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A Story of Stories - by Tarchin Hearn

A Story of Stories
© Tarchin Hearn Dec/00 (read about Tarchin Hearn)
Begun at Te Moata. finished at Wangapeka

Story telling is not just for entertainment. It is the way we humans give meaning to events. Of course we often become so entranced with a story that we believe it to be fact, if not eternal truth. Today, the story tellers are found in media and advertising. They tell stories of consumption leading to happiness, of the moral necessity of progress and the naturalness of devoting huge amounts of our lives to worrying about money. They tell stories of a mechanistic universe where only humans have a soul or consciousness, where the rest of nature exists primarily for the purpose of sustaining human beings and more specifically oneself and one's immediate family group. They tell stories which are closer to fantasies, about unlimited growth and development on a limited planet with finite resources. Stories we don't like to hear are called propaganda or proselytising. Stories we like to hear we call common sense and the way of the world.

Science too has its stories though they are usually called theories. The word comes from the Greek theoria which originally meant spectacle or view and gave rise to the word theatre. Our hubris makes it difficult for us to remember that the scientific "facts" of a particular culture are often called myths a thousand years down the line. We need to constantly re-examine and refresh our stories and allow them to evolve and keep pace with our actual experience of the world. One of the oldest human stories is the story of "The Beginning". I'd like to have a go at telling it in my own fashion. Perhaps it will entertain you. Even better, it might inspire a new way of being.

Cyberspace is not an ideal place for story telling. Our senses are so curtailed. As you read this, you'll have to use your imagination to help set the scene. A camp fire is crackling. Flames are leaping and dancing, throwing sparks and shadows against the surrounding rocks and trees, pushing back the evening chill while above and around float uncountable diamond clear stars clothing us all in the mystery of vastness. An owl hoots in the distance and another replies. The sound of the river blends with the occasional whirl of insect wings and the murmur of the leaves gently rustling in the trees. Come closer my friends. Wrap yourselves in your blankets, hot chocolates in hand and I will tell you how this all began.

The beginning is more extravagant and fantastic than most beings ever imagine. More awesome than a big bang. More powerfully magical than any act of creation. It is so simple yet so extremely elusive, for the beginning, my friends, is now! And now is a huge amount of not knowing.

The beginning is now. The end is now. (Isn't it interesting that the difference between now and know is just one 'k'. 'K' or ka is the Sanskrit syllable for space, the sound of the raven. So 'now' with lots of space, a spacious now, is know!) Within now­know, our story unfolds. The past is now. The future is now. Our story is shaping and reshaping, moment by moment. It is shaped by our DNA, by geo-tectonic pressures and dissipating heat. It is shaped by the lap of waves on the shore, the warming of summer sun, the infinite pushes and pulls of hunger and satisfaction. The story is shaped by cultures and teachings and cosmic events. It is shaped by hopes and fears and the creative attempts of myriad organisms to survive. The story is shaped by the experience that is all of me, being shaped by the experience which is all of you, mutual crafting; an unending flow of creation.

The story is also flavoured with expectations. Expectations of the atom looking for an electron to share; of the tree reaching up through the undergrowth, seeking light; of the psychic masochist expecting to always fail; of the obsessive controller seeing a universe needing control. The story is a revealing of views and understandings. A view of evolution, a struggle to greater refinement and complexity; a view of survival of the fittest; a view of co-operative co-creation. As the story changes, everything changes. A beginning, before now, is a plotline device to serve the present action. An end, after now, is a theatrical convention giving the patrons what they've come to expect. Suffering arises in not seeing we are caught in a story we helped to make. Suffering arises in not seeing our story is the making of others. It also arises when we believe the story should be fixed for all time and we struggle to keep it so.

In this tiny globe of imagined campfire light, surrounded by stars of possibility and the vast darkness of yet to be known and yet to be told, pause and feel the texture and rhythm of your breathing.

Take some time with this.

Gradually relax your body and allow all your senses to be open, alert, awake and responsive.

Widen the gaze of your knowing, the gaze of your nowing, to include everything that is happening around you and within you; eyes seeing myriad colours and forms, shifting, changing, dancing, standing solid; ears hearing myriad sounds, the subtle rhythms of rain on the roof, the wind in the trees, the harmonics pulsing in the sound of city traffic; nose, tongue and body, savouring smells, and tastes, and responding to a huge variety of tactile sensations. Notice the panorama of thoughts; stray random arisings associated with "yesterday", feelings, judgements, fantasies and imaginings; huge dollops of implication and meaning plastered all over each object of sensing.

Stay with your breathing; very still inside, so that you become a lucid awakeness that knows no limits yet 'sees' translucent outlines of infinite distinction. Wherever you are, right now, appreciate the unbroken fluidity, the wondrous creative patterning, the dance of knowing that is you in this very moment. Each conscious being is a story teller, weaving magus magic in the infinite warp and weft of Being. Each conscious being is a character in the story of their own telling.

Now, before we get carried too far into poetic imagery, take a few more moments to notice something that is so obvious that many people can live their entire lives without ever appreciating it. Notice how in a very ordinary and natural way you experience the world of inner and outer sensations as three dimensional or if you include time, four dimensional space with "you" somewhere near the centre. Turn your head and look around. It feels like a real world with depth and dimension yet photons, not trees and houses, are entering your eyes. This is your universe and it is rich and vast and filled with meanings that, when examined in detail, are utterly unique to you. This is your knowing; not anyone else's and it is a knowing that is a living technicolour wrap-around experience; a virtual reality we usually assume to be the reality.

