Silence in the Vertical World

Here is where 99% of us live 99% of the time.

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This is the horizontal world, according to Rodney Smith in Stepping Out of Self-Deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self. This is a great book, by the way–one of my favorites.

Anyway, signs you are living in this horizontal world are:

  • You think about the past
  • You carry emotions from the past, like regret, pain, or nostalgia
  • You think about the future
  • You carry emotions about the future, like expectations, hopes, and fears
  • You frame your beliefs according to your experiences in the horizontal world
  • These beliefs, or concepts, are the “right” ones, because you’ve rationalized and compartmentalized them
  • To you, the present is simply the chronological spot between the past and future

Here, Rodney Smith says “you go on excursions through time.” Getting to work, checking to-do lists, checking bucket lists, reliving past accomplishments and embarrassments, conversing, spectating, jumping from distraction to distraction.

What else is there?

The vertical universe.

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The vertical universe is more than a spot on a timeline… it’s like a doorway to timelessness, and that timelessness is huge. It’s the place where we don’t leave the horizontal world–we bring those suitcases with us, but we live fully in that “4th dimension” of space. I can’t really interpret it, but I have found that others do a pretty good job:

Rodney Smith:

The vertical perspective of the here and now is very different. Since the moment is not being squeezed between the rock of the past and the hard place of the future, it is open and expansive. In fact it is infinite and total, encompassing all rings including thoughts about past and future, because all thoughts are occurring here and now. So the vertical universe actually encompasses the horizontal universe. Nothing could possibly escape the moment or ever be outside it, so the vertical universe is always abiding and hover moves. Things move within it, but it never moves. Moment after moment we are taking birth in the vertical universe; the problem is we think we are in the horizontal. Occasionally we pause sufficiently to see the intersection of these dimensions and not merely think our way past them. It may be in a moment of wonder, mystery, beauty, or a moment too precious to deny. –From Stepping Out of Self-Deception, Shambala, 2010: pg. 27

Thich Nhat Hanh  speaks of it:

I have arrived. I am home. My destination is in each step.

The environmentalist Derrick Jensen enters that vertical space, I believe, when he talks to the trees:

 I’ve been stuck in my writing for several days. Each paragraph I write goes nowhere, and then nowhere again. I ask the trees for help and they give me words. Did they enter my mind, or did I enter theirs? I ask my muse for help, and these words come. Who is writing? Am I possessed? Are my fingers writing on their own? Is my mind  writing on its own? –From Dreams, Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2011

Perhaps the vertical universe is inhabited by the Third Eye, that mystical place that goes beyond ordinary perception.

Perhaps it is experienced through what psychologist Abraham Maslow calls “Peak Experience.”

William James has spoken of the vertical universe

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.From The Philosophy of William James, New York: The Modern Library, pg. 232.

Perhaps St. Teresa of Avila introduces the way in to the vertical universe when she teaches her sisters:

For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of ‘being’ in a place. Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and hove no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has. You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself; and that is exactly what this  means. –From Interior Castle, translated and edit by E. Allison Peers, A Doubleday Image book, pg. 31.

The point is: many have spoken of this vertical universe, but because it is a still place, how can it be defined? It is bound to be, in a sense, an individual experience and in another sense, a completely universal one.

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Change? Or Be Changed?

During these sleepy, snowy winter days, I have been reading a book called Stepping Out of Self-Deception:  The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self by Rodney Smith.  This is the kind of book you read with a highlighter.

One line that the author quoted really hit me…

We are not here to change the world.  The world is here to change us.”

Yikes–that seems like totally convoluted to many of us.   Some of us who wind up being “Helpers” or “Idealists” in our Enneagrams see this differently.  Haven’t we been attached to our thoughts about how messed up this world is?  Don’t we go into careers driven to our part to change the world?  Don’t we feel the frustration when we see all that is wrong with the world–all that has to be done–and how futile it seems?   We feel like Atlas with the world’s problems on our shoulders–Oh, if only everyone saw the world the way we do!

Even if we wear our “Be the Change you Want to See in the World” it implies action and effort.  But my take-away from Rodney Smith’s quote and from the commentary on it made by Smith is that there is a lot of letting go that needs to occur before we take on the world, or even ourselves.  We are so motivated by “results,” by “goals,” that our self-improvement projects are like an old Victorian home waiting to be restored, making us Weekend Warriors on our own souls.

I can in no way succinctly or accurately describe Smith’s simple illustration of how we move in the horizontal plane vs. the vertical, but in short, the horizontal is where we are most comfortable because it is the road between the past and the future, and all the baggage we take with us on that journey–our memories, our sense perceptions, or fears, our hopes, our to-do lists.  The vertical is where the here and now, where simply “being” resides.   (Forgive me, Mr. Smith for my oversimplification!)   While each has its place, and integration between the horizontal and the vertical is important, we spend too much time on the horizontal, and then when we try to seek the vertical, we become disoriented because it requires leaving behind the land of the horizontal, where we’ve spent our whole lives.   If the horizontal is the head, the vertical is the heart.

We need to find a home in this vertical world of the Present in order to really change.  One of the things that this requires is being still.   It’s hard to harbor stillness in the horizontal.   But the vertical plane is where we get “the right answer” about who we truly are.  We don’t need to “decide” anything, or do checklists to determine our life path.  In fact, we don’t have to “do” anything.    Just allow ourselves to go home to our real selves.

If the idea of allowing the world to change us sounds kind of scary (what, THIS world?  I don’t want to be like this world!), the author doesn’t mean the material world.  He means, I think that, as I was taught by the Benedictine monks, we need to open up the ear of our heart and listen and be responsive to what we  hear.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and so I’m going to concentrate on that this Lent.  Of course “doing something for Lent” is a horizontal plane task, but I’ll just use it as the bus to get me to that space where I can suspend my mind and rest easy in my heart for a spell.

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