With gratitude to FCM member Judy Rosemarin for sharing her experience from the FCM Fall 2016 Retreat.
Broken Apart Yet Unafraid
There I was, on the third day at the FCM Fall Retreat in Tampa, sitting on my cushion, and the question was posed, “What is a thought?”
Silently, in my snarky style, I said to myself, “brain secretions” and felt cool. But that ended quickly when I was invited, by Fred, to look at thought directly. I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I knew how to watch thoughts go by. Easy. I knew that we feed them and they grow so I try not to do that as often as I can.
“Find a thought and just look at that thought directly,” Fred said. Easy. I can do that and I conjured up a hot fiery one that I called “anger” and yes, I “saw” it and could feel it but I quickly learned that I wasn’t looking directly at the thought “anger” but instead, I was looking at the things I had imbued into the thought.
I had put in color ( red) and I put in body sensations ( chest tight, throat breathing, heart pounding) which felt strongly. So the combination of attributes of red and body sensations were then categorized and labeled “anger.” But I wasn’t yet looking directly at the thought itself. Oh, rest assured, I was sure I had but with Fred’s careful and caring guidance, and not accepting my first response, he suggested I look again at “just the thought” and, shockingly, I saw nothing.
Now that sounds a bit strange because it sure felt like something before I just “looked.” It felt real and even powerful. But then, when prompted to locate it, to see if I could find its dimensions, shape and size, it was nowhere to be found. And when I discovered that the thought had nothing to it, like air, it evaporated and disappeared, leaving not a trace of feelings other than surprise and delight.
But it didn’t end there. I was then asked to do the same thing with my name: Judy. Now before I continue, I need to share with you that I prided myself in intellectually understanding a lot of what we study, I have a decent daily practice and have even “taught” a bit of mindful awareness to others. Also, based on my psychological training, I know about the ego’s fear of annihilation. And all that jazz. But what I discovered, in this experience, was something way beyond intellect and basically beyond language. However, in an attempt to approximate this seminal experience, I will do my best to share that next step.
If I had been asked to look at “Judy” under other circumstances, I might have been fearful but based on the deliberate mind training build up of two days, with focused meditation on top of meditation, and with no time to think I wasn’t in the least bit afraid. I was, instead, wildly curious, a bit contrary with an inner hope that this may be interesting yet I head myself saying to myself “Ok, you can’t be making ‘Judy’ disappear!”
What fun to be wrong! I looked at the name directly, having already been made aware of how to look at thoughts directly and all I saw were letters spelling J U D Y. There was nothing else. No image of a body, or image of feelings in any direction and, well, nothing was there but unhooked letters that spelled out what we call a name, or in some other cases, a label. Worse even -an “identity!” It all broke apart in tiny pieces and disappeared.
Now, from the outside that might be a bit scary. To have yourself disappear but that was the magic of it. Not only did I not disappear, because there is no stable “I” but the sense of fresh air, possibilities, opportunities and energies almost overcame me.
There was nothing to be found, so nothing felt lost! I shed some tears in exquisite wonder at the magic of the experience. Not only that, but I found, in that moment, I could not find my “mind” either. Again, no fear, just this indescribable wide open spaciousness which seemed endless. Yet I didn’t feel lost at all. I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t feel worried, other than my urge-tendencies to ask, “Wow! Now what do I do with this?”
A wise part of me said, “Take it in and see.”
“But I want to immediately integrate it, apply it, use it.”
“Maybe what you want to do is keep practicing and deepen your understanding.”
So, I have done just that since the retreat ended three days ago and what has now come up for me is that if thoughts are empty and they are fleeting as well as numerous 15-20,000 a day, perhaps it might be wise to slow down, really slow down. Then, I can choose my own thoughts, knowing what they truly are, and make them of benefit to myself and to others. I’ll take that ‘broken apart’ any day over what I used to think was me. Oh, the possibilities!