Experiment: APAPB - appreciate the presence of appearance as
a presentation by Being
Having done that for a while, switch to viewing the world and yourself as given in your experience. Now suddenly there is a self, and one that plays a central role, as the one to whom you ascribe all the experience that you experience. And whatever you see, hear, think, etc., can be seen and greeted as experience. A cold window? The experience of a cold window. An impenetrable wall? The experience of impenetrability. The belief that there is more than experience, such as a material world? The experience of a firmly held belief. And so on. Do this for a while, to feel the clear and radical difference between viewing the world this way and the first way, in material terms.
Now let go of the second one too, and try to develop a third and yet completely different relationship to everything: yourself, the world, others. The best way I know of to sum it up in one sentence is:
appreciate the presence of appearance as a presentation by Being.
That will be a key phrase in this experiment, so I'll abbreviate it: APAPB. Let me unpack this a bit more.
APAPB. Begin with PA, the presence of appearance. Look around you and within you, watch your thoughts, emotions, reactions, anything that presents itself. See everything equally as appearance. Try not to be drawn too much into evaluations or judgments. Watch everything as old friends, who have come by to say hello, without any particularly pressing business. You could imagine yourself sitting on a bench in a park on a sunny day, watching all the activity the way a retired grandpa or grandma may do: relaxed and interested, enjoying and appreciating but not strongly involved in any particular outcome or course of events.
This PA could start with A, appearance. You could begin by viewing everything as appearance, rather than experience. There is no assignment of the role of a self, a subject. No owner, no coordinator, nobody in control. There is just appearance. Appearance appears, that is all. So there is the presence of appearance. PA.
Then go on to APA, appreciate this presence of appearance. You don't have to disown everything by stripping off a sense of self. No need to go down the path of annihilation or denial. Rather, just appreciate the freedom and relaxation it brings, if you don't have to be the conductor of all that happens. Just appreciate its presence!
Finally, after having done this for a while, you can add the notion that this middle A, appearance, is given. Yes, it appears, and it appears spontaneously, but in doing so you can also view it as given. Not as given to you, since in this third picture there is no you, just like there was no you in the first picture. Also not as given by someone or something, since how can a limited and circumscribed someone or something give all of appearance? Rather, it is given by Being, as a present; it appears as a presentation.
So you can add to the APA, the appreciation of the presence of appearance, the notion that this appearance is a presentation by Being, PB. APAPB. We appreciate the presence of appearance, as a presentation by Being.
All very simple. The only thing that may not be so simple, at least in the beginning, is to remind yourself continuously to come back to this simplicity. The mind likes to run around like a monkey. Most likely, you will find yourself all over the place, thinking about your personal concerns past and future. One way to quickly and persistently bring yourself back from such distractions is to tell yourself `come back' or just `back' the way you simply tell a dog `sit'.
So here you are, lost in reveries, worries, concerns, fantasies, whatever. The moment you notice that, that you are engaged once again in those distractions, having thus strayed from the main task of APAPB, just tell yourself to come back. And from that moment on, you let yourself pass through all three stages. First you greet the world you find yourself in as the solid material world of everyday life, the world science studies and the world people deal with when they consider what exists around them as objectively given. Then you greet the world you find yourself in as an elaborate, rich, and complex structure created by your experience, dreamlike and vivid, with the you being far more than the small body and mind you normally associate with yourself, since you are the dreamer of the whole dream. Next you greet the world you find yourself in as a world of appearances, you appreciate their presence, and you view their presence as a presentation by Being. Having returned to APAPB, you rest and relax in APAPB, with nothing left to do but appreciate, namely appreciate PAPB, the presence of appearance as a presentation by Being. But then you'll find yourself all of a sudden, to your own surprise, in the middle again of a distraction, likely a whole train of distractions. No problem at all, just tell yourself to come back once again, and repeat this cycle. At first you may take a while at each stage, recreating the sense of finding yourself in turn in a world of matter, a world of experience, and a world of appearance, lingering for a while in each world until you are comfortable there and regain a good sense of it. But pretty soon you'll find that you can zip through the worlds of matter and experience pretty quickly, on your way back to appearance.
