June 2021 Sesshin, Day 3: An Experience of Enlightenment by Flora Courtois
4:13PM Jun 27, 2021
Sensei Amala Wrightson
Today is the third day of our hybrid five days machine. It's the seventh of June 2021. And we're going to take up where we left off in the experience and experience of enlightenment by Flora Courtois. And we were at a point where she'd had a couple of important insights that changed how she was going about his search. The first of these was just to recap a little, a casual robot may or may buy one of her psychologies teachers, that the world as we see, it, is simply a projection of neural activity in the visual centers of the brain. When she heard this, it was like, it meant that she knew she did not have to work any longer looking outside of herself, but but needed to investigate her own mind. Second experience that she had was of, of connectedness, of feeling, all of a peace with the earth. And this, this, too, was to exhilarate her and encouraged her and efforts. But at the same time, she was feeling more and more isolated more and more at odds with the normal world.
Just to read from where we were left off. After these two incidents, I cease to search for an answer in reading, and became intensely interested in exploring everyday experience. The very nature of sensation itself, absorbed my attention. I became increasingly aware of sights, sounds, touch and smell, impressions, feelings, all for their own sakes. And the more absorbent I became, the more endless the visitors which seemed to open. Note here that she, she talks about her investigation into the senses, as being all for their own sakes. In other words, not grasping at sense objects, so much as interested in the nature of sensors themselves.
As brings to mind the the study putana suta, the foundations of mindfulness, in which the Buddha instructs his disciples in contemplating the body in the body, the feelings in the field, feelings, the mind, objects, in mind, objects and so forth.
She continues, what is more immediate than sensation, I asked myself, surely reality must somehow permeate immediate sensation. Yet each sense is so limited, so partial and incomplete. How does one sense reality whole all at once? Is that possible? is a big questions to be asking.
Like a strong undertow pulling me down at away from the routine surface of life. My inner quest absorbed more and more of my time, I began to stay alone in my room for long periods, just sitting, observing, struggling inwardly for some direct content. If there is a basic reality that is common to everything, I thought, it must be within my experience too. As well as in everything and everybody else's. Surely I can grasp it immediately. At firsthand any other way would be only second hand and will not be it at all. But how could I get at it? How know it firsthand. I became preoccupied with the most elementary processes of getting myself reoriented to the earth, and to the people and things around me. It's difficult to describe this period, and the rather eerie feelings that prevent pervaded this groping. This is a times what we need to do, is to grow up, in other words, to search in the dark, to search not knowing where we're going, or how things will unfold. Somebody was asked Einstein how he worked and he said, I grew up.
It was as if I had been living in a world of ideas. Now, having lost confidence in these, and having let go of them, I had to start all over again. To look at everything to feel it, touch it, since it again, almost as an infant does, to realize what experience was truly like.
Having lost confidence
in the world of ideas. We can't we can't fake this, this loss of confidence that it really has to come out of genuine process. We have to some of us more than others have to exhaust
commerce in the world of ideas, see, see for ourselves, the limits and how they limit our experience for that matter.
Once once she had reached this point, she had to start all over again as she says, to look at everything, feel it, touch it sense it again, almost as an infant does, to realize what experience was truly like.
could say she was in the process of turning into a move for
seeing things from from a mind that is, is is no longer longer,
Again and again.
Again, and again, I returned to considering the sense of sight. It seemed to me that how one saw the world around one, not what one saw But how was the crux of the problem. Somewhere in a psychology textbook. Perhaps in a chapter on Gestalt psychology, I had read a discussion of figure and ground perception. I now notice that while the focus of sight moved from figure to figure, the nature of the ground largely determines the nature of the figure. But what in where was the basic ground for all perception? Was it just another but larger figure with a fixed boundary, I seemed able neither to penetrate to its nature, nor to find its limits.
We often log on to the objects of our awareness.
attach to them, cling to them, or we may push them away experience aversion towards them. Or if if they're neither pleasant nor unpleasant, we may just ignore them. But in this process of locking on one way or another, we we miss the whole picture, we lose sight of the ground.
