Everything is about mindfulness these days.
I’m reading Eckhart Tolle‘s new(ish) book, ‘New Earth’ at the moment. Basically, he’s articulating the same insight that all Buddhist practice articulates, that Rob Nairn is trying to teach up in Samye Ling, that pretty much all Eastern philosophy points to.
The human condition: lost in thought.
I was recommending it to Rachel over lunch today (figs! Greek yoghurt! sesame seeds!) and even though she apparently never reads books, the more I struggled to sell it to her, the more convinced I became of its essential rightness.
In his direct, take-no-hostage style Tolle spells it out: the problem of life is not the content – not the thoughts, the emotions, the things – but the structure. The problem is not the stuff but how we hold the stuff. Thoughts and words, for example, are perfect in their place – where they become problematic is when they run out of control, or when we live in words rather than in the infinitely deep reality of things. When I think I’ve eaten “yoghurt” and “honey” instead of the yoghurty white creaminess, veined with golden sweet honey that is slipping down my throat, is sticky on my lips still.
Things and (particularly) people are infinitely varied, changing, shifting unique. Why reduce them by a label? Maybe for momentary convenience – but not always, not for ever.
The greatest – absurdest – example of this reduction is ‘I’. How absurd to reduce the massive, voluptuous complexity of you to one anorexic pen stroke.
This is Tolle:
The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that constantly unfolds within and around you. In this way cleverness may be gained, but wisdom is lost, and so are joy, love, creativity, and aliveness… Of course we have to use words and thoughts. They have their own beauty – but do we need to become imprisoned in them?
I’ve written and read all about this for years – but sometimes the membrane between thinking about something and actually feeling it becomes thinner and thinner and one day it might pop open. Why do we live in that reduced way?
A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote this:
An English writer from the turn of the century describes a fantastical kingdom, high in the mountains where there are no words. It’s an urbane and sophisticated civilisation where the adults spend most of their afternoons in busy teahouses, communicating in fluid gestures and with the tiniest nuances of their faces. The only sound to be heard is that of hands in the air and the clinking of china. People from the valley live in blissful specificity. Since every person, animal or meadow flower can be judged on their unique merit – it makes no sense to give them names. There’s that bird and this one. Same markings and song but clearly different birds. The children don’t have names either because they know each other by sight. And when passing a stranger, people have to put down what they’re carrying and look that person in the eye to hold a conversation. Once a year in summer, the Wordless Folk come together in a great silent gathering under the sky, chuckling with their hands and wreathing their faces with delighted smiles, unpacking picnics, laying out rugs. When everyone has arrived and the sun has begun to sink behind the mountains – they sing. They open their throats and sing.