I sat down on a stool I have at home -it is more like a rocking chair except that it does not have a back -one of those swedish inventions that are good for your posture. Then I settled into my body and started searching for an appropriate locus of study, a body part that presented itself to my attention.
Since I had been sitting in a bad posture before, the muscles near my left shoulder blade were somewhat stiff. It was interesting to see my attention turn to the back and alternate between being an object and a subject. When it was an object, it was actively located at certain position in space that was present to the proprioceptive system. However, I could not do this for long before the pain from the same spot intruded into my consciousness and turned into the subjective experience of pain with a strong felt quality of "My" pain. However, at some stage between these two phases, there is a third phase, which is the quality of being (at least I think it is so). In that phase, the left shoulder blade is just there -it has no location in space and it does not really have an felt quality of pain or anything. It is just there, as if it were a cloud in teh sky, except that I know (when I switch on my objective mind) that it is on my back.
Somehow, this experience of being "popping out" between subject and object made a strong impression on me. Made me think that these three might be different dimensions that are interrelated and that by employing attention cleverly, each dimension can be isolated and purified, so to speak. More later on ths, I have a few, more theoretical, comments, but I will leave them for another email.
Just this morning, I woke up early, only a few hours after I had gone to bed, and I stayed awake for an hour or so, in that interesting intermediate realm between waking and sleeping/dreaming. These days I like to go to bed early, so that I get plenty of sleep, which has the side effect that often I wake up and lay awake for half an hour or longer, which gives me an extra lab space, besides my regular forms of sitting and standing meditations (zazen, chi gong, etc.) and daily life.
I started by considering the world we live in in its matter aspect, and I saw the whole world covered as it were with a two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate grid; I knew it had to be 3-D, but somehow it was most visually obvious as a type of 2-D fishnet-like blanket. I then tried to see how we know/construct the matter realm from what is given to us, namely the experience realm. The latter one appeared to be like a polar coordinate fishnet, but with a small hole in the middle, leaving out the central coordinate singularity. Also, the radial spacing was now logarithmic, rather than linearly/evenly spaced as had been the case in the Cartesian coordinate system.
[note for those not familiar with those scientific terms: a Cartesian coordinate system is like a square grid of streets, like in American cities, while a polar coordinate system is like a system of streets radially moving out from one central point, with more circular cross streets, like in some European city centers]
In this half-waking half-dreaming state, I tried to feel the tension between what I believed to be the case, normally, the existence of the materially given world, and what I could actually experience, objects near me in detail, objects further away in less details, and a vastly spreading out realm beyond my limited horizon. All this was partly analysis, but at the same time a type of fantasizing, or forms of thought experiment, and also like day dreaming (though it was night ;>). It shared with a dream that I was only partly `doing' the thinking, and actually more `watching' what was being thought or processed.
I could feel almost bodily the impact of the hard-nosed realists who tell us that of course the world is out there, solidly and secure; while you can logically make a point that it only exists in experience, why would that experience fit together so perfectly in such a detailed simulation of a real world? Wouldn't it make much more sense to posit the actual existence of such a real world as the simplest explanation of why all our various experiences fit together to create the sense of such a world existing within our experience?
I then was reminded of quantum mechanics. And I actually pictured two physicists arguing with each other, again half as in a dream. The classical physicist argued that whatever quantum mechanics could say about microscopic processes was not very relevant for understanding what the world really is like; the real world is as it is described in classical physics. The quantum physicist listened patiently for a while, and then explained how it is a direct consequence of the deep structure of quantum mechanics (qm) that under macroscopic conditions it gives the appearance of classical mechanics (cm). However, the real nature of the world is that of qm, and the world of cm has never been real and cannot be real, cannot be consistent in any way: a world of point particles would fall apart like dust, could not even form atoms or molecules let only crystals and material texture of any kind. So the fact that the complex world of qm has a seemingly simpler limit in the form of cm is in no way proof or even suggestive for cm being somehow more real than qm.