The way of understanding this issue of grounded figure is the way that often in the background conditioning that determines how we experience things.
For instance, if we if we have prejudices of one kind or another, whether it's racial prejudice or sexism, or homophobia, then those those prejudices will be active in in shaping how we see people from those different groups. It's like, we don't see them in the round is fully subjective beings, but, but more like cardboard cutouts with with labels stuck on them on the outside, rather than then rounded human beings. So in this, these cases, the background is is not a neutral one. And we need to examine these these types of conditioning see them for what they are.
That's that's not what four vows talking about here. She's talking about seeking the ground of all experience. Like teacher, John della Dido, Laurie would often talk about her true nature has a ground of being
this is what flow requires seeking. What What is,
behind the objects we experience or permeating them? And how can we, how can we train ourselves use our mind in a way that enables us to experience this ground?
In one of your books, by Dean bachelor, suggests that we experiment a little bit in our practice with this issue of, of sort of foreground and background.
She she's writing about working with the practice. What is this here? She says, Remember, the question opens up a broad and deep focus. We're not what asking what is this? What is this to shut everything out? That's not the idea. Rather we asking what is this in the foreground? While in the background, we have a wide open awareness, where we have thoughts, sensations, hear sounds, and notice feelings as they arise and pass away.
So put the question in the foreground and everything else in the background. At times, though, you could have sound in the foreground or the breadth, and possibly the question in the background, or no question at all. then introduce it again from time to time and see how it works.
It's refreshing refreshing to hear these instructions, and they can help us to refresh our practice. It is important if working with a con to play with it from time to time. Our minds are very malleable. And we need to experiment with the koan, rather than just hold it in a kind of day. group where we feel there's only one right way, and in many, many wrong ways to, to question the car. I think this this comes originally from a Korean Master chinle. But the this image for how we practice of her chickens sitting on her eggs.
And in order to keep them warm, she moves them periodically with a feet. So they're, they're not just sitting there in a static pile with some nearer to her and some further away, but she, she, she rotates them. So this plane with great foreground and background is is a way of acknowledging that we're working with the mind. And we we can work in different ways, we have a choice about how we relate to what arises in the mind.
Mu, for instance, may seem to disappear. But who's aware that it has its move, of course, how could it be anything else,
she continues, it came to me that I had always thought of the center of myself as in my head, and the rest of my body is somehow incidental, my head was so full of activity, it was almost as if it were disconnected from the rest of me. Just before falling asleep, sometimes I would have the illusion of having an enormous head, I thought of the various parts of my body in sequence, it seemed to me that there was something all wrong with this. If one were a hole and single human being, surely there must be some way to realize oneself all at once. To think with one's feet as well as one's head.
It says a little bit as if flow requires is discovering some of the, the basic Zen principles on her own as she goes through this process. The emphasis in, in Zen of, of centering our questioning, on our vital center the horror, as a way of of bypassing or weakening that tendency for us to be centered up in our heads and our thoughts. And she mentions thinking with one's feet, that's very much a part of, of the martial arts to be able to sync with one's whole body, which of course, martial arts, many of them are influenced by Zen. It takes it takes training to, to come to this sense of, of the whole whole body, working as one
my pursuit of this elusive ground of all things, first of all things perceived began now to bring my attention to a welter of forgotten memories and feelings. Over many hours, I reviewed past experiences with parents, relatives and friends, realizing gradually that this web of memories made an ever shifting pattern, never quite the same from moment to moment. Where was the changelessness in change, which I sought here. In this is something that can happen as we go go deeper as the mind settles more and more is that any any unresolved issues that are there will will will bubble up to the surface that will arise. But it's notable here that foracort word doesn't just dwell in the stories themselves, but she gets some meta awareness of The whole phenomenon of these rising memories in the the patterns that are that are made this arising, she sees how, how these memories are not entirely fixed. But in in flux.
She it's as if she kind of can get to the point where she's witnessing the parade as it goes by anchored in her search for the ground of it all the changeless pneus in change as she puts it here.
