Somewhere out there, right now, someone is taking a crap outside. Just right there, on the ground. Maybe they’re drunk, maybe not—we have no way of knowing.
And somewhere else, the Aurora Borealis is bedazzling the eyes of tourists while the locals carry on without ado. Miles away, a gazelle is racing across the land, running from a pride of lions ambitious to tear it apart. A child is being born to a good home, where she’ll be loved and cared for. Another is being born to an impoverished war zone, to be abused and eventually radicalized.
3,000 light years away, Deneb orbits oblivious of all this, oblivious even to itself. Blind, deaf, and unconscious, it shines through oceans of vacuum. light that will never be seen by any currently living being on Earth as each wave of photons begins its 3,000 year trek through space.
Meanwhile, here I am, bored in the rural night, writing about the present moment. These days find me prone to restlessness. I crave experience, immersion. The option to get up and pound the pavement, the small-city lights illuminating the way. Laughing flavors of diner entrees wafting through the air, the sidewalk clinking merrily as two old friends touch glasses on an apartment patio.
Basho. It’s a philosophical term from the Japanese Kyoto School that I grossly misunderstood. It means place. It’s actually about the irresolution of opposites, how all things exist in resistance to their contraries and that this tension is the emergence of being. Even that definition isn’t quite right. I encourage you to check it out yourself and join in on my cluelessness.
For me, that definition somehow came to mean the experience as-lived, vs. as-thought. An air cleaner is whirring a few feet from me as I write this, but that’s experience as-thought. As-lived, that hum is part of my writing, part of this screen I’m looking at, this feeling of solidity beneath my rump as I’m planted on the chair. When viewed directly, everything is wrapped up with everything else, not isolated and confined to this or that place. Really, when experiencing things directly, there’s only one place—consciousness.
To the naked mind, everything is one, a field of experience. All senses are one sense, and no object is viewed as something separate from the place it’s occupying—the room it’s in, the eyes that are viewing, the history that weighs on those eyes and impacts their seeing.
Swallowed by a moment, my humanity distilled into a concentrated yearning, the night ventures on, oblivious to time but inevitably racing toward dawn. It’s unfitting that we equate understanding with light. Yes, in light we see things clearly, but it’s the light that also reveals their apparent separation. It’s light that allows us to discriminate. Everything looks the same in the dark.
In Taoism’s infancy, it was the new moon that represented understanding, rather than the full moon. Beneath the new moon, nothing is revealed, and that’s exactly the understanding that the Taoist sages were hoping to reveal. With eyes closed, a cloudy day is a good as a sunny one. But there are other forms of unifying blindness as well. Light too can dazzle, leaving eyes wide but unseeing—seeing that unseeing.
The only difference is the pain. For the escapist Sage adorned by shadows, all is cool and lifeless. But for the human who vows to never look away, there is just whatever there is, without one ounce more or less. Nothing added, and nothing subtracted, the exposed nerve sparking in the cosmic heat.