I remember one day being at the breakfast table, my eyes peeking randomly through the window. They landed on the courtyard down below where a thin layer of snow were covering the lawns. I was attracted by the awkward behaviour of a couple of magpies. One was so to speak climbing up a tree, branch after branch, until it reached a spot where the building of a nest was being started. It wasn’t just flying there, in one big leap, and I wondered why. The other magpie was leisurely sitting on a bicycle shed looking at his friend, attentive, but somewhat uninterested. I watched this little dance for a while, but realised that there was more to see.
On the lawn, there was a big ball of snow, may be an unfinished snowman or something of the kind. It had been pushed there by the arms of a few playful children, and became this big, somewhat dirty giant ball sitting strangely in the courtyard. It was massive, solid, and yet had an odd, ethereal presence that drew me to it. It appeared as if it was not really there, somewhat absent in spite of its size and solidity. My mind wandered for a while, finding the snowball to be a perfect analogy for the mind, this ‘thing’ that we assume to be the person, the doer. There is ‘somebody’ there, inside the skull so to say, that is directing the show, and for whom all actions are being undertaken.
This ‘me’ too has been dragged into the lawns of experience, pushed and gathered by the arms of many happenings. Maybe a simple thought which, rolled over the years by the hands of fear, sorrow, hurt, shame, guilt, has come to acquire a presence and a solidity similar to the big snowball: imperfect, wounded, with dirty spots, just as the ball down on the lawns appears to me. And mind you, with the same strange, somewhat aloof and ghostly presence. What is the reality of this ‘me’, the person which I assumed to have an existence comparable to a thing? Which I have equated to be analogous to my body? And which, in some privileged and ineffable moments, I have also felt as being absent. Don’t I sometimes say, while admiring something beautiful, like a landscape, that I have for a moment forgotten myself?
The snowball is made of things as unsubstantial as water, snowflakes, and it will melt, its size being reduced little by little when exposed to the heat of the sun, until it disappears completely to the point of having never, ever existed. Could we do that? Could we again and again expose ourselves to the sun of consciousness until all that apparently constitutes us, and which deep down is presumed to be just thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, slowly reduces in size and solidity, until it may one day completely disappear? So how can we disengage from the hold of sensations, thoughts, feelings, and do it as naturally as the tiny snowflakes do when they slowly disappear into nothingness – into water running in the ground to be transformed again and become lawn, fungi, the leaves on the tree where the couple of magpies are having their home, or further snowflakes to be gathered by children.
But for the sun to appear, the clouds of thoughts, feelings, sensations have to be pushed away. The wind here is important. And what wind, what zephyr is strong enough to remove thoughts that have agglutinated themselves for years, to the point of forming a new, bigger thought called ‘me’, myself?… It’s name is ‘observation’, the watching present behind the doing, the thinking, the feeling. I recalled the second magpie who was doing nothing but watching while the work was being done by its friend. But it is not that there is a wind that pushes the clouds for the sun to appear and do its job. No, it’s not quite like that. The sun itself is the wind. Consciousness itself does the observation. And in that observation without an observer, all the thoughts, feelings, sensations that once were taken to be the me-entity – or were being the clouds, the veiling itself – melt and dissolve into pure consciousness, freeing the person to be enlightened, disengaged, liberated.
So let’s summarise it all. Just as the magpie on the bicycle shed is watching the work being done by its friend, the sun of consciousness is heating the snowball of agglomerated thoughts, feelings, and sensations, which take themselves as being a real, separate entity, so that they can be melted away, losing thereby their apparent solidity for a free, active, energised self that engages in life in the same way than water engages in the soil to give the nutrients of love, beauty, and happiness a chance to grow.
Text by Alain Joly
Painting by J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851)
– The ghost in the system
– J. M. W. Turner (Wikipedia)
Back to Pages