I got excited by witnessing this argument, and thereby became more awake. I remembered my own arguments, that even words like superposition and entanglement are misleading, because they implicitly assume that there even exist classical building blocks that can then somehow be magically superposed or entangled, while in reality the world is already inseparable and the very positing of such building blocks is already a limiting move that approximates reality in such a way that putting those elements together lets reality look so very weird -- it is not that qm is weird, but that a qm description in terms of cm building blocks is weird.
Anyway, having noticed that I had shifted more to the usual world of more thick-thinking thoughts, I let myself shift back to thinner thought forms, more dreamlike, dropping/dissolving the sense of solidity of the conventional world, entering various dream/fantasy realms. Within one of those, I then tried to let my sense of self dissolve in turn, in order to regain the freedom of what I might call a hyper-fantasy, in which not only the object part is affected by fantasy, but the subject part as well. This would take me a longer time to describe, and I'm not sure how well I could describe that. So I'll wind up my early morning sally report at this point.
I walked in Sydney toward a bridge over the harbour, enjoying the way the sunshine turned a golden hue already around 4 pm, it being winter there. Having nothing else to do, I decided to view the world around me as matter, as experience, and as appearance. My attention was drawn immediately to the stones under my feet, and I focused on the sense of heavy solidity of them as stone objects. But as soon as I started doing that, I noticed how my feet were touching the stones, how I could sense the solidity of the stones through the various layers of my shoes, socks and skin. It was so obvious that solidity was a quality of experience, and I saw/sensed vivldly how able my experience was in building up this convincing sense of material reality out of nothing more than experiences.
I then switched to my sense of self as the one walking, watching, feeling the stones, thinking thoughts about all that. Smoothly and spontaneously I let my analysis flow in parallel with what I had just seen/sensed a few seconds earlier about the stones. Just like I saw/sensed the materiality of the stones to be given purely as experience, so now I saw/sensed the presence of a self as given purely as an appearance. Yes, there really appeared to be a me, walking, thinking, reflecting; but where was the me, apart from those appearances? Walking appeared, thinking appeared, feeling-the-slight-warmth-of-the-remaining-sunshine-on-my-skin appeared, together with the sense of the skin being mine and the experience of me-feeling-my-skin-being-warmed being mine.
All this happened very quickly, in a span of much less than a minute. I then noticed how I could relax in these vivid insights, savoring the sense of freedom, first with reclaiming this whole world as an ocean of experience without solidity, and then with rereclaiming this whole world as an even much more airy space of appearance without any luggage to carry, no self to hold onto or to maintain continuously. A delicious and delicate sense of freedom came over me, and stayed with me while I crossed the bridge and found my way back to my hotel.
NOTES FROM 8/26/03
I am supposed to start with the "presence of appearance". How can the presence of appearance be appreciated without making it into the experience of a subject (me)? It seems to me that appreciation requires the traditional subject/object relationship.
I'm sitting on the porch of the Happy Lobster Restaurant on Caye Caulker. What appearances are present here? It's already dark, the air is warm and a light breeze makes the leaves of the palm trees sway. Inside the restaurant, sentimental Latin American music is playing, and across the street a small girl is sweeping the floor of a small beachwear store. There are no cars on this island; people are strolling by, riding bicycles, or driving golf carts. These are the main things that come to my senses right now – but what does it mean for them (or for anything) to be present as appearance? For me, these things are present as my experience. But "appearance" is supposed to be different from personal "experience" – what on earth could "appearance" mean other than given in somebody's experience?
I cannot help but think of Heidegger. To him, "truth" is something brought forth by Being. That sounds very much like the appearance that is presented by Being. But stop – if I start thinking about Heidegger too much now, I get disconnected from the appearances and stay connected only to my own thinking.
