I re-read Mark Epstein’s Thoughts without a Thinker. I made notes
which gradually formed themselves into a poem. I laced it together
with haiku from a forthcoming book of my own; I suppose the result
could be said to be a sort of haibun.

in the prison of the mind

we’re too busy surviving
to confront the ‘I’s that affront us –
the black holes stitched together to conceal
what’s denied & projected & indulged
to which greed & hatred & delusion
attach themselves to divorce us
both from contact with what we like to call
‘self’ and from the outside world;
the self-estrangement mechanisms
of fear & defensiveness tense up
so that we experience ‘self’
by means of what we so fiercely deny:
what we take to be real – the self –
is constructed out of a reaction against
just what we do not wish to acknowledge

shadows on curtains
cast by a lamp
in the room beyond

there are six Realms of the Wheel of Life
(so we are told) buzzing round
in the prison of the mind
which we must learn to live with
and enjoy in order to escape it –
not by migrating to some kind of
heavenly abode but just by breathing
the fresh air outside

the Hell Realm is where we endure
the soul-torture of anxiety & burn with rage
– you know just how that feels

instinctual gratification of biological drives
hunger & sexuality (and whatever else)
is the Animal Realm; unsustainable pursuit
of what happens there leads to
impoverishment & unrest
separateness & dissatisfaction

in their own Realm Hungry Ghosts
with withered limbs & bloated bellies
search for impossible gratification
of needs whose time was in the long past
only to deliver themselves into emptiness

suave-looking tramp
in the café mirror wall –
we exchange glances

the God Realm is where you relax
into the dissolution of boundaries –
the ego fades momentarily into the Joy
of aesthetic connection
& intellectual pleasure
confluence & peak experiences
which cannot be sustained –
it lets you down: you cannot be God
forever – so you escape into

the Realm of Jealous Gods requiring
to possess the very thinginess of things
through endless calculated repetition
just to savour the excitement
of growing aggression towards
the self for its failure to succeed

the Human Realm contrives the emptiness
of alienation & lack of recognition
isolation & inauthenticity; it stimulates
the drive towards the creative act –
an imposed false self-coherence

we must become as lamps to ourselves:
grasping emptiness thanking it
for taking care of us for so long;
become good friends with
the holes in our being – in the world
but not of it – disidentified –
uproot the conviction of a self
that requires protection

small islands
in the same silver estuary
dissolving into sky

embrace uncertainty about the reality of self;
sieve through the constant presence
of spurious images of perfection:
dukkha – pervasive unsatisfactoriness;
physical illness & mental anguish
(not getting what you want
& being stuck with what you don’t want)
self-disgust & a feeling of imperfection
insubstantiality & uncertainty
unrest & permanent isolation; loss of touch

between the desire and the satisfaction
of desires emerge – care & vanity
ambition & self-importance

keeping my god-eye
fixed on the little louse
crawling from a log

there is neither self nor no-self:
to assert the existence of either
is the answer to the wrong question…
we are nothing but our experience
our small thinkings & feelings
are just events of the mind;
well-being is an empty concept;
desire is an empty well;
clinging to the world is
attachment and identification
which leads to suffering
& dealing in false categories –
false oppositions:
self & no-self
something & no-thing
vacuity & plenitude
existence & non-existence
self-sufficiency & incompletion
absurdity & meaningfulness
grandiosity & self-disgust
certainty & self-doubt

we crave the security of certainty
gasping for identity – infatuated
with the image of what’s called ‘self’
we impose false coherences
to prevent drifting between dualisms;
it is difficult to maintain a sense of absence
without turning it into presence; entry into
the Present soon dissolves into absence

some animal grunting
in the night garden
– stuff of dreams

nothingness – highly developed
sense of what might be called self
(collapse of crystal tower) –
is fully accessible to all who develop
particular essential qualities of mind
& detachment from craving for things
to be the way you imagine they are –
paradox – the release of all attachment becomes
profound attachment which transcends it all;
the destructive power of wisdom
unhampered by subjectivity – non-identified
unencumbered state of childhood
when images of perfection simply float away

it’s all a fiction a father’s garden ideal
and self is a mirage & shadow-form –
dream of reality substituting for
true understanding

