‘Contemplation is about attention’
By Edward Hirsch
The…One…God. Three simple words. Let’s contemplate them together.
The: This designates the realm of objects, whether physical, mental, spiritual. The rock, the idea, the spirit. Even the whole world.
God: By this, we might designate the sense of transcendence — even if we think that it really designates nothing at all, that there is nothing beyond space, time, objects. Is it nothing — or No-Thing, the Emptiness of Being?
So far, we have a polarity of immanence and transcendence. Traditionally, people spoke of the triad of “God, Man, World.” Man (which derives as an abbreviation of “manas,” meaning mind) is included as a third, because it is not transcendent, and yet somehow, not simply another object in the world. Even though we can say “the man” (man or woman), which we can indicate as clearly as we point to a rock, it is not quite just an object that we can weigh and measure. Yes, we can treat someone like an object, but when it comes to this “I,” we cannot simply objectify. That is, if we are honest, if we pay attention.
We might dispense with, say, a rock, but do we really know what it is, after we weigh and measure it? No. But even so, the case is different with “I.” Whatever we indicate as object, whether it is the body, a sensation, a memory, even a thought, none of it is “I,” the witness. We might speak of “it,” but we never experience “it” as object. We say “subject,” but that is a word. What mystery does it indicate, that we take for granted?
This brings us to the third word, “one.” We even speak impersonally of “one who” thinks, says, does this or that. Considering “I,” although you might be aware of yourself as a multiplicity of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, memories, behaviors, energies, and so on, none of that is “I.” You might think of “I” as thinker or doer, having agency, but what is “I” itself? When you say it is “one,” take that seriously: one, not many. However conflicted you might feel, however divided you might think you are, all of that is feeling, thought, and none of it is the simplicity of “I.” That simplicity is the essential meaning of “one.”
That utter simplicity is utterly empty, and yet, mysteriously enough, it is here and now, in this world, whatever that is. And there is another “one” who speaks first-person as “I,” and they’re not talking about you. How many “ones” can there be, and are they really different? The contemplation leads to mysteries, not answers. Are there many mysteries, or One Mystery?
Now let’s go a bit further, shall we? We set aside “the” as designating objects, but however much an object is defined or known, what it really is remains essentially an unknown, a mystery. “God” as transcendence of space, time, mind, and self, of any category of thought, is utter Mystery. But then what of this “one” of which we have the most intimate access? Of which you, dear reader, have the most intimate access right now?
What of that? You can call it “I,” “myself,” Self, or Being, but is it not utter Mystery? So in what sense is it different than this transcendence we call “God”? Maybe this “God,” which we thought maybe doesn’t even exist, and this “I,” which we assumed obviously exists, are One? Maybe we need to contemplate what we mean by “existence” and by “Being.”
I am not giving answers, I am not withholding answers, I am inviting a contemplation of Mystery. “I” itself invites that contemplation. This is where everything leads, if we are attentive. Within the most familiar, the most obvious, the most ordinary. Contemplation is about attention. It seems to be about something mental, like questions and answers, but they in turn lead beyond the mind, as an invitation — beyond even thinking about the Mystery, to Being the Mystery.
I point to Mystery, even Sacred Mystery. Not because it is something to merely inquire into (as “Mystery”) or believe in (as “Sacred”), but because it is inherently Precious and Worthy of Attention.
Edward Hirsch, M.A., teaches about the Practice of Presence at OLLI and offers free weekly Zoom meetings in the teachings and practices of Presence, 1-2:30 p.m. Saturdays, on a drop-in basis (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84805886301).
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