Well, alternatively, I can just sit here with no particular agenda (perhaps even without appropriating the world as my experience). Maybe I can just sit here quietly and in appreciation. Then that appreciation (if I look at it more closely) turns out to be appreciation for being alive and comfortable in a worry-free place. But does that have anything to do with the intent of the exercise? Am I still appreciating PA? Well, I could also appreciate specifically the presence of the palm trees, the plastic furniture, the people who walk by, the sea, the sound of the cicadas etc. But these are again given to me as experience – I cannot turn that off.
This is what's going on: I'm struggling mentally to "appreciate the presence of appearance" WITHOUT making myself into a subject vis-à-vis a bunch of objects. And I realize I don't know how to do that.
NOTES FROM 8/29/03
(This is from another evening in another restaurant) I can feel my sitzbones on the wooden chair. Now, stated this way, there's a subject. Can I experience (and appreciate) this any other way? Or rather, can this be experienced (and appreciated) any other way?
I could say: "There are sitzbones clearly noticeable where they press on the chair".
But what sense does it make to rephrase the sentence like this? No matter what comes out of my pen, I still believe that it is me, and only me, who is feeling these sitzbones on the chair. And how could I ever lose the feeling that these sitzbones are specifically MINE, part of MY body? I can change my language to become subject-free, but I don't know how to change the experience of me as the experiencing subject.
The sitzbones are present, the chair is present. I know because I feel them. The sitzbones are not visible to anyone; the chair is visible to the people around me, but not to me; the appearance of the chair and the sitzbones, to me, is tactile and proprioceptive. How could appearance mean anything else than appearing to somebody's senses? The feeling of the sitzbones meeting the chair (with flesh and skin and two layers of fabric in between) is private. At least, that is the ordinary way of conceiving of this event. And I don't know how to appreciate it as anything other than a private feeling. Also, I don't know how to stop presupposing an "I" who feels this feeling. I could perhaps pretend that I don't presuppose an "I", but it would be dishonest.
So, similarly, we can view the world through different lenses. First, the object lens. Then, the subject lens. Clearly, these two world-views are contradictory. If I try to view the world as appearance, I immediately feel a sense of detachment. I focus less on the relations between things because the very presupposition of this world-view is an acceptance/acknowledgment of the non-hardness of things as we see it. When I looked at the tree in the object mode, I did not really see it as a composite. When I "let the tree look at me", I ascribed to it humanlike qualities, and wondered about certain possible functional relations of the tree to me. When I try to see it in "appearance mode", I am much less concerned about, well, anything in particular. I don't, for instance, worry whether the tree would bother with me, as I did when I let the tree look at me. I generally feel more relaxed in this mode, than in the other two modes. I generally feel, well, less concerned about things, or really, the relational aspects between things.
This happened twice.
The third time, I turned my noisy computer off before lying down, and I did not fall asleep. Instead, I noticed that I was feeling cranky. I told myself there were several good explanations for that: I had barely left the house all day, I had hardly spoken to anyone, I had sat in front of the computer for many hours, and I was definitely dehydrated. On top of that, I had not accomplished half the things I had wanted to. I realized that I had not much interest in wondering about APAPB: These were just words I don't fully understand. While on other occasions, this condition of not understanding made me feel somewhat confused and made me ask many questions, today I simply could not bring myself to care. I told myself to observe at least whatever was there and easily observable. I noticed my jaws were clenched and shoulders and arms were tense. I thought perhaps relaxing that would make me better predisposed for the exercise. I succeeded in relaxing a little bit, but I found only more mental resistance to considering (something as obscure as) APAPB. My mind was running in many directions and after a while I decided to quit and get up.
Later, after writing down all of this and thinking it over, the following occurred to me: Since "presence of appearance" and "being" are relatively mysterious to me, I had gotten into the habit of starting the exercise with "appreciation", hoping that if my appreciation encompassed everything it possibly could, in a very general and open manner, it would be at the level of appearance as presented by being (even without my complete conceptual understanding of these). But today, I was perhaps in such a bad mood that general appreciation was not available as a starting point.
