Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Befriending the silent observer

I got goosebumps in "Buddhist Modernism" today, not something I was expecting. As a final example of our topic before they give final research presentations, I'd given the students two chapters from Haemin Sunim's The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm in a Busy World, a book currently climbing Amazon charts in various western language translations, but originally a compilation of tweets. Sunim's observations became the most retweeted tweets in South Korea, and the books that have brought them together have been major bestsellers there.

There are few zingers among the tweets we read, though - that's not what they're about - and our discussion was a little flat. It got a little better when I asked students to read aloud one which spoke to them, so we had a taste of retweeting. Now each appeared as something someone else had cared enough to send on. But the advice and observations still seemed pretty common-sensical: slow down, relax, be yourself, enjoy the little things. There were a few clearly Buddhisty ones, like the one I was surprised it was left to me to read aloud:

I wish you could see my true nature.
Beyond my body and labels,
there is a river of tenderness and vulnerability.
Beyond stereotypes and assumptions,
there is a valley of openness and authenticity.
Beyond memory and ego,
there is an ocean of awareness and compassion.

but in general it seems a pretty ordinary, slightly New Agey, self-help book. If you read to the end, though, you find that all rivers lead to the sea. The goosebumps came when I read the class the book's epilogue:

Your Original Face

When you are so busy that you feel perpetually chased, when worrying thoughts circle your head, when the future seems dark and uncertain, when you are hurt by what someone has said, slow down if only for a moment. Bring all of your awareness into the present and take a deep breath.

What do you hear? What does your body feel? What does the sky look like?

Only when we slow down can we finally see clearly our relationships, our thoughts our pain. As we slow down, we are no longer tangled in them. We can step out and appreciate them for what they are.

The faces of our family and colleagues who always help, the scenery that we pass by every day but fail to notice, our friends' stories that we fail to pay attention to - in the stillness of the pause, the entirety of our being is quietly revealed.

Wisdom is not something we have to strive to acquire. Rather, it arises naturally as we slow down and notice what is already there.

As we notice more and more in the present moment, we come to a deeper realization that a silent observer is within us. In the primordial stillness, the silent observer witnesses everything inside and outside.

Befriend the silent observer. Find out where it is, and what shape it has assumed. Do not try to imagine it as something you already know. Let all your thoughts and images merge back into silence and just sense the observer already there in silence.

If you see the face of the silent observer, then you have found your original face, from before you were born.

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