Hints of Wisdom from Our Grandmother
–– a dancing matrix of here and now ––
by Tarchin Hearn
I come from my mother
And mother I be:
forest, and sky, and thee.
It is said that our long ago great grandmother Eve ate an apple from the tree of knowledge and that solitary act set us on our way – even to this day. Throughout western history, many people have become obsessed with the serpent in the story. In this essay though, I’d like to consider the apple. What was it? And, even more to the point; what is it? – this apple of knowledge of luminous now.
Close your eyes for a moment, and bring to mind an apple. Most people will see a globe shaped edible object that might invoke saliva and memories of crisp juiciness. Perhaps you see a Braeburn or a Golden Delicious, a Russet or possibly a Granny Smith. It is less common for people to see an apple seed, or sprout, or tree; and even rarer to include leaves, blossoms, bees, pollen, animals eating fruit and scattering seed, underground roots, soil organisms, rain, sun, moon, planet, and stars. Yet apples depend on all of these – seamlessly. This common everyday fruit is an intermingling of myriad processes, weaving in and through each other in exquisitely choreographed timings and placings.
We will come back to apples but first I’d like to make a slight detour into the realm of biology and interconnectedness.
Life is an immense collaboration, an open-ended dynamic and creative symbiosis, that is staggering to behold in any detail. When we look with ‘eyes of interbeing’, we can see plants collaborating with sunlight, rain and soil organisms, in the process of creating their own rich and complex tissues. Interweavings of form and function are going on all around us and even inside us. Lives living in and on and through other lives. It raises some big questions like; what is an individual? Where does he, she or it begin and end? How does she, he, or it come to be defined as such? What might this imply morally and ethically for our relationships with each other? And no less importantly, where does ‘knowing’ fit in with all this?
Consider endosymbiosis, a situation where one creature lives inside another creature in a mutually obligatory way that benefits them both. Mitochondria, found in all nucleated cells, are examples of this. Popularly described as the energy factories of a cell, our own mitochondria originally came to us from our mother, in the cytoplasm of her egg. Mitochondria replicate themselves using their own DNA which, amazingly, is quite different from the DNA found inside the nucleus of the cell in which they live. In well exercised muscle cells, mitochondria will replicate themselves until there are enough of them to provide the energy that the muscle cell needs for its new level of activity. It is assumed that way back in evolution, a bacterial cell, that was able to use oxygen to aerobically metabolize its food source, was swallowed by another bacteria that didn’t have this talent. Somehow the aerobic metabolizer wasn’t digested and the energy molecules it continued to produce were utilized by the host cell, while the host cell provided the ‘food’ and a protective environment that the metabolizer needed. Somewhere in the vast journey of evolution the aerobic bacteria lost some of the genetic material necessary for its reproduction while at the same time coming to rely on some, but not all of the genes in the host cell’s nucleus. Today, mitochondria need the cell and the cell needs the mitochondria. Neither can exist without the other. From a Buddhist perspective, this could be thought of as a two in one truth. Actually it is a profound hint at the true nature and dynamic structure of life. As the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland said; “And who . . . are you?”
Animals and plants are deeply interwoven. Animals can’t synthesize useful molecules from sunlight, unless, of course you include Vitamin D. Instead, they eat plants (and sometimes other creatures) and through metabolism, break down those tissues and then synthesize the molecules they need to build their own bodies from this broken down ‘food’. Fungi do a similar thing. In this way, animals and fungi are thought to be distantly related. Plants can’t move around and so they can benefit from animals eating their various parts, such as seeds, which then get transported in the gut of their eater until they are defecated into a new and hopefully hospitable environment where they continue with the business of being a plant. These demonstrations of symbiosis in action are happening everywhere we look and yet, we rarely see them. As the great mystic poet Kabir once wrote, “The unstruck drum of eternity sounds within me, but my deaf ears hear it not.” Instead of a vast dynamic field of creative process, the world we experience is mostly made up of separated objects in the act of barter and exchange.
Human perception also arises within the symbiotic world matrix, this creative dancing we think of as here and now. There isn’t any other place for it to live. ‘Here and now’ is constructed from one’s carnal matrices and tendencies; bodily dispositions, or interweaving patterns of functioning of cells, tissues and physiological systems, which are themselves interacting with the functionings that compose other beings, and hence the world around us.