there’s just a flowing a process
rushing & teeming & patterning
constantly changing – self-feelings
are nothing but fleeting images –
rusty metaphors for real being; liberation
is not (as is supposed) mind emptied
of contents or body emptied of emotion;
mind is an invention –
mere word intended to describe
the action of a few million interconnected
neurons – nothing to be emptied
nothing to eliminate

wardrobe mirror –
wondering in passing
whose eyes those are

think of something and you create an entity;
think of no-thing and you create an entity;
abandon both & there is nothing
either to think or to feel;
we just have to grasp
the feeling and the passing thought
for what they are – temporary waves
pinned down & labelled in time & space;
we just have to let them go
repeatedly bringing attention
back to immediate present
to engage what is there

five silver bells
bright idea
for a merry day

not the dissolution of thought
& feeling but a studied modification
of attention; not a subjugation
to some invented higher power;
not a withdrawal but a re-assessment
of everything that is
in its wayward fundamental intangibility –
so that we know feelings & thoughts
in a way that’s otherwise…
in bare attention with nothing of self;
observer and thing observed
no longer applies – simply noticing
what’s there – openness to all experience
with a wider uncluttered view
(the belvedere of the absent mind) –

not seer & seen
but a moment of seeing;
not hearer & sound
but the moment of hearing;
focus on the space between:
terror without fear
& rapture without attachment;
make a playground for emotions
so that ghosts become ancestors
then having made it to inward space
you surely know the way to universal space
where one time becomes all time

remembering me-times
makes up for estrangement;
helps understand the hole in one’s being
so as not to keep repeating its consequences –
the failing we repeat is
what we are most identified with
what we need most to give bare attention to
leaving mind in its silent sphere
no fault-finding no progress
no taking anything to heart no interfering –
not emptiness but pregnancy
and oh the need for silence in a world
devoted to its own noise

to deny feelings is to strengthen their effect
hence estrangement the concept of ‘my anger’
(for example) gives it a reality in its own right
over which I have no control

making emotions conscious empties them of content
shifting attention from the emotion itself
to one’s identification with it serves to reveal
the crass stupidity of it – what you look away from
helps you to see it more clearly

the best time to observe
that thing we operate in the world
is when we’re in a state of injured innocence
gateless gate – open door to understanding

sackful of stardust
for distribution
to ragamuffins

4 thoughts on “IN THE PRISON OF THE MIND (R16)

  1. We travel forwards and backwards
    wait for the light to change, give way
    to others, take advantage of circumstances
    each bend and junction, however bound
    to the past, those faint indications
    partly remembered, now lost in a chimera
    a face, a smile, a misunderstanding
    a voice on record, a few words
    out of context, all inevitable scraps
    of misdirection, childhoods of promise
    and reconstruction, of lost directions
    regained, volume and focus rediscovered
    we mend boundaries, hammer home
    supports, invent solutions for inadequacies
    weather closing in, time running out
    light fading as we catch glimpses between
    shuttering or interwoven mesh
    how heavy are the tools or the gift
    of silence, how empty each surface of repair
    how many blows drive home the simplest
    fix or pierce the thinnest skin, we beckon
    at side lines, to shadows entangled
    in the wings, but where are they now
    are they lost, we may seek some solace
    in staring at fractals, so called random
    patterns, or try to summon meanings
    from chance and lost fortune, there is
    no handhold in the shifting light or on
    the motion of liquids, so what is the real
    purpose of tears above the images
    that emerge, why not sow seeds
    or search for foundations where others
    never enter, or an opening where others
    never visit, in the stillness clouds may emerge
    and filter storms, blooms may appear
    on bare limbs twisted beyond comprehension
    the earth is as littered with casings as air
    is with fluttering, why quiver then, or recoil
    there is no stance to adopt, or concoction
    to administer, as our house creaks back
    into shape under the same morning sun


  2. A wonderful complement to Epstein’s book, Colin! I especially love the stanza that begins “there is neither self nor no-self …”, and will no doubt be re-reading that one a few more times.
    And, on a separate note, I was happy to receive notification that you’re following my new Liberal Buddhist blog. I’ll be looking forward to your always-brilliant comments. Onward!


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