This knowing, this saga, this story, constantly ripples back on itself, adjusting and reinterpreting the earlier building blocks according to present needs. Then it shoots forward again, reshaping the goal in order to make sense of the action to date. This is the story of push and the story of pull and the light in the trees, the sound of the stream and the birds chattering in the bushes. It is the story of me and the story of you. It's even the story of stories. The objects we see are not separate from the "meaning" we give to them. The "meaning" is a reflection of our own understandings which even modifies our sensing of the object, bending the world of perception to our own wishes.

Realising that we inhabit a vast miraculous universe of seeing, hearing smelling, touching, tasting and thinking is rare enough but here is a simple but challenging thought. Consider that we don't so much inhabit such a universe as we are this universe. Consider that every object in your field of perception is, within its own experience, an equally vast universe of sense and meaning. Experiment with going through the next 24 hours with some degree of awareness that every other person you see is also experiencing themselves as the centre of a universe of sense and meaning that they, like almost every other being, assume to be the one real universe. How strange! How rarely thought about! The you that I see is very different than the experience you are having.

Try sitting in a place with a number of other people and all of you examine the same object. Then have each person describe what they are experiencing. It will become obvious that there are as many "seeings" of the object as there are people. If you then include the trees and birds, the worms and micro-organisms and fish in the sea you may discover the Great Ocean of Stories. Stories within stories shaping stories; a universe of intelligence shaping itself. With this kind of experience we might begin, as Thomas Berry so eloquently puts it, to cease thinking of the universe as a collection of objects and begin to experience it as a communion of subjects. ("The Great Work" by Thomas Berry p 16)

In one sense, what we are considering here might seem intellectually obvious but intellectually obvious can be quite different from experientially obvious. The difference is like reading a Lonely Planet Guide about a country you haven't visited compared to actually living there. The Tibetan teacher, Kalu Rinpoche used to say that meditation was more a matter of acclimatisation than anything else. Try acclimatising to this way of being that sees a universe filled with sensing, feeling, intelligences who's subjective experiences become factors shaping our own subjective existence. This is very different from a universe of senseless, sometimes inanimate objects where I alone, often very alone, am the only 'sensible' being around. Where all other objects are seen only in the context of how they affect me. Are they a threat? Can they be utilised? Will they augment me? Where they are primarily things to be manipulated or controlled.

Look at a friend, at strangers on the street, at your cat, at the bird perched on the branch outside your window and realise that they are each experiencing a vast cohesive universe, every bit as complete and as meaningful as the universe that is uniquely yours. All these stories are interpenetrating and interrelating without obstruction. The scholars of the middle ages used to ask, how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. We might ask, how many universes can dance in the garden of your mind?

One day as I was leading a forest walk at Wangapeka, I saw in a very fresh way. We were moving along the path and coming out into the opening with the Pagoda. I was resting in a very tranquil space, experiencing the dancing of the senses weaving the continuously birthing now. I thought for a moment of how rich in colour, texture, sound, smell, and tactile sensation the world is. I thought for a moment how all of this was arising in my experience in a unique and wondrous way. We turned a corner and I saw the other meditators walking mindfully in a long drawn out line and suddenly I saw that inside each of their brains was assembling a universe as rich and complete, (and ultimately unknowable to me,) as the universe that I was so richly appreciating. My mind opened to sensing all these different "worlds" bobbing up and down walking the uneven pathway. I saw a Tui alight in a tree and call forth its beautiful bell like notes and I sensed a world of Tui assembling in its brain. The gum trees swayed in the breeze and I saw that they too were experiencing a world that was unique and meaningful within the context of tree experience. Once this began, the contemplation stayed with me for the next three weeks. Now merely by remembering it, I sense a world of interpenetrating universes; the fox gloves, the beech trees, the mountains, the river, the clouds, the rabbits, the keyboard under my fingertips, the strangers on the bus.

So where does this story of stories begin and where does it end. It is beginning and ending continuously in myriad moments, in myriad minds. A universe of infinite intelligence. Each part is an alive whole, contributing to every other living knowing part. Being such a universe invites a knowing that has no need to grasp at beginnings and ends. This is life appreciating itself; inviting a mystery of being called love.

The fire in your heart is still crackling and dancing. Roaring outward, filling the world with the light of understanding which in turn creates the shadows of both hope and fear. The flames then shrink inward, plunging everything into darkness which becomes it's own strange kind of illumination. The rocks and trees and stars around are themselves other modes of knowing that dance with our stories creating the universe symphony, this one great Ode to Joy.

The most important criteria for stories of a culture is not whether or not they are true but whether or not they are functional. Stories of isolation and solitude, desperately grasping a universe of objects in an attempt to settle fear and end loneliness, how useful are such stories? Do they help to sustain life in all its richness? Are stories of intelligent, righteous me and unintelligent everyone else very functional? Are stories of intelligent humans and subintelligent everything else very functional? We need a new story, a story much vaster than that of one struggling hero called "me" or even called humanity, trying to survive in a world of danger, obstruction and fundamental entropy. Every object is the hero of its own dreams. Each part of my body, every part of the world, is intelligence unfolding. Waking up to this changes everything.