This this way of thinking of practice is anchoring us, I think is one that I find helpful. And I've heard from other people that they find it helpful. It's elaborated in by Martine bachelor and her her book and her husband's book, Stephens. What is this? Just read a little bit of it.
rather than use the term concentration, I prefer to use the word anchoring. Because we have an unhelpful relationship to concentration. If somebody tells us concentrate, generally we tense up and try to narrow our focus. anchoring is a bit of image because it brings to mind anchoring a boat, we have the anchor, we have the boat, and thanks to the anchor, the boat does not is not going to drift away. The boat isn't stationary, it shifts a little according to the current and wind, but it's not going very far. So we see that the anchor, the breath, the body sound or a question actually helps us to be with our experience. The aim is to be with our life in this moment in an open and stable way. In the song tradition, we come back to the question, what is this? The crucial aspect of anchoring, whether we're coming back to the breath, coming back to the question, what is this is that we come back to the whole experience of this moment. In a little further on, she says it is very important to see that when we anchor when we focus, we don't hold on to the breath for dear life, nor do we hold on to the question tensely. Instead, we use them as an anchor in our experience, we come back to them again and again and cultivate choice. Do I continue with us? Or do I return to the question? That's the choice we have. We can continue with a certain thought or come back to our whole experience via the anchor. We're very much doing the same thing in shikantaza. When we notice with her mind is narrowed down on on a thought or feeling to choose to reconnect with the whole picture. All of the sensations and of sitting there to come back to that with a wider perspective
Now it was as if I were being pulled down into the vortex of a milestone within me, pulling me forever further down and away from everyday life and involving me in an all consuming life or death struggle. Although I never completely lost touch with other people around me, I began to wonder if I would ever be in close communication with another human being again. Their lives and daily preoccupations seems so remote from mine. The simplest task distracted me and took an excessive amount of time. I remember standing over an ironing board and concentrating so intently on the question, what is the ground of everyday reality that it took me all afternoon to do a small ironing. That was certainly no way to hold a job. can imagine you could imagine what her her employ her might have thought. In witnessing this. I remembered a remark of nature's that it was dangerous for dangerous for anyone to go too far alone. This frightened me, but I could not give up now. I felt compelled to go on no matter what the outcome we can we can see her courage and determination here. And also, gratitude for being part of a Sangha, where we do have contact with like minded people. And we can come together in this in the container that is sesshin to do this work together.
Now, I made two urgent attempts to find someone who could understand and help. One Sunday morning I went back to mess which I had no longer been attending at the campus chapel. It was a clear cold day and the chapel was jammed with other young people dressed in their best clothes. The priest was a popular hardy young man who kept the social life of the parish churning. The whole ritual of fear appeared to me in my frame of mind as a highly managed charade. After listening to the his sermon, the possibility of ever communicating my acute concern to this man seemed remote. Perhaps I did Herman and justice, but I never went back. I next paid a visit to a philosophy professor, whom I had heard was a kind and understanding man. When I told him of my intense interest in discovering the nature of reality. He suggested I take a course in epistemology the following two, I left his office feeling utterly forsaken, thinking, I don't want another course. What I want is the thing itself. I began to despair of ever communicating this to anyone. About this time when in my room alone, I began to have occasional visions. These were not cute hallucinations, nor were they dreams. They were more like the visions one sometimes sees just before sweep or eidetic images, they were astoundingly clear. In one of them a scene scene appeared, as from an incalculable lobby remote in primitive time. I seem to be a member of a small family of cave dwellers, there was a darkness a gloomy darkness about our lives and surroundings. In our cave, we had found a place of security and protection from what I sense to be a hostile outside world. Gradually, however, we found within ourselves the courage as a family, to venture forth together to seek a brighter or open place. Now we found ourselves on a great open light plane, which stretched in all directions, and with the horizon seemed a beacon to us with untold possibilities. To my surprise and horror, that others in my family found this threatening and decided to return to life in the cave. I felt profoundly convinced that this represented a critical decision, a fork in the life of the family, and indeed of the whole human race. The challenge was, of the next important step upward. Or we could we could see this as happening within the individual. This this aspiration to venture forth, and then the turning back and we can probably many of us and identify in our lives, times when we've, we've played it safe when we've chosen the dank cave over something wider and more expensive. I knew now knew that. That's choice. I had to Make was whether to remain within the safe fold of the group, or to continue on, leaving most of mankind behind. If I went on Henceforth, I would go alone. After this, my sense of aloneness deepened still further. In another vision, I found myself standing in a familiar room were apparently I had already spent many years, the place had an abstract geometric quality squared of in flat two dimensional planes as in certain modern stage sets. I seem to spend a great deal of my time at a desk facing a wall, manipulating assorted colored blocks, without actually seeing them. I also knew that all around me in the same building, above and below and up and down long hallways, there were other persons in other in similar cubistic rooms, busy day and night with the same kind of abstract manipulations. Now this was happening in the 40s, this experience of floral toys and was written down in the 60s. But it certainly sounds pretty relevant to us today. Perhaps we would say rather than sorting colored blocks, clicking on assorted colored squares.
