Field Survey IV
Cultivating The Field
Excuse me in advance for getting all personal, here. At this point, I can’t go deeper into Field Science without writing volumes more than anyone is likely to want to read. And in the end though, I would still have to say this:
While a complete understanding of the We/It nature of the Field has not yet been conceived, we have at last advanced from ignoring its very existence to trying to imagine and capture that relationship.
I am particularly enamored of cognitive scientist, Jim Austin’s thoughts, as reported by author James Ford, in Your Brain on Zen.
“…our normative consciousness has us largely living in the “me” place, and the field place
is generally secondary. But things happen. And our normative view of things is disrupted.
He [Austin] made no casual assertion for why this happens, although he noted that
meditators are more often associated with this disruption.
…with persistence and more disruptions there can be a gradual shift in the way a person sees
things, always oscillating, but with a gradual shifting toward a predominance with the field,
the larger perspective.”
This opinion is based on observations of the human brain in action. Ford reports:
“…there appear to be two distinctive forms of perception revealed in brain scans. One is centered
on the “me” of things. The other, more on the “field” which he [Austin] identified as the Zen term,
“selflessness.” Now without the Zen part, there are clear evolutionary advantages for that field
consciousness. It’s the part of our minds that lets us notice the rustling in the weeds that warns us
of the saber tooth tiger. The “me” thing, well, we all know the me thing, whether we’re students of
Zen or not. Anyway, two forms of perception [are] tracked in the brain. Further, Austin asserted
that these two views oscillate on the order of two thousand times a second.”
Here in the our High Desert oasis, the natural field is very strong and it is easy to shift into some sort of flowing, loving coherence with it, particularly on the warm, sunny days when birds sing, hawks soar, and Monarchs, humming birds and Dragonflies dance. The very trees seem to vibrate to a shared harmony and my “me” is subsumed in it all
But we spent a couple of days and nights in Manhattan last Autumn, I found it to be a far-out Field Trip of a different sort. Seeking that same feeling of heart-coherence in the world’s greatest megalopolis is like stepping on a crazy, high-speed Tilt-a-Whirl ride/Bumper car ride. Remember those overlapping Venn Diagram circles from your high school math classes? Each circle represents the boundary of an individual’s personal field. In a city, every passing character creates a new, but fleeting Venn interaction. Some boundaries are more permeable than others, some merge, and some repel.
Anyway, It was…um…fun(?), but exhausting, at least to this nature lover, and after a couple of days, I had a great need for rejuvenation and reconnection to a bigger picture. One of the many “drop of the hat” observations of sacred passages that Johnny and I are wont to observe here in the desert, with sunsets that scatter from horizon to horizon, is “crack time,” the mystical twilight window between the setting of the sun and the arrival of the full-on night. In a timely find on the morning of our last day in the City, Johnny happened to catch a review in The New York Times, for the newly-opened Skylark Lounge, located on the 30th floor of a midtown building. We heard “crack time” calling.
After passing through a near mythical admission process in which we were sent by the doormen down a dark, tunnel-like hallway, first to a wayshower, then to an elevator guardian, we finally emerged to a welcoming hostess on the top floor. In what was a small miracle for Manahattan, we were the first guests of the evening and had the whole outdoor corner terrace to ourselves.
It was so good to see the sky again! As I turned from one view to another, I realized that I was seeing the City for the first time, at its “eye level,” and I could feel a resonant harmony that thrummed beneath and below its daily cacophony. Though it was of a different frequency than I was used to, it was the sound of the same instrument, the one that I call Life.
Later that evening, as I was waiting for sleep, I had an elaborate, hypnagogic vision of many people standing in an infinitely long line. I opened my eyes and checked to make sure I was still awake because it seemed important that I not mistake this for a dream. The vision resumed when I closed them again.
Individuals of varying age, era, color, and dress stepped to the front of the line and then faded away as soon as I saw them clearly. There seemed to be no end to the different aspects and visages that appeared, one after another. I could have described each one as he or she stood in front of me, but would have had no more than a second to do so before the next appeared.
As I watched their passage, I mulled over the possible causes for this unusual mental scene. Perhaps my overtaxed mind was replaying its version of the day’s jostling crowds. Or perhaps I was seeing wandering souls who had lost themselves in the City’s field?
Once that thought occurred to me, I figured, as someone who believes that we can do conscious work in the invisible field, that I ought to do something about it, so I hung out a mental “Home is That-a-way” sign and hoped that it was pointing in the right direction. The ME that had felt like a pinball on the streets was replaced by a sense of being a part of a larger energetic, a field composed of humanity in which all of us are always doing the best we can to find our way Home.
It was only after we returned to the desert that I encountered Ford’s article and realized that I had experienced one of those “disruptions” that resulted in a shift from “me” to “not me.” Ford, a Buddhist himself, applies Austin’s idea of disruption, the shift out of our me-selves that meditators often experience, to that of Kensho, the small enlightenments that occur along the Zen path.
So not training and then Kensho.
Nor Kensho and then training.
Nor a shift from me to field.
Although it is all those things.
But maybe a better way of saying it:
Sometimes one thing.
Sometimes two things.
Sometimes a slow and long slog.
Interrupted by amazing eruptions of the heart’s discovery…
It turns out it’s
The great way of just this…