The Poetry and Prose of John Omniadeo

The Poetry and Prose of John Omniadeo

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tired With All These...I Dance!

[an open letter to the author of  Reflections regarding her post on Moral Indignation]

Dear Ms. Ivan,

We will get to that truncated sonnet in a moment, but first let me say what a pleasure it is to see your deft work with the analytical knife in the first four paragraphs. Would you by any chance care to dance with me before you put down that blade?

I want to be clear that just because we are dancing—what lovely perfume—it doesn’t mean I trust you completely. I am asking myself some serious questions about your knife work. I notice that you have sliced things up in such a way that, if I accept your wisdom, I cannot profitably inquire into your motives ever, since, as you seem to be saying, whether you accidentally pull that blade across my carotid artery or do it on purpose is all the same to me. In the objective world the event is the same, you say; only in the subjective world is there a difference.

I want to say that this seductive truth is at least half balderdash, but I am distracted by the way you lean into each graceful step with the point of that blade. So let me just say how much I love that scent—and I do question your analysis.

It seems to me in ordinary life we all have to make decisions about whom we trust and to what degree. Consider this marvelously ambiguous dance you and I enjoy right now, and by the way: Voici! I have a knife too! These decisions are a normal part of social life. Determining other people’s motives and intentions as best we can is all part of it since they are a factor in trustworthiness. Some people are psychic gamblers and enjoy interpersonal ambiguities more than others. I find it exciting the way our blades clink as we turn and tango.

I believe one thing you are assuming is that we can never be privy to the internal workings of  another’s mind. I find that slightly questionable, but looking into your eyes I must admit that I can’t fathom all your intentions right now, so I will concede the point for argument’s sake: I can never know with 100% certainty what another’s intent is. (Especially yours.) Nevertheless, in social dealings I still tend to estimate the motives and intentions of others based on the sum of their actions and demeanor. I think I do this because in fact it is important that I do it. I have never seen anyone in any phase of spiritual practice who did not do the same in dealings with others.

The fact that I cannot see into other minds does not mean their motivations and intentions are subjective. To me they are a complex unknown, but they are in my objective world as an unknown like the other side of the moon, which is not subjective. I may never actually see it, I may project inner illusions and green cheese falsehoods upon its darkness, but it is “out there,” not in here.

This whole business of the subjective and the objective can be confusing anyway, since those words are used in at least three different ways I can think of.  For  me personally one of the most liberating aspects of traditional dharma instruction (abhidharma) was to be presented with six senses, the five we learned about in this culture (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, taste) all of which would be considered sources of objective knowledge, and a sixth which apprehends thoughts. In that rendering even our own “thoughts” (including our motivations and intentions) are objects that we apprehend and thus are in one sense objective not subjective phenomena. How unsettling to find that I can be uncertain even about my own intentions in any given situation. Many is the time where I thought I was doing something for one reason only to discover later that my deeper motives had been hidden even from myself. (Did my blade just brush your thigh? Again? So sorry—I think.) I must ask, when this deeper truer intention became clear to me, was it subjective or objective? (I find it much clearer to speak of third person and first person perspectives, but that will have to wait for another dance.)

In the traditional presentations of  karma that I have been given, though it is true that all actions have karmic consequences, by far the most powerful karma is fixed into samskaras by intentional acts. So intention is very important there, in a manner different from social relationships but there is a common thread: it serves as a  predictor  of future trouble.

In the Mahayana/Vajrayana, as it was presented to me, we see that suffering really can’t be transcended individually. It is the result of various causes and conditions and is as interdependent as we are, which is why traditionally we vow not to leave suffering completely behind but to return and work with it till all are free. Replacing, as best we can, our usual motivations—including spiritual motivations—with this one is a great deal of the path.

The wound of  separation from our experience and the hidden matrices of its origin is fiction and not a real condition. “Our  claim to be in control” is false, but in dharmic teachings as they have helped me the emphasis is not on the falseness of the control, certainly not on our powerlessness. When we abandon ALL centers and just look we have all the power there is. We can dance with the indignations we suffer and our own reactions to them, even our clinging. These proceed not from a false center at all, but from centerless karmic winds whose origins are not worth discussing.

In such a view of practice we can use our specific desires (and their inevitable specific pains) at some point, not just sit in desire without object (however useful that may be as technique at times). That could be a desire to get stolen goods back or make money. Or a desire to tell another, a lover, spouse, father, mother, what we really want to tell them specifically. Or a desire for a specific other in a specific dance.

The view here as I see it might be expressed this way: We are a center of the universe. As in some modern physics, any point anywhere can be the center, because the center is everywhere. There is no need to abandon this center as false. We could also see that all the centers are true and illusory at the  same time and just be aware while we deal with them. There need be no desire to enjoy some awakened or non-suffering state different from those around us. We can rub up against them pleasurably and painfully while remaining in as much awareness possible till we all wake up. We can actually say “love you” and “eff you,” “sorry” and “goddamn right,” even “how could you?” right out loud while we keep dancing. “Redemption” is  just another self-centered goal in such a view.

 “Tired with all these” for restful death we do not cry, for though we are born to beg while beholding desert, we do not wish to leave our loves alone in the same situation. 

Thank-you for this beautiful, specific dance. I feel less alone.


John Omniadeo

1 comment:

  1. I intended to use subjective, not as opposed to some cool objective “truth” out there, but to distinguish it from the objects (events or experiences) that it interprets. Subjectivity enriches an objective experience in the same way that an audience or artist enriches a performance, creating a musical sequence from discreet notes played in succession, or seeing a dance in a series of independent moves. The subjective experience adds another layer to the objective experience, which is neither good nor bad in itself.

    The point I had hoped to make with this distinction was specifically with respect to experiences that inspire moral indignation. I had hoped to point out how, when I objectively suffer a blow or fall of some kind, and when moreover I subjectively experience the blow as a result of someone’s ill-will toward me, I am likely to enrich my objective suffering in a way that causes more suffering to me, for example, by wanting something from someone I have now set up as a personal adversary. I am not saying: “Don’t do it, don’t react subjectively!” . Nor would I recommend turning the other cheek or otherwise trying to heroically overcome indignation by suppressing it or ignoring it. One’s reaction to a situation is both involuntary and inexorable. I had hoped however to suggest that one take a critical look at how inferred (or known)negative intentions fuel more suffering with feelings, thoughts or reasons that justify pouring more energy into fighting an enemy outside of oneself.