The decoratively painted doors were to Mr. Foibles like the doors to his inner heaven.
From the verandah the scent of pine reminded him of summer days fishing with his father. This was a world of its very own which, wrapped in the innocence of a child, always held a freshness in his mind.
In the valley beneath the veranda two women were raking hay by hand and chatting with each other. They were Mr. Foibles neighbours. Sceptical onlookers would claim that they are trying to impose an outdated and ancient agricultural method, with its essential discomfort and inefficiency, on the world, sneeringly calling it silly nostalgia and eccentric waste of time and effort. Mr. Foibles, however, would now profess in the luxury of his summer leisure, that these women had re-attained a small piece of humanity's lost position in nature. Thus, not evading the real world but reconquering their place in the real world. Thus on this historical day he had finally taken a stand which, unknown to him was, over the next days, to shift his whole perspective on life.
As usual some of the neighbour´s sheep had greeted him at the gate on his way to the cabin. His reflections brought them back to mind with new affection. The sheep were of an ancient mountain breed. Carrying their horns raised their heads into a strong and dignified pose fitting of their history of endurance as their hooves danced nimbly across the rocks or planted themselves in the field as they stood and stared, their eyes lacking penetration yet soft and present. Would the sheep, being of the new generation, recognise the traditional methods of their masters? Would their minds be somehow preserved in a primordial state to be expressed in the quality of their gaze?
Here the sheep together with elk and deer are free to roam, while man is chained to these wooden boxes, with all their comforts, to be able to survive the winter. Through their reticent endurance the animals have made themselves supreme rulers, resembling spiritual seekers in their wilderness abode. Hence the softness that comes into their eyes and the pride into their horns. This is a place where nature is king and man is but a poor immigrant. And the wooden structures of the human dwellings are but a loan from nature, which nature would in due course reclaim, according to its uncompromising law.
In the cabin the books, board games and jigsaw puzzles speak of the dark winter nights, of the refuge in the world of the imagination and the fairy tale. Gradually the refuge, inner and outer likewise becoming a prison. The stoves and the candles, the warm winter lights flicker and throw shadows on the ceiling, the world jumps and falters like a nightmare that could draw us to delusion or even derangement. The inner vision must awake and remain awake. But still if the cabin is used as our safe haven during winter, would not that in itself constitute a divorce from nature and from reality, he wondered. Would it make the cabin into our whole world during the cold nightly snowfalls. He was to discover that then only the body can remind us of our true haven and true nature. The body within which, he would find, the true spirit resides.
Now it was high summer. Nature flourished all around. Yet his encounter with the sheep and the reflections that followed had left him in a contemplative mood. Simply to the soft, present eye the tall pines and the delicate flowers merged into a single, open, unified image. Going for his daily walk he knew the way, a gentle intention could find its way along the path. If the touch of intention remained light and open, the image of the forest remained clear and open in his mind.
“And the wild flowers are so beautiful” he thought.
Yet when desire thus entered and placed its focus within the scene he was tempted along the way through feeling. The mind merely used the senses of the body to enter the world and the body, part of nature, was just a tool. This was a coming together of the organism on its goal yet it was a union merely at a point of feeling which as a part of the mind pointed back only at the mind and did not truly open into the world. Only when he stood still did the mind open and notice the stillness and peace of space that mirrored the spirit, settled in the moment. He felt so alive, so free.
Mr. Foibles had always taken desire to be like life itself. Now desire was showing itself to be the thief of a new life that he did not yet know he had.
He continued his walk feeling inwardly a little disorientated. This part of the path was rocky and as he felt himself stumbling. He was cruelly reminded of the agility of the sheep and felt suddenly somehow lost, defeated. Now in this moment of loss he had his first inkling of his new world. In the struggle to find his footing and to re-establish his sense of presence it was as though the new space of his mind was brought into the body, his movements became natural and fluid and, still half unknown to Mr. Foibles, he sensed for the first time in his life what it was to truly be a human being.
The space that surrounded his body seemed to shine with the light of love into the forest. Mr. Foibles loved the forest, but suddenly he questioned whether the forest loved him. Imaginably the forest rejected him on the grounds that in the past he had turned it into a kind of museum through his passive awareness that merely catalogued the species and added nothing.
