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No More Moon: The Word Is Not the Thing


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When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!
- 101 Zen Stories

The notion that there is a body and there is a mind led me into confusion for a long time. Language is a powerful tool that operates on reality. Of the Thirty-Three Teachings that Mattered Later in My Life - this - taught to me by the late Richard Williams - was one of the easiest to forget and most quickly forgotten:
The Map is not the Territory.
The Menu is not the Meal.
The Word is not the Thing.
That we have only a handful of words for states of consciousness (the phrase itself recursive) in English is reflective of how little we know about the world inside of us. The Upanishads, The Bardo Thodo and the Pali Canon all have extensive vocabularies for "consciousness." Unfortunately, within our limited set, the tools we use most often are the words body and mind. Or, in my non-intuitive taxonomy, the flesh and the bone.

After a good day of writing, I ride the bike down to the gym at the Y. Along the way, I am still mostly "up in my head," thinking about the words and ideas that I want to continue to explore through writing. Often I discover new connections and contexts to ideas that I had been considering while writing - getting the body on the bike, getting the robotic consciousness involved with an activity other than moving my fingers across the keyboard, is critical and liberating.

At the gym, I always start with light, low-impact, cardio. Recently, the recumbent bike has been ideal. The part of the gym where I workout is on the second floor. The row of bikes is next to a set of windows looking out over downtown Bellingham. I ease myself onto a bike, set the time for 15 or 20 minutes, level about midway, open a book and start. I start off reading to "remind" myself of the tension between the mind and body. I go back "into my skull" while putting the body under stress. It is as if I am loading my mind up in the bucket of a catapult while increasing the tension by stressing the body.

After light cardio, I stretch for about 15 minutes, usually at a 20 count for each position. This is where the mind is suddenly thrown back into the body. My consciousness during the stretching of the warmed muscle inhabits the muscle. I attempt to sink the consciousness down to most fundamental level. Like walking through a memory theater, I travel through the processes of muscular contraction.

I am in the bone, the tendons, the contractile tissue, the myofibril, the sarcomere, the actin, the myson, the titin. I am the action potential, the acetylcholine. I am the rush of sodium in and the leak of potassium out of the t-tubules. I feel the surge of calcium release into voltage gated channels, as it binds to troponin on actin filaments allowing it to modulate the tropomyosin to open a binding site for the ADP charged myosin head. I am the head of myosin rotating at the myosin-actin interface, coiling and uncoiling like a helix, a spring contracted and extending the muscle. I am two heavy chains of amino acids that make up the motor protein, myosin. I am coiled like two snakes wrapped around each other, a caduceus. I am in a coiled-coil morphology. I am hydrophobic strands of amino acids wrapped around each other and buried in between hydrophilic strands to create a knobs into holes packing structure. I am side chain atoms branching off the parent structures of amino acid molecules. I am an amine group. I am a carboxylic acid group. I am nitrogen. I am carbon. Hydrogen and oxygen branching off of me, whipping around in storms of atomic torsion and bonding. I am an atom of nitrogen with 7 protons. I am atom of carbon with 6 protons. I am neutrons shivering in the atomic center. I am a bayron. I am electrons whirling in quantum clouds. I am a proton. I am three quarks held together by strong forces mediated by gluons. I am elementary particle of matter, a fundament of the Universe. I am a Fermion. I am Up. I am Down. I am Charm. I am Strange. I am Top. I am Bottom.

I am Strangeness. I am deep down in the Bone. I am consciousness. I am stretching in a gym at the YMCA in Bellingham, Washington, United States, North America, Earth, Solar System, Orion Arm, Milky Way, Universe. I am consciousness. I am Energy. I am.

I am aware of the inter-weaving, inter-secting, of duality arising out of the One: energy and matter, mind and body, The Bone and The Flesh. The Universe flows through my awareness like a river through a net. My mind is like a wire mesh basket that my Grandfather would hang off the side of the boat while we fished to put the catch in. This is my Cosmos. Words are all the fish in the basket: lured, hooked, reeled in, unhooked, and thrown into the keep. For all of the energy of the Universe, I have a word called Mind. For all of the matter, I have a word called Body. It seems, because of these words, that my mind is located within my body. It seems that they are separate things. It seems that the mind, imprisoned within the body is the one who controls and guides the body through the world, makes the decisions.

But this is not the case. These are only words. Grammar. Language. They are threaded into and through each other, up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom.

My body is performing a series of exercises. My mind is performing a series of exercises. At some point, the bottom will fall out and I, like the moon, will suddenly disappear.

Life has to change into a thing vast and calm and intense and powerful that can no longer recognize its old blind eager narrow self or petty impulse and desire. Even the body has to submit to a mutation and be no longer the clamorous animal or the impeding clod it now is, but instead become a conscious servant and radiant instrument and living form of the spirit.
- Aurobindo


1/24/10