Stop building bridges.

“Get out of the construction business! Stop building bridges across the raging waters of samsaric existence, attempting to reach the “far shore,” nirvana. Better to simply relax, at ease and carefree, in total naturalness, and just go with the primordial flow, however it occurs and happens. And remember this: whether or not you go with the flow, it always goes with you.” ⁣- Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche 


In the context of this quote, we can take samsara to mean suffering, and nirvana to mean freedom from suffering. Nyoshul Rinpoche is describing the great stress we experience trying to get out of the suffering of daily life. His suggestion is simple: go with the primordial flow and stop constructing things. He is subtly shedding light on one of the most fundamental concepts in early Buddhist meditation. In the following chain of events: [Sensory Contact — Feeling — Reaction/Craving], the moment between feeling and craving is the way out of suffering. Cultivating our ability to experience raw feelings, without instinctively constructing thoughts, storylines or reactions, is integral to our happiness. The difficulty of this task was noticed by 19th century physicist, physician and psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz.

“We are exceedingly well trained in finding out by our sensations the objective nature of the objects around us, but that we are completely unskilled in observing the sensations per se: and that the practice of associating them with things outside of us actually prevents us from being distinctly conscious of the pure sensations.”

Consider what Helmholtz points out in his paper Concerning the Perceptions in General: we seldom marvel at the quickness with which we associate the feeling of seeing a written letter, or the feeling of saying it, with language and meaning. We immediately associate certain scribbles on a page with deep significance.

Humans are experts at the game of sensation association - and it is largely because of this that we have come so far as a species. But much of our unhappiness can be linked to our unconscious habit of constantly linking sensations to cravings (desires for the world to be in a certain configuration). As Tara Brach suggests, we need to learn to recognize that experience is impersonal. The bridges of desire we construct are out of thin air!

Relaxing and being carefree is a training - an unlearning process. Unlearning our instinctual reaction patterns - and remembering how to sit with the rawness of a moment, without dissociating from it. Helmholtz also points out in his paper, in regards to our association of sensations with thought patterns: “these unconscious conclusion are irresistible…and cannot be overcome by a better understanding of the real relation”. What he means is when we feel a raw sensation we almost instantaneously judge it as good, bad or natural. If it’s good we crave more, if it’s bad we crave less. We must train ourselves to increase the latency between sensation and reaction - to lengthen the interval between stimulus and response. However, just knowing we shouldn't crave something is not enough to cause that craving to actually subside.

Below I’ve linked a site where you can learn a meditation technique that trains exactly the above mentioned skill: how to observe sensations without constructing bridges. Learning to stop building bridges means learning to live in accord with life as it really is. An unceasing flow of experience, with nothing to hold onto. Going nowhere, coming from nowhere, abiding nowhere. As Rinpoche says in the end: Whether or not you go with the flow, it always goes with you

It is as it is.

-Sasha

Links

Meditation Technique: https://www.dhamma.org/en/index

Helmholtz: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermann-helmholtz/#HelSigTheNatDeb