It is like sitting at a desk, becoming aware of being thirsty, and seeing a pitcher of water on the counter across the room, but changing from working at the desk to getting water is a discontinuous activity. I am thirsty so I am drawn to the water, but it just simply sits there, and I must decide to get up. The decision is tangible.
My eyes are closed so it is dark. I feel the sheets. I hear music and occasionally a car outside. It's all just there. The sounds, thoughts, tactile sensations, are all vivid and I can explore them with a magnifying glass which seems not to disturb them.
I am drawn again to P-030520, varying over modalities, considering the sheets against my skin. What is it like for the sheets to feel me? This is far easier to do if you are half asleep yet wide awake, for the static quality of the sheets touch is not at all bothersome. For "me" they are simply "there," and as I am half asleep, I think that "I" am simply "there" for them as well. The "there" quality has some distance from it, so that it can be present. That is, awareness of "there" without awareness being the same as "there" but awareness also not the same as "I" which is as "there" as the sheets. "I" of course is (am?) special, as I/awareness can become it and move along the sheets.
Piet asked once that I do two versions of an experiment, one purely descriptive, and one with more phenomenological interpretation. So I will include here both a "Results" section for the former and "Discussion" for the latter. The results section is a stream-of-consciousness style, just trying to record what happened....this is quite long, I know, but I wanted to write it all down, in trying different ways to get at these experiments, ill suited for linguistic reproduction as they are. The discussion section tries to tease out the components at play during the experiment. Note that the "results" already include a stream of this "discussion" within them, as experience includes interpretation of experience.
APAPB while walking along the Charles River Esplanade, then across the Massachusetts Ave. bridge to my office at MIT.
It is really a beautiful day, warm and sunny, the Charles River even bluer than the sky. There are some people running, I hear their footsteps first, then their breathing, both getting louder, then both trailing off in the same order, with a slight Doppler shift down. Not unlike the cars, zooming both ways to the right, coming, going, coming, going. It's easier to see the world centered on the runners (imagine the colors and shapes and sounds appearing from where they are) than on the cars, the people hidden within the technology. There is a man sitting on a stone wall, another on a wooden dock. They also see the river, the sky, the runners, hear the cars. They go by, rather, I go by, as they don't move: I am walking.
There are three squirrels on a tree, all three trying at the same time to block the way of the other two but also trying to get around behind the one blocking them; I focus on one standing fast, head facing the ground looking defiantly at the others below, stuck on the side of the tree as if it had glue on its feet (I wish I could climb like that)...imagine that, everything tilted sideways, the river beneath, the cars above, the grass in front, the tree branches behind, but not caring about any of it because there are two other squirrels jockeying for position demanding attention, the entire world around a tree. They go by. More runners; they go by. It feels like the world flows by me, my reference frame, where all the colors and sounds are, but I am walking through the world, its reference frame, where everything is, where the colors and sounds really are: stop, see they come together, imagine walking, they stay put. Actually start walking, they come with me again.
Such a beautiful day, what is not to appreciate? But it's not just sunny warm weather. It could be freezing rain (soon it will be), so completely different, but the same place. It...the same...appears...to where I am...and is...whether I am or not. There's a difference, there's not a difference (between what I see, how I see it, what it is), the gap, the same. How do I describe this? How will I write this? I haven't written anything to the group for a while. But I have been seeing all these details all along, on this bridge, walking along the trails in the Sierras this summer. I don't just want to list a long litany of details, of colors, of people, of ideas, of theories, of interpretations, of cold and hot and wet and warm, but all these together, vibrant, detailed, are what we are trying to see, get around. So much of James Joyce's Ulysses could be taken to be a report on one of these experiments, the flow of details and what's his name? in Dublin or sitting on the toilet reading a paper while, Bloom I think? Not the same as in Portrait, that's Stephen Daedalus, ah yes, Leopold Bloom it is, Daedalus is the young intellectual, Bloom is more quotidian, cooking a kidney, or some organ, and in all these pedestrian details are also great flights through the history of literature and mythology because, in a real way, all these things happen in the same instant of being, appreciating the appearance....JL! Back to the here and now! Seeing the river while thinking these things. Is this over-interpreting? Will I write about this? Back to what? Isn't everything I think, see, feel, hear, want, either appreciation, or appearance, or presentation, or being? Not all in the same way, but in the moments between being out there, and being just right here. Am I already half way across the bridge?
