In my last piece I discussed the first two dimensions of heart-mind (citta, in Sanskrit). As we open up more and more to each of these dimensions, we are able to rest quite naturally in heart-mind without getting all tangled up in our heads. The dimensions are: Physical; Mental; Emotional; Openness; Full/Empty.
Now I will discuss the last three.
There is an emotional-affective component to each of the stories we tell ourselves. Generally, there is an underlying current or mood which sustain our stories or from which they arise. If we open to this emotional landscape with our bare awareness practice, we may feel a spaciousness within and surrounding whatever story we are telling.
In 2020, many of us were carrying concealed emotional guns as a result of distress that arose from the pandemic combined with the physical and emotional turmoil within our country. I supported quite a few practitioners one-to-one last year who were upset to discover that their emotional guns were always cocked and ready to fire. Once they clearly and non-judgmentally saw this, they were able to put their emotional gun aside.
It is normal for our moods to change continually. In a dharma talk I gave just before Zen Center closed do the pandemic, I talked about my own mood that very morning. I woke up and saw the sun. I was delighted. Wonderful! My mood immediately lifted. Then the story arose: I’ll walk to the Zen Center this morning. It will feel great to get out in the fresh morning air and hear the birds. Or maybe I’ll ride my bicycle and go along the lake.
I got dressed, went downstairs, and began telling my wife my plan for the morning. “Tim, it’s really cold out there.”
The story I was telling was glued to my mood. As the sky turned grey, my mind turned gloomy. I was able to notice the coupling of my emotions and my thoughts. I chuckled and even guffawed, and all trace of emotional heaviness vanished.
This reminds me of a story from Tales of a Magic Monastery:
“Let me tell you something that happened on the last day of retreat. I told the guest master that I didn’t think I would be able to get back soon because I wouldn’t have time. He came right back at me with, “The problem isn’t TIME, it’s HEAVINESS.” He turned and went downstairs and came back with a little carpet. “Here take this. It’s a magic carpet. If you’ll just sit on it and let go of your heaviness, you can go anywhere you want. It’s not a question of time.”
I have come to know that this is true. People laugh at me when I tell them.
All right. Then stay there.”
The fourth dimension of heart-mind is openness. When bare awareness is present, nothing gets left out. This is the, “disappearing picture-frame” dimension. When the frame disappears, the picture includes everything. We begin to experience this openness as our non-judgmental, kind, attentiveness opens. We notice that we can experience fully our bodily sensations, our thoughts, and our emotions, letting them move through us with no resistance whatsoever. We are developing the ability to live our lives fully, without splitting off from any component of our experience.
We no longer shrivel up in the prison of our thought in which the world gets smaller and smaller. We no longer leave anything out.
As we open up to the first four dimensions in our meditation practice, our ego-identification starts to dissolve. We get a taste of interconnectedness.
When this happens, we quite naturally move through openness to full/emptiness, the fifth dimension. The full/emptiness dimension is uncharted territory, where form is none other than emptiness and emptiness constantly manifests as form. We realize that the seemingly tangible stuff of life is just dynamic movement; things are empty because there are no things to grasp on to.
Consciousness divides, separates, and reifies things. But everything is thoroughly pervaded by everything else. As the 7th century Chinese Zen master Seng-Ts’an, says, “One is no other than all; all no other than one.”
Chinese landscape paintings evoke the 5th dimension, the mystery of the great unknown. Generally, landscape paintings include a waterfall, mist, a steep mountain framed against a blue sky, and in the background a tiny human being. The fifth dimension may seem mysterious and ephemeral, but it’s the dimension in which our own heart-mind realizes that it is the heart-mind of the universe. When this happens, we completely dis-identify with the small being standing alone in the world, and instead feel the joy of being linked to everyone and everything. Like the tiny human figures in landscape paintings, we feel embraced by all life.
Once we have entered the openness dimension, we think we are ready to enter the fullness/emptiness dimension, but when we begin to move to a deeper level than openness, we tend to be gripped by anxiety or fear. We may ask ourselves, what will happen to us if ego dissolves? But there’s absolutely no need to worry. Already we are the heart-mind of the universe- ungraspable and uncharted, supported by form/emptiness- totally imbued with all life.
I was working with a practitioner last year who described the following:
“I was sitting in my office looking out the window when a hawk suddenly appeared against a cloudless blue sky. Watching the hawk soar, dive, and coast on the wind, suddenly slipped into the fifth dimension. I was in total awe! There was no gap between me, and the sky, and the hawk. There was no observer.”
That sounds wonderful,” I said. “Yes, it was. And then my iPhone rang,” he replied.
The Tang dynasty Zen teach Yumen said, “With realization, all things are one family. Without realization, all things are separate and disconnected.” When we still our mind and open up to heart-mind, we know all things as one family, just as my student did when he saw the hawk. Yumen added, “Without realization, all things are one family, too.” It doesn’t matter how much time we spend regretting the past or lamenting over my tragedies; we’re still the same interdependent universe. We are just not noticing it because we’re stuck in our own stuff.
The same student asked me how to have that experience again. I replied, “Forget about trying to have any kind of experience and just be.” Is it possible to just be on the track? The sights you see are ever-changing. The track has no origin and no destination. When we are just walking the track one step at a time, it’s not hard to open to fully to heart-mind, including all 5 of its dimensions. If you open beyond the 4th dimension, you may find a beautiful song arising from somewhere or nowhere... it doesn’t really matter.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher