Squirrels, Time and Is-ness

“Has it really been that long?” I ask, looking at the date on my last post. The evidence is categorical. The date on my last post is July 7. And life has continued on apace.

“They” are clear. If you want to build your blog, you must post regularly. At least once a week. Daily is better. It must be about something. Something clear. Something that benefits others. Not just noodling around.

I know this because I am a human being with the ability to perceive, discuss, and document patterns in the universe. Particularly patterns around time. And this one is pretty obvious… jump up and down making lots of noise, or people will forget you exist. At least the ones who don’t care about you, which is (coarsely) the difference between friends and audience. It is, frankly, exhausting.

And what, I ask, is it all for? All this jumping up and down? “I see the world! It looks like this! I worked hard to figure this out! You should see it this way, too!”

On the one hand, there is the ego. “I am so smart. S.M.R.T. Look at how smart I am!” 😀

And the other, insidious, also ego. “Nobody cares what you have to say.” Also categorically untrue… at least some people care what I have to say, and I only actually have to be able to point out one to render this argument false… but that one never listens to reason.

And the other other ego… “The end is nigh! The world is (somehow or other) and that’s just The Way Things Are. There is no point. Have another beer.”

Come to think of it, I could recount the voices of ego all day. What is apparent, though, is that they don’t agree… the only thing they have in common is that they are very, very certain. They are annoying, and strangling, and/or self-aggrandizing (followed by self-shaming, usually for self-aggrandizing), but whatever stance they take is non-negotiable. These voices are deeply inscribed in our bodies, stored at the cellular level: we become paralyzed by phobias, nauseated at the prospect of walking out onto a stage and saying words, drawn into rage by the fears and jealousies we create when our partner doesn’t call. Thought, story, hormones, physical response… never-ending cascades, buffeted and thrown into chaos by the voices.

When we guide ourselves to set them aside and live in the moment, (which I practice, not as much as I “should”, but some) there is always this to draw us back: Winter is coming. Doubt is dangerous. Because if winter is, indeed, coming (as it generally does) and food is, indeed, about to be scarce, we’d better damn well listen to the voices in our heads that tell us to prepare. Now!

This keeps us scurrying, trapped, flailing from one egoic stand to another, each trying to get our attention, call us away from the brink of… something. Something invisible, unnameable, unreachable, unarticulated. The low thrumming dread underlying it all… Something Bad Might Happen.

Which brings me inevitably, obviously, to squirrels. This summer, while pondering the Arising of Consciousness at three in the morning (like y’would on a night that the rain was pounding on the roof of your cabin), and I rolled over and (accidentally) whacked my partner in the head. “Hey! When do you think somebody figured out that plants came from seeds??? That’s a pretty awesome stage in awareness!” He mumbled, patiently, I think you will agree, “Acorns are pretty friggin’ obvious,” and I rolled back over to think about acorns. Acorns… oaks… squirrels… squirrels store acorns for the winter, but I’m pretty sure that individual squirrels don’t know about winter. Squirrels don’t know about time. Squirrels aren’t thinking, not in the way we think of thinking… but somewhere in the pattern in the universe that we call Squirrelness, there is contained information about the passage of time, seasons, preparation, the need to take particular actions because of What Comes Next. I might have woken him up again.

In a very real sense, squirrels have it easier. The pattern of squirrelness is pretty consistent on this time-food-prep thing. There aren’t millions of different possible solutions, all of which are competing for their energy and committment. Squirrels at the nut store don’t have to run the gauntlet of magazines telling them all about the newest trends in nut storage or suggesting that they should cut down on the M&M’s because their little furry butts are not up to snuff. In short, squirrelness is a (relatively) uncomplicated pattern. Humanness, on the other hand…


This is at the core, isn’t it? What the h-e-twosticks are we doing here?

Humans are different from squirrels. We don’t have pre-programmed behaviours; we must learn the patterns of humanness. And we are, above all else, adaptable. In fact, I have previously argued that we only exist symbiotically with our stories. They are patterns in the universe that live in and through us. “The Truth About Stories,” Thomas King tells us, “is that’s all we are.” This last I have considered long and hard since I first encountered it, lo these many years ago, listening to public radio before I became a part-time Buddhist, but already a devoted ponderer. I have come to hold it as both true and not-true. Verily, we do consider ourselves to be the sum of our identities, agents in some grand narrative that situates us in a particular time and place. The stories, the voices in our heads, the ever-so-certain projections from whence we came and to which we are (we fear) ever-fated, we experience as self/selves. And this is what calls me back again and again to the written word, to reading, to writing, to teaching, to conversation… “Here is a story I have discovered… here is part of the world as I see it… what do you see? Does this help? Do you stand near enough to me in the vast mindscape that this makes any sense to you at all? Tell me you understand. Tell me… I’m not alone.” (still the voices of the ego, quieter now, more fearful, plaintive…)

And not-true at the same time… for in the years on the cushion, on the mat, in conversations like the one I just murmured, I have heard stories that tell me that there is more. That we are more (or less) than the sum of our stories. Emptiness, atman, anatman, soul, Self, the watcher, consciousness… something that hears, perceives, notices, that regulates the interaction with the stories. Bare attention. Is-ness confronting is-ness without trying to make a story out of it. Flashes of awareness.

The knowledge arises that our stories do not love us. They divert our energies to particular structures, patterns of their own perpetuation, whether we agree with them or not. Whether they serve or not. Whether they cause suffering or not. We live so much of our lives trapped in the anxieties that develop when trying to choose between stories that disagree on what (they are certain) will happen if we take action. If we have free will (and I’m not entirely committed to that any longer) this is the moment of its arising: when we learn to find our way to the point of confrontation, maintaining awareness, disidentifying with any particular interpretation of our inner reality.

This, I have experienced, is possible. We can learn to find our way back and forth between the stories, the watcher, our thoughts, our actions and our impacts. We can live in intimate relationship with the universe, not seeking to reach out and make it into the story in our minds, but willing to negotiate, knowing that this is the process by which the universe precesses. “To action only are we entitled…” cautions the Bhagavad Gita, “never to its outcome.” We reach out, but not because we know what comes next. Not to control the outcome, not to prove our own value, or even our own existence by our impacts. Our actions, our writings, our stories themselves can become offerings to the World As It Is.

And so, despite my desire to not jump up and down, the exhaustion that takes me when I think about keeping up appearances, I write. Despite my inability to stick to a posting schedule, despite my difficulties figuring out how to tell you that *this* (this, here. THIS!!!) is what I’m trying to tell you… I write. The blog sits, perhaps neglected, perhaps unloved, but holding space for stories in case one of them turns out to be the one that this person needs to hear right this minute.

Rather than jumping up and down, I offer an invitation. In this moment, I send out love hoping not that I will be validated by your attention, but that you will.

(Wake up!) she whispered…