Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ajahn Sumedho on Noticing Space

Ajahn Sumedho (1934-present): Notice the space around him?
Beginning to notice the space around people is a very different way of looking at somebody, isn't it? We look at the space around them rather than looking at them. This is a way of beginning to open oneself. When one has a spacious mind, then there is room for everything. When one has a narrow mind, then there is only room for a few things; everything has to be manipulated and controlled, so that you have only what you think is right -- what you want is there -- and everything else has to be pushed out. Now life on that level is always suppressed and constricted; it is always a struggle -- there is always tension to keep everything in order all the time. If you have got just a very narrow view of life, the disorder of life always has to be ordered for you, so you are always busy, manipulating the mind, pushing things out or holding on to things. This is the dukkha of ignorance, which comes from not understanding things.

Now the spacious mind has room for everything. It is like the space in this room, which is never harmed by what goes in and out of this room. In fact, we say 'the space in this room', but actually the room is in the space; the building is in the space. When the building has gone the space will still be here. So we can have a perspective, we have the actual walls and the shape of the room, and the space. Right now we can see the limit of this room, and the space of this room is contained by the limits of this building.
Space is something that we tend not to notice, because it doesn't grasp our attention, does it? It is not like a beautiful flower something really beautiful, or something really horrible -- which pulls your attention right to it. You can be completely mesmerised in an instant by something exciting, fascinating, horrible or terrible; but you can't do that with space, can you? To notice space you have to calm down -- you have to contemplate it.
This is because spaciousness is not extreme, it has no extreme qualities. It is just spacious, whereas flowers can be extremely beautiful, with beautiful bright reds and oranges and purples, beautiful shapes -- extremely beautiful shapes -- that are just so dazzling to our minds. Our something else can be really ugly and disgusting.
But space is not dazzling, it is not disgusting, and yet without space there would not be anything else; we couldn't see. If you had just this room, and filled it up with things so it became solid, or filled it up with cement -- a big cement block -- there'd be no space left in this room. Then, of course, you couldn't have beautiful flowers or anything else; it would just be a big block. It would be useless, wouldn't it? So we need both; we need to appreciate the form and the space, because they are the perfect couple, the true marriage, perfect harmony -- space and form. We contemplate this, we reflect, and from this comes wisdom. We know how things are, rather than always trying to create things the way we might want them to be.
Now apply this to the mind. Use the 'I' consciousness to see space as an object to the 'I'. We can see that mentally there are the thoughts, emotions -- the mental conditions -- that arise and cease. Usually we are dazzled, repelled or just bound by the thoughts and emotions; we go from one thing to another -- trying to get rid of them or reacting, controlling and manipulating them. So we never have any perspective in our lives, we just become obsessed with repression and indulgence; we are caught in those two extremes.
With meditation we have the opportunity to contemplate the mind. The silence of the mind is like the space in the room; it is always there, but it is subtle. It doesn't stand out, it doesn't grab your attention. It has no extreme quality which would stimulate and grasp your attention, so you have to pay attention, you have to be attentive. Now one can use the sound of silence (or the primordial sound, sound of the mind, or whatever you want to call it) very skilfully, by bringing it up, paying attention to it. By concentrating your attention on that for a while, it becomes something that you can really begin to know. It is the mode of knowing in which one can reflect. It's not a concentrated state you absorb into, it's not a suppressive kind of concentration. The mind is concentrated in a state of balance and openness, rather than absorbed into an object, so that one can actually think and use that as a way of seeing things in perspective -- letting things go.
Now I really want you to investigate this so that you begin to see how to let go of things rather than just have the idea that you should let go of things. You might come away from this retreat with the idea that you should let go of things. Then, when you can't let go of things, you'd start thinking, "I can't let go of things," -- but that is another ego problem that you have created. "Only others can let go, but I can't let go. I should let go -- Venerable Sumedho said everybody should let go." But that very simple thing is another "I am", isn't it?
Now you can take that simple thing and begin to notice, reflect and contemplate the space around those two words; rather than looking for something else, you just sustain attention on the space around those two words. It's like looking at the space in this room; you don't go looking for the space, do you? 'Where is the space in this room?' thinking, 'I am looking for the space in this room, have you seen it?' What do you do? You look at it; you are open to it because it is here all the time. It is not anything you are going to find in the cupboard or in the next room or under the floor. It is right here now -- so you open, you begin to notice.
(The above is an extract from the talk ‘Noticing Space’ found in the book ‘The Mind and the Way.’ A review of this wonderful book by Ajahn Sumedho can be found here.)

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