The river is so blue, actually bluer to the left [West] than the right [East]. But right over the side, the water is actually green, and now I must consider the light reflecting off of the water as different from the water itself, and that the color of the water changes depending on where it's seen from, while always being the same water. I look out at the river, and I cannot see it as other than blue, but I only have to look down under the bridge to see that I cannot see it as other than green. Still the river flows on, there, real, wet, big. The river is....and the river appears. Blue, green, blue, green, blue, green, different, same. Smile. Both colors are beautiful, but I like the blue more.
Looking down the river at the Longfellow Bridge. I was over there last night: I looked up the river and saw the bridge I am standing on now. It's far away, I can see it all, like it was a toy I could hold in my hands, but it's just as big and centered on me as this bridge is now, that is, I can imagine and remember being there and seeing all the same "this" "there." I can almost make out myself standing over there looking back at me, I was just there.
Across the river now, looking across the river at the Back Bay apartments. Looks like the Mary Poppins London skyscape. I live over there, can see about where the building should be, I was just there, will be there again. I was there, now I'm here. I was on the other side of the river, and the world flowed by. Now I'm on this side and it flows by in the opposite direction. I saw this same view yesterday, but now its today, and it is far more vibrant than I remember, though I remember when I stood here looking across it was vibrant too. But I just can't fill it in the same way. I like the way I can be all these different places and see the same world. Imagine being over there across the river...whoosh, it's like everything moves around me and I'm there. Or in front of my apartment...whoosh! Or back to San Diego...whooooooosh! Everything moves about, contracts like warp speed, and I can imagine standing there. Afghanistan? Never been there, it's a place on the map and a lot of news stories, but knowing about where it is, I can imagine....woosh....but when I get there it seems quite opaque, I can't make much out, for it's all imagination. But this world nonetheless, with all sorts of translations across various spatiotemporal coordinates possible. The moment where I am never goes away, of course, even though it is possible to imagine shifting my center all about. It's easier when it's a place I have just been, and the details fade with time and distance.
A car goes by honking, two tones, wa, wa, the second rising, curious. How much? do re mi fa so la ti do. Hard to locate. Move the scale up. wa, wa. do re mi. wa. do. too low still, up some more. wa do wa. do re mi fa so la ti do. That's the right translation, so what is it? do re. wa wa. do re. wa wa. it's not the full step, so it's just the sharp half step up. Am I distracted? Do I need to come back to APAPB? Do I need to come back if I saw myself go away? Or am I still there? Horn is, horn is gone, repeating in my head, appearance of being, re-appearance, appearance of my sound now. It's good to be alive. Appreciation.
Nearing the T station, a voice, "...I think you can go up this street and then turn left..." I look and a woman with blonde hair, a black coat and boots is talking to a man in a gray suit with a map. I am suddenly reflecting on it: I saw people giving directions, but now that I think about it, I only had the voice first, but never just thought of it as only a voice. If I write it down, I will already be interpreting it, because to put it in the order in which it actually happened, a voice talking, then seeing people, makes it seem as if they are quite different events, a difference only injected in appreciative awareness of that moment. Curious.
In the experience there are several components that recur throughout the particular moments. First is the centering of appearances on myself as the one who experiences them. Second, is the possibility of that center being relocated to other places within the field of appearance. This can be another person (obviously conscious), or a spot somewhere else, even atop a building, or somewhere not immediately perceived. Third, is a realness that persists throughout these recenterings, which can not be described but from a center, but remains somehow uncentered itself. Fourth, this interpretive activity that we are now engaged in ("discussion") is coextensive with the experience itself, manifested not just in trying to think through how to describe it, but in seeing, or rather feeling, what is "meant" in other, ultimately abortive, attempts to describe this same thing.
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