NO I BUT I

There is no I but I!  No, I am not denying the existence of ‘No God But God’, nor denying the existence of other people, but only the existence of two ‘I’s.  I here now, washing this mug, am all there is of me.  There is no ghostly me behind the scenes, no Cartesian ego detached from all these trivial pursuits.  At this moment I am a washing thing....  How poor it seems by comparison!  And how rich….

I can imagine a second-order me, watching everything I'm doing, or more realistically, watching everything except what I'm doing.  It is only the semblance of a being, it is made entirely of distractions, it cannot stand up except in imagination.  Yet it has the power to call my mind away from every single thing I do.  Its name is ego, and it continues forever to rob me of my deepest self.  

The hardest to recover are the things we have stolen from ourselves, because we imagine they are not stolen.  We have to keep reminding ourselves to enter our own full reality. As often as we wander away from it we come back; meditation is about coming back again and again.  That place to which we come back looks the poorest of all places: with no excitement and no entertainment.  But what should home be like?  Not like a cinema.  Not a place of garish lights and loud noise.  Home is where one rests, home is the opposite of the street and public life.  Imagine that you are sitting in your own home, in a beautiful room where everything is simple, harmonious and in good taste.  There is no excessive furniture or decoration there; it is a calm beautiful room where you are able to rest and be renewed.  Suddenly you say, “Ah, there’s something missing!  I almost forgot!”  You go out and return in a moment with a smelly rubbish-bin, which you empty out in the middle of the floor.  Now you have a heap of yesterday’s leavings in front of you: old newspapers, used tea-bags, stale bread, fish-heads....  It is not entirely different from switching on the television in the corner, or the internal television, rerunning old films.  These are a little more multi-media, that’s all.   But best of all would be a simple bare room.  That is what meditation feels like. 

There has to be a kind of poetry of meditation: otherwise it will seem grim and puritanical.  Such poetry will need to be quiet, natural, effortless: a poetry of homecoming.  In fact a large body of such poetry exists and is called haiku, perhaps the briefest, the most spare poetic form in all literature.
            An old pond,
            a frog jumps in.
            Plop!        
To be fully present where I am: with no regrets, no whiff of yesterday, nothing trailing.  I am the pond and the frog: there is no I but I.  In everything, I am to look for the pure reality.  Things that seem far removed from me have a core, a living centre: I can seek it out and be completely present to it.
            Cry of the deer  -
            where at its depths
            are antlers? 
Not only beautiful things, but also terrible.
            A sudden chill  -
            in our room my dead wife’s
            comb, underfoot. 
It will take great courage to stay with terrible realities, and we will often run away, but there will be no one to blame us, because every human being knows terror too.  The poetry of some future homecomings we cannot compose in advance. 

But already we can learn the discipline of looking for the heart of every matter and staying close to it, or being one with it.  We need to let our consciousness be a full blaze, to burn out fully in everything we do, so that there is no smoke, and nothing for the bin tomorrow: every action a blossoming in red and yellow and then extinction. 

Suffering and discipline: both of these seemed somehow external to us, imposed.  Patience was the way to put up with them, a kind of passive resistance.  But everything that happens to us becomes us by happening to us, and everything we do is us.  We cannot be external to ourselves, except by delusion.  We can become one with everything in our life.  There is no I but I. 
            Come, let’s go
            snow-viewing

            till we’re buried.

 

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.