Sermon for May 12, 2019
There was once a young boy who lived in a house that had a stream that ran through the backyard of his property. Almost every day, the boy would play in and around the stream. The boy was so taken with this stream that he could remember very early memories, impressions really, from when he was just a toddler. Things like the sound of the rushing water, smells, and the sunlight reflecting off of the current had made a seemingly permanent impression in his mind. As the boy grew, the stream was always there for him. If there wasn’t anything else to do on a particular day, his friends weren’t around, his parents were busy, he could always go back to the stream and somehow there was always a new world to explore.
As he got older, it occurred to the boy to name the stream. It had been such a constant companion for him, a name seemed appropriate, necessary in some way.
When the boy tried to name the stream, something struck him like an electric shock. This shock, whatever it was, caused a mental block and he could not think of a name. Nothing seemed to fit, and no name he could come up with sounded right to him. Others even had nicknames for the stream but, to him, they were just that, silly nicknames that weren’t a real names.
One day, totally frustrated by his inability to come up with a simple name for the stream, the boy just stopped. He wasn’t sure if he stopped thinking of the name, or something, like his frustration, caused him to stop, but he stopped. The boy realized that the reason he couldn’t find a name was because he had never actually tried to understand his connection to the stream in the first place. The stream was both the most natural thing to him and a mystery at the same time.
The boy realized, in a flash unlike his normal thoughts, that it wasn’t really the constant idea of the stream that he had gravitated toward, but the presence of the stream. He saw that although even the idea of ‘the stream in his backyard’ was a kind of name, he had never found himself attracted to his idea of the stream, but more so what he would find when he went back to it, what it was in the moment he was actually present with it.
To the boy, who had known the stream from his earliest memories, the stream was not the memory, nor an idea, but a changing, spontaneous, infinitely evolving beingness. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second, right down to the smallest unit of time we can identify through our experience, the stream was different. Maybe it appeared the same to others, but the boy knew the stream was ever changing. To those who had named it, or even nicknamed it, the stream was a thing, it had an identity, it was boxed in by the thought of it. To the boy, it had always been beyond a name, or even an idea.
He realized that the reason he could not name the stream is because there was no stream. There was no one thing he could find that was his stream. It was a source of peace and truth throughout his life because it was both absolutely present, yet totally unable to be grasped, all at the same time. It could be anything for him, and he could be anything to it, without expectation, judgement, or condition...much how he heard adults talk about love.
The boy’s stream is our mind, the stream of our thoughts, what we try to use to identify who we are. Although it is seemingly consistent, it is not. It is constantly changing, every moment, and it is only our idea about it that creates the illusion of a consistent thing that can be grasped and defined and remembered. It is totally beyond our ability to capture it with a thought. When we name the stream, place an identity to it, suffering results. We are trying to attribute an identity to a thing that will never succumb to being some ‘thing’, but only to being. Our suffering cannot begin to end until we stop trying to build the identity that suffers. In reality, there is no thing to suffer beyond what we’ve created ourselves(Try reading Genesis and the fall of man with this in mind).
The boy is who we think we are, separate from the mind, the ‘watcher’, if you will. There is experience, the stream of the mind with thoughts, and a watcher who will sometimes jump in the stream and sometimes stay on the banks. The boy is the one who, we believe, experiences the stream. The boy is the one who eventually tries to name the stream, furthering the gap between his idea of himself, and his thoughts. The boy believes that if he loses his memory of the stream, his idea of the stream from the watcher’s point of view, that he will lose his wonderful companion.
The truth is, the boy and the stream are one thing. In trying to hold memories of the stream, and then name it to permanently fix his mind to it, the boy has killed the very thing he thought he was saving. Both the boy, and the stream, are now nothing more than a concept, a memory, an idea that has now created a past, present, and future. This is suffering.
Identifying as a separate watcher is living in a illusory creation of our mind rather than in experience. It is experiencing, not being. Whereas the boy once lived in the moment, totally at peace with an ever changing present, something that the stream had taught his stubborn ego to do, he is now caught in an futile game of defining experiences that cannot be defined, stopping the flow of experience that cannot be stopped, and identifying things that don’t exist as separate things. In trying to save himself, save the stream, he has lost both.
No matter how hard you try, you can never contain being in your idea of it.
The cessation of all these apparently separate experiences, identities, and memories of them, is, secretly, and unknowingly to what we view as our sense of self, what we are seeking when we try to name the stream. We are seeking God by naming instead of being, fooling ourselves into thinking that our grasping of a thing with a name is the same as being the thing we’ve sought to capture with our mind. Rather than really experiencing life, being in the present of wherever we are, we begin to live life as a secondary experiencer. We find we can never get out of our own way, get out of our own head, ‘find ourselves’. We go on vacations, do drugs, find people who reflect qualities we like back to us, all in a futile attempt to get back to being, rather than this empty third party experiencing we’ve created for ourselves. If the boy had named the stream, he would have spent his entire life trying to replicate an idea he would never be able to find again- because it doesn’t exist in thought, but in being.
If this is all confusing, who is it confusing to? It can be hard to understand that we have to begin to seek to understand seeking is the problem. It can be hard to understand that we are using a clouded mind to try to determine what is true, what path to take, and when we actually ‘get it’. Think of the boy and the stream. He never knew he had to understand the stream, name the stream, remember what the stream was to him, until he tried to. And yet, his effort led him back to a realization of what was already there. Does this sound like the perfection you are before birth, the apparent path we take in life, and the perfection we return to after death? Is any of it “real”, or is it just something we imagine because we’ve created experience rather than being, just like the boy? We wanted to see perfection, so we bit the apple, and perfection was hidden by what we saw.
What would your life be like if the watcher left? Would suffering exist for one who has no idea of past, present, or future? Before you get caught up in the concepts here, read this several times and just sit with it for a time. Rather than choosing, or not, to decide or figure out or understand, just watch the thoughts you have about whatever comes from reading this. Watch and sit, just like the boy at the stream, and find what ‘is’ for you.