These patternings are sometimes experienced as ‘memories’. A memory is more than just the objective ‘event’ that is being remembered. Memory involves neuronal patterns and organism functionings that are similar to, but not exactly the same as, the organism patterning that went with the original moment. What we call a memory is a fresh event, a new symbiosis happening in the present.
All seeing or experiencing is a dancing matrix of here and now. Ironically, it’s the vastness and complexity of here and now that makes it so rare for people to experience the fullness of an apple. What would it mean for ‘all of me’ to experience ‘all of the apple’? Any apple, is a dynamic process that occurs across a larger time frame than most of us can hold in working memory. Actually, the same applies for ‘me’, – and for you. As you may have guessed, we have come to the end of the detour and here we are, back with our grandmother’s apple.
Imagine that I hold up a card with the letters A P P L E and ask, what is this? You might reply, “apple”.
Now imagine I hold up a drawing of an apple. What is this? Again, you might reply, “apple”.
I hold up a very realistic painting or photograph of an apple. What is this?
Now I hold a real apple. What is this?
Imagine I take you to an apple tree laden with fruit. You focus on a particular apple, hanging from a branch. What is this?
Finally, I take you to a mature apple orchard. The air is filled with the hum of autumn bees, the singing of birds and the scent of apples and fallen leaves. An old farmer, the one who planted these trees forty years ago, is resting against a gnarly trunk. He is gazing at the apple in his callused hands, the fruit of a lifetime’s labor of love. What is this?
The answer to each of these questions could be ‘apple’ yet the experience is not the same. Each one becomes fuller and richer than the preceding.
Before reading further, please pause for a moment.
Sense the rhythms of your breathing body,
as you gaze at this page.
Rest in this dancing symbiosis of being and becoming that is in you
and around you,
– that is you.
– that is all of us.
A vast multi-dimensional matrix of responsive coupling
Allow this embodied knowing to ripen.
Now . . . consider how we humans live in a world of words, concepts, objects, and processes, and how we are a seamless intermingling of all of them. Sometimes our living feels rich and profoundly inclusive but for much of the time, it seems to rush, along a path of ‘take-it-for-granted-ism’, a path of narrow vision and unexamined assumptions. This way of being inevitably leads to problems; non-communication and tragic amounts of dissatisfaction and suffering.
Sometimes it may seem that the fullness of here and now is inaccessible to human knowing. We can know our biologically, neurologically constructed here and now, but not the full here and now, – the full apple – which is ultimately immeasurable and impossible to pin down. Our investigations, particularly our dharma investigations, may however bring us to a point where we find ourselves making a quantum leap of intuition that leads us to having tremendous faith/belief/confidence in an utterly inclusive hereness and nowness. In this way of living, ‘thy will be done’ and ‘my will be done’, part and whole, self and other, free will and determinism, can coexist without a shred of contradiction. This leap of intuitive faith emerges in a life that moves with a natural rhythm of passionate enquiry into the wondrous detail and multidimensionality of what is going within and around us.
Exploring anything in a deep and open ended way, we see, feel and make connections to the point where all our experience arises as the mirror-like infinitely reflective world of Indra’s net. Open and responsive, we give attention to the awesome ordinary in our lived immediacy, knowing in a deep, intuitive, faith filled way, that our life is linking with the lives of every participant in this dharmadhatu world, this total field of all events and meanings. At the very same time, the lives of all other beings, lives within lives within lives – all of them separately and together, are linking with ours. And beyond this . . . moving in a place beyond words and symbols – hair raising, reverential, AWE!
The only here and now I know
Is the hear and know I now.
Yet I feel the here and now you know
Makes the here and now I feel.
The hear and know I now
Makes the here and now you know.
This mysterious feeling knowing nowing
Do you hear?
Can you feel it now?
When Eve bit the apple, she ate the whole tree, and the world, and that includes the world of all our worlds. And the cocoon of ignorance, a perfume of nostalgia, a fleeting memory of some lost snugness, that dark warm womb of becoming, was flooded with a dawn light, adawn, adan, Adam . . . and Eden was lost, for Good!
© Tarchin Hearn 2012, Green Dharma Treasury