Home, Unheimlichkeit and “your own interior heaven”
I’ve been studying with my teacher these last few weeks in an online group looking at the Hinayana teachings of Buddhism. The Hinayana are the foundational practices upon which all the other practices rest, so it’s been wonderful to revisit them to check how I feel them in my bones.
Each morning I’ve been sitting for 45 minutes doing a practice known variously as Shikantaze, pure Awareness, or silent illumination. From my perspective it has a lot to do with the practice of Samadhi – which I love and teach often.
What is tricky for most of us practising Samadhi is the repeated return to the here-and-now. What is wonderful about Reggie’s way of teaching it is that this return is a return to something somatic and embodied.
At the beginning, it’s only a glimpse. Underneath the thick and moving carpet of thoughts and “I am this” or “I am that”, you get a glimpse of something much simpler and more fundamental. It’s hard to describe (because description is more thinking, in essence) but increasingly as the 45 minutes unfold, that glimpse becomes more substantial. There a reality below thoughts and it’s stable and expansive and very peaceful.
Practically, every ruffle and wobble into anxiety is the closing-in of thoughts over a much more peaceful and on-going reality: the reality of the body existing, breathing, flowing out energetically into the rest of the World’s happening. Samadhi practice is un-learning that habitual closing-in and resting in a more expansive somatic unfolding.
Of course, written words short change the experience but there’s a moment towards the end of one of Reggie’s guided meditations when he suddenly describes what is happening as “your own interior heaven….That is, the heaven that exist before all other heavens and earths arise”.
This phrase resonates so strongly with me in these troubled times when our attention and our experience of the World is torn into shreds by the constant current of information and Twitter feeds and news stories and internal chatter generated by social media and 24/7 advertising. This way-of-life tears us so abruptly away from any sense of being “heavenly as we are”. Paradise always seems so ridiculously distant, around so many corners as to have become almost an embarrassment. “Of course, we’ll never experience Paradise on Earth. That’s retarded utopianism”.
But this plays straight into the hands of rampant consumer capitalism. “Of course, contentment is a myth. Only consumption and endless distraction can soothe you”. Buy, shop, graze, consume, tweet. But give up the idea of “your own interior heaven”.
And yet, it’s there. It’s so simply and persistently there that it’s shocking and tear-inducing to discover it again. Perhaps we felt it intuitively as children but it’s long-since been cultured out of us.
And yet, here it is, arising and expanding by just sitting still long enough to notice it.
I remember meditating under a Chestnut tree in full blossom one Summer’s morning and the thought hitting my mind: “What if is actually Paradise?” What if this world is heaven but we just keep missing it?
One of my early teachers in the Theravadan tradition said that Nirvana is so simple that most of us would not even notice experiencing it because it would feel “boring” or not important enough.
Perhaps the practice of Samadhi is that: the repeated sensitisation to the “interior heaven” that is roaring, bright and somatic, inside all of us, all the time; the growing confidence that there is a infinitude of warm, kindly space in all of us, just waiting to be noticed. Perhaps this is what Christ meant when he spoke of the “Kingdom of Heaven within you”.
The journey to discover this interior heaven is so delicious and so necessary right now that it feels urgent. That sense of de-racinated, core-less “existing” that most of us experience as we bounce around this hyper-stimulated conceptual sense of being-in-the-world needs to be soothed and dissolved by a growing sense of “It’s alright”-ness. That creepy feeling of perpetual homelessness that Heidegger calls “Unheimlichkeit” needs to come in from the madness and build a home.
Opening up our “own interior heaven” is the foundation.