“The forest has given me so much,” he thought. Perhaps it could forgive him for taking firewood – so abundantly did it replenish itself and he knew that he must do this to survive the winter, or rather he must do this for the sake of the body. He felt humbled and a little melancholy. Returning from the walk, the cabin he now clearly saw as the home of his mind, the creation of his mind and the minds and hearts of others, the carpenters and the painters. The cabin was a world controlled and arranged from which he ventured forth into the vast uncontrolled and non-arranged expanses of nature. Here the mind catered also to the needs of the body and it was this aspect that now came mysteriously to the fore. He washed and rested his body and gave it a little food, wondering what it really liked, after all. He went to the toilet, laughing out load at the little splashes made by his pooh entering the water. The body, he realised, could not be controlled and arranged like the chairs. This tool of his mind had its own demands. The body had a life of its own, like the trees or the deer of the forest. There was another shift of heart, an acceptance.
Here at the body, the mind experienced the elements only to find the warmth of the body and the warmth of the sun the same. Likewise the man-made warmth: the heat of the campfires of the North-American Indians – where the brave warriors of a lost civilisation would contemplate and form their destinies, or the heat of the saunas – where the successful captains of the market settled lucrative deals which would cause obesity and a hollow fulfilment in some and resentment and jealousy in others – were also a part of this same warmth.
And yet the passions and pretensions of the mind seemed quickly to lose the simplicity of the moment, rippling the stillness of the image and throwing up the despair of an inner vertigo. When he grasped a view, the view grasped him. Only in the innocent comic book of the child could such expanse be won within the image, free of the history of feeling which was the hook of craving.
He quickly got out of his chair, feeling the need to play like a child and shake off the passions. At the body with its expressive posture and movement he found a reaction over which the mind held control. In its composure was a deeper coming together, one that truly listened to the world. He danced into the forest.
This forest had held an unbroken peace for many centuries, he thought. But was it a peace achieved by the rule of law, or was it the natural peace growing from an inner spiritual reality? Mr. Foibles had always thought that a life of discipline would be a life of oppressive misery. And yet his very own body could be the home of the spirit, free from desires and a source of compassion and moral sense, of a wise and natural inner discipline. The empty swings that once carried the excited screams of children he offered in his mind to carry the swings of moods he no longer required.
Coming together further in feeling were his mind and body. Yet there was no excitement that did not agitate the body's quiet repose. Only in stillness could an image truly mirror reality and within it hold a sense of space that held its own joy, the joy of freedom. He went back inside and sat. For once in his life he sat still.
Usually to sit would also be to think but he had realised too that there was no need for him to carry the world in his mind, with all its innumerable particulars, in order to understand. Only the reality of what is mattered, there was no need to form a mental image to achieve an understanding of existence. Furthermore Mr. Foibles had found that the simple experience of his own body, perhaps surprisingly, was all that was needed to attain to a deeper, primordial knowledge – and this was something which would not be imagined but would arise spontaneously from reality. The quality of this vision was surprising too: like the vision of a saint within the space of the mind as it grew to clearly know the body, the mind no longer trapped in the body but the body sitting in the bright bubble of the spacious mind.
Although Mr. Foibles felt clearly that he had entered a new world in his mind still outwardly he returned to his habitual weekend fashion. He would carry his new found peace with him, he thought. He picked up a magazine he had brought with him. Suddenly the wind was stirred up, grabbing a hold of the magazine. He momentarily panicked and the stillness of his mind was lost. As he held on tight, doubt gripped his mind, what was he doing? He realised at once how attached he was to his entertainment and to his reveries, yet the grasping contraction of his mind still took him and he felt like he was falling into darkness. Was feeding the imagination merely creating a false world inside, a world of phantoms that haunted his eyes? Am I merely led to compare myself with a dream or this place with a utopia as vague as if portrayed in a foreign tongue?
His mind turned again. “Yet do I not need to imagine to plan and decide my course in the world?” he thought.
“Imagination comes only to support weakness of vision,” came a thought from the space of his mind.
“And outer vision may be brought within if the mind is empty, full of space. Such is the relinquishment that gains everything,” he thought.
He paused and lit his pipe.
Within his silenced gaze a humble love of simplicity and a sense of balanced and orderly composition arose, the particulars unimportant, and the ordinary became imbued with a new significance and luminosity, turning it, in that very moment, into the pinnacle of all that has ever been and will ever be in the world. For that vision will have space and light in the very same way that it holds form within an integrated whole. This whole then becoming peace to a mind that no longer needed to run around to gather and form a picture. This was a very different kind of beauty, a beauty of order, an order that expresses a deeper meaning than the transient object. An order that, free of sensuality, does not close the heart to a point of feeling but opens the heart to a truer love. This is a love formed by the selfless heart and eye, not by the object but by an extension of the heart into the world of the mundane. Free from the limits of external form it could find itself even in the lowliest of places – unconditional and unconditioned.
