Ignorant Bliss or Blessed Relief? — Self, No Self and Their Mutual Inclusion in All Living Form

Snapshot’ (Desktop photograph by Alan Rayner, 2021). All that exists in zero time

Some say that to be without self

Is the only way to be

Without suffering

.

To which, I can only agree

For to be without self

Is to be without qi

A motionless zero

A void

Indistinguishable

From infinite void

Space everywhere

.

But to be this way

Is to be without life

Motionless, emotionless

In ignorant bliss

With no care in the world,

Passionless,

Compassionless

A serenity born

From anaesthetized sleep

With no cause for concern

Arrested in peace

.

For the truth is

No body can exist

In no time

Only void can

And void exists everywhere

Within, without and throughout our temporary form

Forever calling

Receptively

For dynamic embodiment

By responsive current

As the love in our hearts

And the life in our skins

Bringing blessed relief

To all living form

The calm in our storm

.

In our increasingly distressed, zealously competitive modern human culture, many of us are seeking ways out of the depression and anxiety that come with feelings and fears of loss, uncertainty and failure. In the process, increasing attention has become focussed on the fundamental nature of self and selflessness, life and lifelessness, consciousness and unconsciousness, motion and stillness, material and immaterial, substance and energy, space and time. Alongside familiar ‘me-first’ or ‘us-first’ ideologies have come increasing calls for collaboration, suppression of ‘ego’, mindfulness, living in the now, oneness, wholeness and connecting to nature.

Recently, I came across this translated quote from Lao Tzu, author of the ‘Tao te Ching’:-

“If you are depressed you are living in the past; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace you are living in the present.”

For all that I hold Taoism in high regard, it sent a shock wave through my body, causing me to wonder if something or somewhere had got lost in the translation. Can you imagine why?

It caused me to respond:- “If your current is excised from past and future, you don’t exist. RIP.”

And, at the back of my mind was this very different quote, from Winston Churchill:-

If you are going through Hell, keep going”

Then, later, I wrote this:-

— — — — — — — — — — — — -

Postscript
A current excised from past and future
Cannot exist
Yet the Whole of Abstract Thought & Theory
Is framed in this State of ignorant bliss
Stuck in paradox
Obstructing and obscuring
All that flows in vibrant life

— — — — — — — — — — — —

I have long been troubled by notions of ‘no self’ and ‘living in the now’. And I suddenly saw more fully why, and how they relate to self-abandonment when all regard for past and future is suspended and ‘nothing really matters’. It equates to a state of pure passivity, an exclusion of ‘self’ from bodily experience into ‘boundlessness’. Actually it corresponds with pure 1st-person perception in which, paradoxically, any individuated discernment of self-identity is lost. It is just as much a subjective abstraction of immaterial self from body as its counterpart, the objective abstraction of material self from void space.

On the other hand, I have for many years now recognised self-identity to be a dynamic natural inclusion and expression of receptive void space in responsive living form and responsive living form in receptive void space (See http://www.spanglefish.com/exploringnaturalinclusion). No material body can exist instantaneously, because it is formed via the circulation of energetic current around a receptive ‘zero-point’ centre of void space somewhere within infinite space everywhere. All currents naturally flow from source to sink. Hence it takes time to become some body as a dynamic inclusion somewhere within space everywhere. A self excised from past and future can literally have and be no body.

With this understanding we can reconcile and move on from purely objective or subjective perceptions of self-identity as an isolated or non-existent entity, to an appreciation of all living forms as mutual inclusions of spatial stillness and energetic current, pooled together within the continuum of space everywhere. This is what it means to be alive as passionate, compassionate, receptive-responsive beings-and-becomings, forming relationships with one another and our surroundings.

This is how I would rather understand the message of Taoism — not as an instruction to cut our present adrift from past and future (or vice versa, to isolate our selves in past or future) — but as an appreciation of the current — the flow of life-giving ‘Qi’ that sustains us between ‘there’ and ‘then’ within the ever-present stillness of space everywhere (‘Tao’). We need not lock ourselves in to past regret or future uncertainty, but can take these in our stride as we accept the joys and griefs, the pleasures and cares of life as it is, not how we might abstractly idealize it to be in ignorant bliss.

What a difference it makes, what a blessed relief it is, is it not, to understand our selves in this way? To recognise and find peace meditatively in the calm eye of our storms as responsive centres of receptive awareness. To know ourselves as needful ‘holes’ requiring energetic sustenance to be able to thrive — not ‘selfish wholes’ abstracted from one another and the spatial and energetic context that brings us lovingly to life? There is no problem with ‘ego’, if ‘self’ is understood in these terms. The only problem comes when we are misled by abstraction to think, as Einstein put it:-

the environment is everything that isn’t me”

Abandoning Self

On this clear, bright

Slightly misted, slightly frosted morning

The pain of being me

In a world that doesn’t agree

Has become too much to bear

.

I can’t keep going this way

At a total loss

To know what’s real

As memories flood in of worlds gone by

In lost experiences

Rendered pointless at best

Disastrous at worst

.

Nor can I know

What future, if any remains

Beyond this idle moment passed

Beyond caring

.

I can only take in

The sights and sounds of a present

Beyond comprehension

And leave myself out of it

Forget me

For I am no longer here

Alan Rayner is an evolutionary ecologist, writer and artist, who is pioneering the philosophy of natural inclusion