An experiment designed by Richard Lang (first published in Share It
Illustrations by Bryan Nuttall
Materials required: A blank piece of paper and various small objects.
Set-up: Sit in front of the paper with the objects by your side, within your field of vision.
Aim: To create a collage of objects on paper whilst remaining aware, during the whole process, of your central emptiness — from which the actions, patterns, and insights emerge, and into which they dissolve.
Look at the blank piece of paper. Have no particular plan in mind about what pattern you are going to create. Acknowledge the objects within your field of vision. Stay conscious of your Single Eye.
Perhaps you might point your finger back so that your attention steadies on your True Nature — clearly free of patterns or plans. Two-way attention. You are going to make a collage with the objects by the side of your piece of paper, staying aware of the Open Space in which this activity takes place.
Start the activity. Watch your hands as they pick up objects and place them on the paper. Let them move as if they have a mind of their own, disregarding plans that emerge in your mind as to where the objects might go. Experiment with not knowing what your hands are going to do next. Watch the collage gradually emerge.
Consciously be Space for the whole process, including the changing processes of your mind. Note the moment when you realise that the collage is finished.
Take a few moments to look at what has emerged — from your own Void Nature. A few moments ago there was nothing on the paper, now there is this.
A good or bad collage? The point of this exercise is not make a "good" picture, but to take the opportunity to see something come out of nothing — out of No-thing. But having made it, how does it look to you? Be spacious for your reactions.
Where did that picture come from? From your mind? From a limited place? From unlimited No-thingness? Did you know what it was going to look like before you started? Did you know where your hands were going to move, or at what point you would stop? What/Who determined the point of stopping?
Now take the objects off the piece of paper in the same spirit. Repeat the exercise, taking your time. Be aware of the time factor involved: the process has a beginning, a middle and an end. As you become aware of the stage that you are moving through in this process, relax your attention into the unchanging, timeless Background. Consciously be Timeless for the whole experience. In the midst of this process you have no beginning, no end. You are Constant for the evolving pattern. Look at the finished product. Be aware of differences from the previous collage. See how the Emptiness is now receptive what has emerged from It/into It.
Is there any difference in essence between doing this and (say) laying the table, washing up, clearing your desk, preparing food, playing cards? What/Who is the source of these actions? Do they come from a person, or from "Emptiness"?
Now develop this exercise by including a stage of planning in the procedure. Clear the objects to the side and look again at the blank piece of paper. Be aware of them. Imagine them in a pattern on the paper. Acknowledge this mental image presented in the imageless space of No-mind. Where does that image come from? Drop the image. Where did it go? Make up another one. Play around with possible patterns in your mind. Then choose one that you will use.
Now put it down on paper as quickly and accurately as you can, using your objects. As you do this, keep in touch with being Spacious for the whole process.
Creating consciously from the Void does not exclude planning. Plans, ideas, intuitions, et cetera come from the Void too! It is simply another layer that may or may not be part of the whole process — whatever that process is. You may plan what you are going to buy at the supermarket, and find that you buy a lot more! Or you might meet a friend on the way and not even get to the supermarket that day! Be conscious of the fertile Background from which those plans and actions emerge, and into which they dissolve again.
This exercise can be extended by doing it alongside a partner. Sit so that you both have access to the paper and the objects. Have the other person's hand and your own within your field of vision. Be aware that there is still only one Background. One transparent Playground in which the action will take place.
This exercise is not primarily about feeling one with your partner. You may legitimately not feel one with him or her. It is about seeing that, nevertheless, all the action comes from one Emptiness that has neither your name nor your partner's name on it. This Clearness cannot be divided or multiplied. It is now no bigger or smaller than when you were on your own.
After a few moments, without communicating verbally, start the process of putting objects on the paper. Relax into the one Void, aware that both arms emerge from this undivided Emptiness. Watch as both arms move. Watch the whole process from start to finish — in the unchanging stillness of the Void. Who moves these arms? Doesn't your True Nature embrace both arms so that they both move from the same Source? Explore these possible perspectives. Do you know what "your" hand is going to do any more than you know what the other person's hand will do? You may be able to name the arms differently, but don't they both connect to the Nameless?
When you have finished, look at the collage for a few moments, then share your experience together. Share the flow of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, insights etc. which emerged during the experience. Then remove the objects in the same spirit in which you placed them on the paper — aware of the one Stillness in which all this movement takes place. Where has the pattern gone?
It is possible to include in this exercise the process of planning the action with your partner. Explore, through talking, an idea for a collage that is mutually agreeable. As you do this, explore being aware of the one Silence in which the talking happens, the one No-mind from which the ideas emerge. Notice how you feel during this process too — and in the centre, remain in touch with a clear Heart in which these feelings flow. When you have come to an agreement, silently carry out your action — continuing to be aware of the Transparency at source. On completion discuss your experience.
It is important to note that different people will have different experiences, feelings and insights, and that no particular feeling or experience is being aimed for, except an awareness of the unchanging "Non-experience" of Self at the Centre – in which your uniquely individual experience unfolds. It is a chance to explore in a relatively simple way two different mind-bodies relating together within one No-mind-body.
All these exercises have many implications for living which may be explored in the light of Who we really are: the sense, for example, in which another's actions are one's own — without sacrifice of one's individuality, and without the need of an artificial sense of oneness; spontaneity, and not knowing what is going to happen, no matter what one plans; the unlimited Potential of the Source and its trustworthiness to come up with what one most needs. You will discover your own and express them in your own way.
Further variation: Try the last exercise with three, four or more people.
NB. Our own experience is that awareness of the indivisible Essence does not make us all alike on the level of individual human beings. In fact, the perception that there is no image or thing right where we are means that there is fundamentally no-one and nothing to copy, no standard to mimic, no self-image to be limited by, so facilitating, we believe, greater individuality, creativity, freedom, joy. This is awakening to the depth and wonder, to the wisdom, mystery, the astonishment of who one really is.
The 10,000 things are born of being. Being is born of not being. Lao-tzu.
The relationship is not horizontal, linking one thing to another and still remaining within the world of objects, but vertical: it plumbs each single thing to its very depths, to the point of origination. Things are thus seen, and at the same time understood, from the origin, out of the "being" which manifests itself in them. To that extent they are all of equal rank, while possessing the illustrious patents of their origin. Herrigel.
Do you think I know what I'm doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it's writing,
or the ball can guess where it's going next.
Chuang-tzu suggests that we empty our boat. That we relate to the world from that open-hearted emptiness that flows with what is, so that nothing that comes out of us will be coming from the "someone-ness" which opposes the flow. That we let go of control of the world and come fully into being. Stephen Levine.