Once in a while, we came out of our rooms and met in the hallways to chair the while before returning to our separated cubicles. One day without knowing why or how I turn completely around and there To my surprise was a long open window, opening directly onto a breathtaking Vista. It had apparently been there all along.
stepping outside in wonder I found myself again in an airy light scene. With the the weather was a mountain fresh stream, winding beneath shade trees, where the colors were deep and translucent. Everything seemed alive and dancing, and the horizons in the firmament extended to infinity in all directions. along with everything else, I seem to dance in ecstasy, then standing still. And looking back at the building, I thought sadly of the people they're each in his cubicle, unaware of the wondrous universe all about, so easily accessible, if only they would turn around and look, I felt I must return to communicate this message to them. Because we can understand these dreams is giving form to what was happening to flora. Gradually she's tuning away from from those abstract manipulations and experiencing everything, freshly.
to my display this dismay, on reentering the building, I found I had no words for it. Nothing I did could alert the attention of these others running up and down the halls, or walking furiously, or working furiously in a walled off rooms.
there's a there's a line and in Mu one's commentary to the koan Mu in the first case and move on Khan, where he talks about the person working on Mu as being like a mute person who has had a dream.
It is hard to adequately describe the depth of conviction conviction, the sense of mysterious truth, these visions carried with them. The conviction grew in me that my inkind had become over civilized and degenerate, that just as in my visions, somewhere on the illiberal evolutionary path or wrong for could have been taken. women had retreated from a critical challenge to return to the living source, walling themselves off and manipulating their constricted environments until they had become a feat in To liberal creatures out of communication with the rest of nature, I began to seriously consider the possibility that I might have to go into the woods and to live a more wholesome life alone with the animals. At the same time, hoping that a few human beings with similar feelings might eventually join me there.
given her her thoughts here a very act in our in our time now, with with mass extinctions club over global overheating, and all the many other problems our Earth is suffering because of our disconnect from it. She goes on to describe how she started to, to develop, what she calls messianic feelings about having to communicate what she had understood from these dreams. And she sits down and writes a long essay. Staying up far into the night, several nights running with the basic theme of human race having lost its way and needing to return to its roots in nature. When it was finished, I telephone telephone Dr. DeWitt Parker, my philosophy professor, and persuaded him to let me bring the paper to his house that very evening. It was a bit of winter night with the snow waist deep. So my urgency in my urgency, I called a taxi. A while extravagance fully then I had a swollen look from a bad call sore, and I must have been a strange disheveled half med site. As I stood on Dr. Parker's doorstep, manuscript clutched in my hand, sitting at one end of his pleasant living room, Dr. Peter Parker patiently read through the entire paper while I sat there, anxiously waiting. When he had finished, he told me in a kindly manner, that the paper made him think of it so then, as he was showing me out the door, he gently suggests that it might be wise for me to have a little talk with the university psychiatrist. As I returned to my room that night, I felt my last hope of ever being understood had vanished. She then is in a state of despair, manages to buy a large bottle of sleeping pills from a from a pharmacy and was contemplating if, if her isolation got worse that she might, she might take the pills.
Fortunately, two incidents soon occurred. My seat in a class in European history was in the front row center, directly in front of the lecturer, so that as he leaned over his legs and he looked directly down at me, this turn the lecturer happened to be a young visiting professor from Oxford, very British very starchy. He becomes alarmed at her how she looks because she's having she's tried to keep hold of an experience that she had in his class. She says, I suddenly became aware of space in an extraordinary manner. That is, I was equally aware of it behind me, underneath, above, all around and in fact, that seemed to be all through me. The so astounding, astounded me that I held my eyes wide open, and my breath still for fear of losing this incredible experience. This was much too much with a visiting British professor who bought his lecture to a full stop, leaned over LinkedIn and asked me if something I had said it unduly surprised me. I blinked. Brees replied, No sir, and returned to history. But now I knew something extraordinary was very close and I felt exhilarated and hopeful it goes through these, these these ups and downs in search.
when when when I read this read the story I remember seeing if I couldn't try and reproduce what what she had experienced the the sense of space who around and through me. But it's it's it's not so much something you can manipulate with your thoughts but something that happens when the mind gets quiet enough to become aware of this.
Also, apparently by now a number of people were becoming concerned about my unusual behavior, and someone had made a telephone call. One evening, there was a lot a knock on my bedroom door, and Dr. Bell, a woman doctor from the University Health Service pay me a visit. After a short talk, she persuaded me that a few days rest in the infirmary would be a sound idea. So I packed a few things and went along there with her next morning found me in the office of the university psychiatrist, Dr. teofilo, Raphael, Dr. Raphael asked me a number of questions about my life at home and in school, and I talked to him quite freely about my parents in my school life. We never once discussed my deeper and more urgent concerns, but I did tell him of my vision of the open window. He had a most understanding manner of nodding with his head to one side, his forefinger resting alongside his nose, I realized now he probably interpreted this account of mine from a Freudian point of view. At the time, all I felt was of profound relief at being back in contact with at least one seemingly understanding member of the human race. I saw Dr. Rafael only once or twice more in his office, he and his assistant decided I had been working too hard, and eating too little. These kind people arranged to tap some University Fund, which enabled me to move to a rooming house near campus. And for a few wonderfully free months, I simply went to one of the college cafeterias were all my meals were paid for. They also requested that I drop in at intervals and report how things were going. This I gladly did. Think of reading, reading about this, this rescue that that comes to her your extremity of the the phrase, body sound was springing up in response to an aid or something that that these virtual reality teacher Helen Wallace talks about, into his own spiritual journey. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a reference for the details of it. But But basically, he says, if we commit to the path, then it rises up to meet us. But at that time when we make that commitment, we have no assurances given. We can feel as if we are in freefall. But then we held with care court, and help arises one way or another.
It was now early spring, after my stay, have four or five days in the infirmary, I moved into my new room, and returned to my underground quest with renewed vigor. Sitting on a bus one day, I concentrated intently on trying to recapture that awareness of open empty space in all directions, until I suddenly realized several people sitting opposite was staring at me in some alarm. I finally decided that reality must be unlike any preconceived idea I might have averted and reached a point of just waiting in living be. Again, another another turning point. Reality must be unlike any preconceived idea I might have avoided.
what you think.
She says she reached a point of just waiting and letting letting be. This is really shikantaza you could say, a kind of effortless effort. vigilance for long periods, I simply said, saying inwardly No. Not this as if waiting for what I knew not this not versus is a Hindu formulations he can be used when we're meditating and whatever discrete forms arise to, to say no, not as that not this. But waiting waiting for this, I could say sometime in April, Easter vacation arrived, and I went home to Detroit to spend a week with my parents there about three days later, alone in my room, sitting quietly on the edge of my bed and gazing at a small desk, not thinking of anything at all, in a moment too short to measure, the universe changed on its axis, and my search was over. Let's see, seems like a good place to pause here, and we'll continue again tomorrow with this account,