looking and seeing the emptiness

“One with the eyes open sees things at a distance, the attention is distracted forcibly and the heart thrown into confusion. When the eyes are closed there is a fall into darkness, and no clarity in the heart. When the eyes are half open the thought does not rush about, body and mind are at one”

-jk mann

I am a visual person. Always have been. Ever since I was old enough to read, I enjoyed the books with lots of pictures. Words were never my favorite part of a book. I took more from the images, the colors, the shades and shapes. I loved leafing through a new book and taking in the pictures and shapes more so than the narrative and logical arguments. I still do.

I’ve come to accept that I’m a visual person, and that what I see dominates my thinking, my thought patterns, my reaction to things.

This is why eye contact is sometimes difficult, and why I prefer listening to someone who looking at them directly when they talk. This behaviour has been interpreted as rude by some, less intrusive by others. For me, it has been a natural defence mechanism in response to reacting to the glance from someone who emits strong facial and body language.

Over the past months, how and why I look at something or not has begun to permeate more forcefully my aikido practice, as well as my days at work. I don’t know if this is the result of becoming more at ease on the mat. Maybe it is an age thing – by the time you reach 47, old habits begin to wear thin, and one begins to question why these habits, good or bad, were even given some much weight.

The habit I have decided no longer serves me, on and off the mat, which I have chosen to reteach is how I see the mind, how I see the world, how I see others.
In essence, how I look at things, figuratively and literaly.

“To think only of winning is sickness. To think only of using the martial arts is sickness. To think only of demonstrating the result of one’s training is sickness, as is thinking only of making an attack or waiting for one. To think in a fixated way only of expelling such sickness is also sickness”

-jk mann

There are thousands of ways that we can look at the world. Our eyes are but one way that we can look and see the world, but, as noted above, our eyes tend to dominate the mind for many, leading the mind onto journeys that it was not anticipating.

Images attempt to capture our minds and our ki in an endless array of still and moving pictures. Be it books or magazines, which have made photoshop a verb and a norm for altering the actual. Be it movies, which captivate our senses for a few hours, bringing us on journeys of fantasy, love, or social commentary. Be it television, that ubiquitous box that captivates many a soul, frequently into narratives and moments  short on substance, and long on distraction.  Be it the endless stream of images, pictures and pictograms on the internet – a bottomless ocean of incessant images – numbing our ability to accept and appreciate the beauty and truth captured by every image.

Every image is, for me, pure perception, a capture of an infinite moment, where irrespective of the content or beauty, a finite sliver of reality is forever captured.

And so it is for me when I’m on the mat, a series of moments to capture an image or two, as complete and whole, as present and complete as any perfect camera could capture.

Movement, as many have expressed, is but a sequence of endless moments. When we cease to see the moments, and become captured by the sequence of moments, the moments cease to exist – and we become captivated by the motion, the action, the speed by which things happen. Our mind becomes attached to the motion of images. Our ki and spirit become captured by the endless cycle of actions and pictures – the illusion of motion becoming the only reality we can accept.

So what is one to do to not be taken by the motion, and become one with the moment, moment after moment? What is one to do to maintain harmony of mind, body and spirit, most notably when the eyes and glance can so easily succumb to the allure of the movement?

Of late, I have chosen a practice where I go panorama – where my glance is as open, wide and far reaching as I can make it. Two aspects of the practice are present – the physical observation, and the mental. In the physical aspect, looking becomes one of seeing all and seeing one simultaneously. Seeing starts with observing the task at hand, be it the dishes, the book in question, the driving, or the computer screen. Easy to observe these mind-attracting tasks, and loose our sense of the wider world. And so the glance expands, to go beyond the point of focus, to envelop the world entire, as if our visual field was filled with light and an energy. In these moments, we can see clearly our task at hand, yet notice the world surrounding us, appreciating the many shades and angles, yet not taken by any of those elements. When everything is within our field, nothing takes our field of view. Our view becomes viewing all and one, one and all. Our mind ceases to be taken by the single image, the single moment, and begins to flow from moment to infinite moment, and we become like the mirror – reflecting all that is, without attaching to any of it.

Our physical visual world can so easily take our mind that we often spend much of our time with our eyes closed in order to avoid the traps. Easy to do so when meditation, sitting in a meeting or at a coffee shop with a dear friend. However, our mental imagery can be even more mischievous.  Our mind is unable to know the difference between an imagined image – an image imagined – and a true image. Hence the power of visualization. So the practice of taking the whole of the world also needs to be taken to the mind. Our mind can create its own images, leading to the mind being captured by its own illusions – for mental images are nothing but illusions, images which in many circumstances, are being generated by the same mind seeking to detach from all.

The physical images can be quite easily deleted by closing ones eyes, or more easily balanced when expanding the visual field to take the whole of the world. The mental images is quite another matter – where images may only be within one’s consciousness, and their purpose is simply to keep the mind occupied, subdued, pleasant through a movie of its own.

Yet, the mental images can be as easily approached as the physical – if one detaches from all, and accepts all mental as other mental constructs – impermanent and not a reflection of one’s self.

Deleting the mental images is not by closing the eyes – this often makes it worst, as if the mind now chooses to substitute the lacking physical images with a myriad of mental ones. One deletes the mental images by being, and accepting that any and all images that come from the mind are impermanent, temporary and will come and will go – as real, as alluring, or as mysterious as they may be. One can drop such mental images by not attaching to them, allowing them to come and go a clouds come in the sky.

As for taking the whole of the images, through expanding the field of view to all mental images, the same practice comes into play. Detach from all images, and all images come into view. Detach from all mental images, and all mental images come into view – past, present and future images.

The mental and physical image that results is one of pure, infinite, still emptiness, within which is presented a movie, fast, slow, many changing moments, or a slow gradual change of tones and shades. In both the mental and physical realm, the images become products of the stillness, the emptiness, and ones focus becomes whole when the emptiness becomes the sky – the only image that never changes.

“we are not to be detached from the world, alone in our own minds, nor have our mind caught by any one thing. Our eyes express this.”

-jk mann

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