A Story of Stories
© Tarchin Hearn Dec./00
revised and extended Jan. 2011
MY FATHER USED to make up fabulous bedtime stories for my brother, sister and I. He would craft a particular theme for each of us which continued, sometimes for weeks or months. I had stories from Greek and Norse myths, along with occasional tales of gothic horror told in a risqué tongue in cheek manner that always led to release in laughter. My brother had swashbuckling adventures with pirates and my sister had an amazing series placed in ancient China with a magic princess, dragons and a character named Wung Ping. These were an important part of my childhood. I was lucky to have such a gifted story telling dad.
Story telling is not merely for entertainment. We are constantly telling ourselves stories, interior verbalizings, daydreamings, enactments and re-enactments of situations that have happened and ones that might happen. By and large, story telling is the way we humans give meaning, context, and a moral or ethical dimension to events. It’s our homo sapient way of making sense of relationships, the world and the universe we find ourselves in. Of course, we often become so entranced with a particular story that we believe it to be solid fact if not ‘Eternal Truth’. The story tellers of today have found lucrative professions in media, advertising and education. They regale us with tales 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. Most of the plots unfold in a mechanistic universe where only humans have a soul or consciousness and where the rest of nature exists primarily for the purpose of sustaining human beings and more specifically oneself and one’s immediate family group. Exaggerated tales, which are closer to fantasies, are narrated in sombre and serious tones about unlimited growth and development. This, in spite of being part of a limited planet with finite resources. Stories we don’t like to hear are dismissed as 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. Most of the time good old fashioned, but still powerfully active, hubris makes it difficult for us to accept that the scientific ‘facts’ of today will likely morph into the art and archetype, the myths and legends of tomorrow. The idea that the myths we associate with ancient civilisations might have been regarded in their day as generally accepted fact, on par with today’s scientific fact, strikes us as deluded or at least rather quaint; symptoms of a simpler and more primitive age. If humans survive the next two thousand years, I wonder what they will think of our current views of the universe and our human place in it.
Story-making is a living process and we need to constantly re-examine and refresh it, allowing our stories 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. It’s too sterile. Our experience is curtailed by software constraints and screen limitations. We can’t feel the weight of our father sitting close to us on the edge of the bed. We can’t feel his warmth and caring. We can’t smell him or feel him startle at a sudden change in the pace of the action. The opportunity to weave the sound of a bird outside the window or a clatter of a pot falling in the kitchen into the ongoing flow of the story never arises. Never-the-less, let’s try. As you read these words, please use your imagination to help set the scene, for the real beginning is a story of great magic and mystery.
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 a garment of vastness.
You sit out
under the stars
The milky way
bowl of the world
like a starry shawl of caring,
And the river
sings in your cells
And the earth scent
floods your brain
And the near zero air
pricks your surfaces
into fresh awakeness
And the mystery
of reverence and love
weaving messages of meaning.
this blessed moment
this always available intimacy
Illumined in the dark.
An owl hoots in the distance and another replies. The sound of the river blends with the passing whirl of insect wings and the murmur of leaves gently rustling in the trees. Come nearer my friends. Sit close. Wrap yourselves in your blankets, hot chocolates in hand, and I will tell you how this all began.
The beginning is actually more extravagant and fantastic than most beings ever imagine. More awesome than the 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’ involves a huge amount of not knowing and a vast expanse of never to be known.
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 nowing – is knowing!
Within now/know, 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 hungers and satisfactions. 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. This story is shaped by the experience that is all of me –– bumps and lumps, inspirations and burstings of beauty, gross stupidities and common banalities, neurophysiologies and musculoskeletal dancings, inner and outer, micro and macro, –– all of me being shaped by the experience which is all of you, a 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 towards 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 and justify 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 of our own making. Suffering arises in not seeing our story is also 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 and to get others to keep it so.
Artful spider that I am
Waiting in the golden web to catch my dinner now.
I spin connections all around
The twig, the step, the gutter strong,
Then thread to thread
A brilliant maker of connections
that I am.
And gradually the sky grows dim
the threads to cloth and fabric strong,
my mind arranged around me fast
Like laundry hanging out to dry.
The web grows thick, a ball of yarn and I
in centre, yarning still, entangle
all the spacious things
And trap myself within my yarning story.
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.
Please do this right now. Look up from the screen or the page and take as much time as you need. Breathing in and breathing out, gradually relax your body and allow all your senses to be open, alert, 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 and mental activity; stray random arisings associated with ‘yesterday’; feelings, judgements, fantasies and imaginings –– huge dollops of implication and meaning plastered all over each object of sensing, sometimes plastered so thickly that the object disappears from view and all we have left are our cherished desires and opinions.
Stay with your breathing –– very still inside. Eventually you will merge into a lucid awakeness, a spacious play of knowing that knows no limits, yet ‘sees’ translucent shimmering outlines of infinite distinction. Form in emptiness. Unity in diversity. 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, 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 and reflects back on itself, adjusting and reinterpreting the earlier building blocks to suit 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 continuously modify our sensing of the object, bending the world of perception to our own, largely unconscious, needs and wishes.
Feeling the stories
Running from far away places
Dreaming . . . Oh the vastness of the dreaming!
Perhaps our task is to be storytellers
Not custodians of the ancient lore
but creators of future lore
The stories we tell is the world
our children will see . . .
Realising that we inhabit a vast miraculous universe of seeing, hearing smelling, touching, tasting and thinking is rare enough but here is another simple yet challenging thought. Consider the possibility 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 living the next 24 hours with some degree of awareness that every other person you see is also experiencing themself 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 of yourself.
Try sitting with a group of people and all of you simultaneously examine a particular 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 put 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 Rinpoché 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 one’s 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? Will they diminish me? Where they are primarily things – objects to be manipulated or controlled.
Look deeply and sensitively 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 story of your mind?
A number of years ago, during a forest-walk meditation at Wangapeka, I ‘saw’ in a very fresh way. We were moving along the path, coming out from the trees, into the open space by the pagoda. I was in a very tranquil state, wonderstruck by the dancing of the senses, weaving a 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. As we turned a corner, I glimpsed 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. Worlds containing worlds. Worlds reverberating in and with other worlds.
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 gum 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 absolute beginnings and ends. This is life appreciating itself.
Spontaneously sprung from the foaming of see.
My history’s fresh as I bake it each morning.
Mourning the death of a life barely lived
constantly reaching and where is it going
this nectar of knowing
this potion of caring.
Mobious strips turning slowly in space
The stories loop backwards
Radiating wonderment to all ears that hear
Love from the heart
heart filled with grace
this is my face.
And so, my friends, we come to the end of our story of stories. The fire in your heart is still crackling and dancing, radiating in all directions, filling the world with the light of understanding which, in turn, creates the shadows of your own hopes and fears. The light then shrinks inward, plunging everything into darkness which becomes it’s own strange kind of illumination, no light, no shadows, an immensity of unknowing, a space of immeasurable wonderment. The rocks and trees and stars, the schools of fish and the micro-organisms in the soil, the people in the flat next door, everyone and everything are themselves other modes of knowing that dance with our stories; stories within stories, mingling and merging, syncopations of earth poetry and song, together creating the universe symphony –– this one great Ode to Joy.
THE MOST IMPORTANT CRITERIA for stories, be they very individual and personal, or the shared 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 sub-intelligent everything else very functional? We need a new story, a story much vaster and more inclusive 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. Each story contains every other story. Waking up to this changes everything.