Free also of the theory that will always generate doubt and then anguish, this spiritual aesthetics takes the mind beyond the aesthetics of the world – the ordinary like a bridge to the beyond. For what must we seek, when our eyes are beautiful we may see beauty wherever we look? This new vision in turn allowed the mind, abandoning sensuality, to find a natural moral sense and sensibility. The big rusty barbecue had been to him like a union between the primeval nature and the vanities of industrialism. But now that he had realised that he had a body, and the body also had him, he started to sense an aroma of guilt that tarnished its very core. The meat spoke back to him from the grill and he resolved, no more. With such a resolve he felt a sense of being at One with the world, not through sensuality but through a loss of the sense of self, through a freedom of mind from self concern that opened his heart to a wider sphere.
“Here at he body the two worlds truly meet, the world of the mind and the world of nature,” he thought. “There must lie the whole truth, the unified picture in which his mind could rest from its endless wandering, from its endless efforts to paint a coherent picture within the mind. “
He sat in his armchair and sought to direct his mind into the body. Yet he could not regain or intensify this state through desire. To try to place the mind here at the centre, at the bodily intersection was not then the great coming together. For the mind to touch the body and find feeling was a moment of over-sensitivity and despair. The mind turned to stimulate itself could form no coherent image. Feeling as an end in itself was both confusing and compulsive. Only when the mind was able to form an image of the real body, in place, was there a return to sanity. Yet even then the feelings would call, like a temptress until the mind went calm. Only then could the mind find itself clear and open and the objects both of the world and the mind find their place within its open geography. He sat on.
When he next arose it was already dusk. Looking down into the valley the women were still working and he felt closer to them than ever before, closer than all his admiration could take him. He realised that the simple, clear presence of his own body was a bridge to his fellow man. No longer divorced from his companions and locked into the world of thought, nor closed into the world of personal feeling, his mind was truly empathic. New open feelings emerged from a clear image, not merely an evaluation – given not merely taken, they had a new life and love, strong and free.
From now on he determined to take his body wherever he went to find this union and to cool his fevered mind. He stood and walked to the window.
Looking out into the garden it was as though his thought was then part of nature through the cabin and the armchair the same as through the hammock and the woodpile, adding new meaning and consciousness to that of the forest. Losing the sense of inner and outer. No longer did he hang on to his creations - the wood carving or the sledge no longer took on an excess of meaning from his proliferating mind. Meaning that could find no place in the world but merely turned endlessly within his mind without rest. Instead nature was drawn within by the harmony of inner and outer. He had a place and a purpose. Yet his sense for the body left him cool and calm, free of desire, at peace. The life of the body was simple and humble and gave a new perspective to the ambitious mind.
He pottered around the cabin. The stoves and the heavy beams spoke of the winter darkness usually denied in the rush of summer. He knew without thought that he must prepare the firewood. He found himself taken to the workshop. The axe swung straight and true, this chore was now a natural integration of mind and body, his action arising out of a perception of the world not out of desire or worry. It was part of the seasonal pattern, the cycles completed externally in an accepted history becoming the cycles of thought and action completed inwardly. And riding parallel in the mind a higher meaning could find the space previously occupied by the proliferations of life. For the mind seemed to find in this space a new existence, a light that could both guide and penetrate. A light lost with grasping or holding and brighter with letting go as though the hand of work were now also the gestures of an inner moral sense in a life claimed back from the spasms of desire.
And to play with the world and the mind together reached a new understanding beyond that of desire. A new understanding that was itself beyond desire. To try to work it all out was to find trying working things in and out of his mind until he nearly went out of his mind. The trajectory must start from the looked at thing and find no self that looks, merely a mirror to the world. A thing is happy to be looked at by other things when it is convinced that it signifies itself and nothing else. To make the forest thus happy he must abandon his inner life, his inner world, for an image of his body, drenched in the light of the spirit. Only then would he truly be at One with nature. Now the forest would love him as he loved the forest.
Before he departs he must catch the light of summer in his body and mind. The peaceful lake in the midst of the forest, the light of the sun reflected from the water and broken into sparkles by the breeze mirrored his new mind. He knew in his heart he would never leave the cabin and return to the city. His heart would forever remain in the forest, taking its place there in the space and light. He now knew the home of the mind and could no longer roam even on his return to the city.
“Now in the city I will know how to truly work in a way that harmonises with nature, to do my part to provide for mankind through love and compassion, not through greed and power,” thought Mr. Foibles.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Words and reading by Ajahn Kalyano.
Background music and editing by Gordon Oaks.
Reading - voice only version
The Mr. Foibles Trilogy