What is

by Antonio Dias

Listening to, or reading Krishnamurti, as he gives a talk, has been something I’ve had to ease myself into. It’s funny, the same has been true of David Bohm, of John Berger, of David Abram – my first reading of the Dark Mountain Manifesto! There is a floodgate of excitement that threatens to over power me at these times. It’s perhaps a joyfulness that overspills. It may also be something else entirely, a resistance.

I’m thinking of how I first approached meditation – let’s say for the first forty-odd years of my acquaintance with the practice! I would begin, and almost immediately bounce off what I found there. It was a first touch of such brilliant satisfaction that I was unable to contain myself. “It hurt so good!” let’s say, or the sensation of peace and satisfaction it opened me to was just more than I could bear.

You see, it was attached to what Wayne and Garth touched upon with their concept of “Unworthy!”

This appears to me now to be one of the ways we maintain the ruts of our conditioning. I was so thoroughly identified with a series of circular thoughts, of a minutely balanced set of desires and compulsions, prohibitions and hidden and unfathomable motivations; that anything that touched on them in a different way was just too dangerous to contemplate, too dangerous to allow in.

It was in this way like encountering some form of inappropriate touch. We may react with outright horror and consider the feelings painful. I don’t know, at least this is possible. Or, we may find the sensations pleasurable – our perception cannot distinguish all that we base judgements of suitability upon. In this case, we may find ourselves laughing. We turn the uncomfortable pleasure into tickling and we recoil with uncomfortable laughter. This might be confused for enjoyment, but it is not. It is displeasure of a particular sort.

I might say that in entering meditation, or in reading liberating writing – let’s add Ivan Illich to the list! – my reaction was to feel tickled. To be overwhelmed by pleasure appearing as discomfort reacted to as enjoyable but ultimately rejected as just too much.

I’ve gone into some detail on describing this because it seems to me that we need to learn how conditioning defends itself at our expense.

What has made it possible for me to avoid this reaction, at least sometimes?

As with anything relating to conditioning, we are dealing with habit, with recognizing habits for what they are, and then living through the roller-coaster of emotions and sensation that take place whenever we change a habit.

Habit is our friend. The neural-physical pathways that develop and strengthen as a habit takes hold allow us to save attention for other uses and allow us to adapt to life with a multitude of reactions and behaviors that would be impossible if we had to keep their functioning within some level of conscious observation and control. Paradoxically, that we are conditioned into habits that over-determine our expectations of what conscious control is capable of doing for us, becomes the source of many of the habits we need to break.

Before I was able to confront any emptying of the mind, or input the speech or writing of liberating people, I was convinced that I would cease to exist if I somehow stopped pouring a torrent of conscious and semi-conscious thought and emotion through my awareness at every moment.

This wasn’t enjoyable! This was the source of the exhaustion and despair of my chronic depression. I contemplated suicide as a potential release! Somehow, that desperate last resort was more palatable, believable to me, than the possibility that I could just let it all go!

If we look closer, it’s not so surprising. Suicide does not challenge the power of conditioning. It surrenders to it! To wish to kill one’s self is to admit that “I cannot exist without all the flurry that is leading me to want to end my life.”

To simply let go is to murder one’s conditioning. This seems a greater transgression while we are under its spell.

We are talking about the Mother of All Habits! Of all addictions. To come to grips with something like this requires a sobering understanding of its power, and a gathering of one’s strength to be able to survive the transition.

Krishnamurti distinguishes between becoming and flowering. He insists that our expectation of becoming someone else is a part of our trap and simply a delusion. Flowering is a form of carrying through. It is an integration in which parts develop and come to their proper function in due course within a flow of actions that follow upon each other without the intervention of intention or control.

The transition that makes up our observations of our conditioning, and then our acceptance of its irrelevancies to our living, is a flowering; not a changing, not a becoming.

He goes to some length in the talk linked to above into pleasure and enjoyment and their connections to desire, and how all together their functioning leads us to understand psychological time. We are naturally drawn to enjoyment, but time and conditioning take over when we stop enjoying what is and begin to desire pleasure which is not enjoyment, but the combination of remembrance and anticipation of enjoyment displaced.

This is heady and truly liberating stuff! He makes it clear the way observing without intention or fear, which is the flip side of desire, intervening lets us learn from what we experience in ways that we can apply without leaning on intervention by an illusory intention to control. Observing our reactions, we accept them, and at the same, time remove the compulsion that drives us to repeat them.

As we gain experience of this our habits change and lose their compulsive quality, not because we intend it, or demand it; but because we learn to trust what matters most. What we enjoy, what we love, is no longer on the other side of an insurmountable barrier. It is and we sense it, and act in regard to what is, and while we are doing this, we are alive.

There is so much here. These observations, this mode of interaction with what is, takes us outside of the traps we are so accustomed to wallowing in. That this is true might seem a simple path to satisfaction and fulfillment. It is not. The reasons for our resistance can be unpacked in this same way, and doing so is a step in our flowering.

Urgency! Our impatience in the light of an accumulation of not just bad news, but terrible tidings and deadly trends assaulting us from every side. These push us to an impatience to get on with it! Some see this as the delineation of good from evil, others as a pragmatic series of efficient actions to make any changes that might make something better, or at least counter things getting worse. Some turn this inwards and, recognizing that so much of our efficacy is based on our attitudes, that we need to change our natures before we can find effective actions.

Perhaps there is another path? Drastic situations, in real life, as opposed to the rabid fancy of authoritarianism, tend to be moments of clarity. The imminent is seen as actual and we respond without mediation. More often than not, in my experience, this has led to amazing results that could not have been predicted or even imagined. Our moment of clarity, the way we are immersed in enormity on all sides, is such an opportunity! Urgency collapses in the face of such adversity! The futility of “the usual suspects” is unmasked by the pitiless brilliance of awareness.

We are reaching “rock-bottom.” Many, we recognize, will ride this to a form of mass-suicide, just for the same reasons we contemplate it as individuals. It is too difficult to imagine breaking our habits so we might as well court disaster as try to avert it.

Where does this leave me? Where does it leave us?

The first step is to accept that we have no control. This is made obvious at every moment by everything we try to analyze. We have no control.

What if we accept that? At first, we suffer a mini-death. This ends up being less fatal than we expected. Such are the fruits of expectation, opinion, ideologies! As in reading the Dark Mountain Manifesto, having the enormity of our situation laid bare and looking at it directly – observing it without judgement or anticipation, as Krishnamurti would say – we embark on a final mourning for the world. This is ongoing. Within this process we begin to see that through our acceptance has come great disillusionment. Surprisingly, or no, this has released a capacity for joy! We have begun to loosen our attachment and identification with the complex of conditioning that has been between us and what our organism craves more than life itself, engagement with what is.

I see around me a roiling. I see it within myself as well. A rising towards being, followed by some sort of collapse back into striving and yearning, followed by another cycle of disillusionment, and then, another stab at flowering. I’m reminded of this calendar winter, balmy days and short spasms of wintry weather that has plants and animals confused, cycling as best they can between the premature false promise of Spring and deadly reversals as pockets of cold sweep through.

Our flowering is not blocked by outside forces – no matter how much we protest, how much we rail at all the destructive forces acting on the world.

It is this hanging fire that bars our way.