“Minds awaken in a world. We did not design our world. We simply found ourselves with it; we awoke both to ourselves and to the world we inhabit. We come to reflect on that world as we grow and live. We reflect on a world that is not made, but found, and yet it is also our structure that enables us to reflect upon this world. Thus in reflection we find ourselves in a circle: we are in a world that seems to be there before reflection begins, but that world is not separate from us.” -Varela, Thompson, Rosch
Never has a symbol been more apt than the ancient Ouroboros. The snake eating its own tail reflects the circle that Varela and colleagues are pointing to.
We awoke to a circularity from which we can never escape. The world appears beyond us, but it never appears without us. This is the great mystery. For some, the great mystery turns into a great question which can fascinate, consume, excite or depress.
“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer” - Rilke
Going after such a mystery one should be completely clear - the answer will not come in words. Questions of existence, purpose, duality, unity, should be understood as belonging to a realm which we can only approach - never touch. But as Rilke writes, we are impatient - and this is knowledge that is only revealed to us slowly.
“The years teach much that the days never know” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is only in looking back that you begin to see your question with a sense of lightness - a sense that it doesn’t really need an answer. It doesn’t matter why you’re here, or how you’re here, you’re here. If you can pursue such questions with joy and excitement, then carry on - but don’t let them weigh you down.
“The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt, that the sense of life became clear to them, have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?” -Ludwig Wittgenstein
Even the notion that this circularity was ever a problem is up for debate. How can you get rid of an illusion? How can you get rid of something that never was?
So how to grow accustomed to living in confusion, living in the great circle? Dudjom Rinpoche says it’s through meditation - you sit with the world as it is. And when a thought inevitably arises, what do you do? He says: “Just let it arise. Relax in its arising.” While reading a book on Zen poetry, I found the following author-less verse.
“You can’t grasp it, but you can’t lose it
It winds its own way
When you are silent, it speaks
When you speak, it is dumb”
It is as it is.
Ajahn Sumedho’s Dhamma talks on YouTube have been a wonderful source of calm as of late, enjoy
For those interested in the convergence of cognitive science and spirituality, the first quotation is from the seminal text The Embodied Mind
I’m off on a 10-day Vipassana retreat, and as such, won’t be sending another newsletter until the end of the month :( - learn more about these free retreats. They even conducted a retreat in prison, and here is a beautiful documentary on how it changed the lives of prisoners in the Tihar jail in India.