When we imagine how we’d react in the face of the unknown, unless we joke around and say we’d piss our pants and run away, we tend to envision a controlled scenario in which we behave normally, whatever that means for us. We imagine how we’d react, oblivious to the possibility that such a moment contains an action that is not our reaction. We say we’d shake hands with an alien, even though people who claim to be abducted by them report fear so great, it often creates post traumatic stress disorder. We’d question an angel, even though the literature says we tremble in fear before angels. We’d show that pesky poltergeist who’s boss, even though people tend to run screaming, or get a priest to bless their haunted house.
Those are drastic examples and might be fictitious. Even if so, isn’t it interesting how we constantly tell ourselves that we’d react calmly, rationally, and in a more well-thought-out manner than the people who claim to have experienced these things? Whether we think we’d be heroic or not, we believe we’d remain intact and know what to do. To see just how untrue this is, watch a compilation video on youtube, or some other streaming service, of crowd reactions to street magic. You will see in stark relief the difference between the reality of how we react to the unknown vs. the fantasy.
The reactions to simple illusions performed right in front of people range from crying, shaking, kicking at the magician, to running away. Even when we know we’re seeing a trick being performed by a skilled human with no super powers, if we concentrate hard on finding the trick, or somehow become emotionally invested in it, our fight or flight instinct tends to kick in when what we know gives way to the possibility that we’re wrong. In that moment, this entertainer standing before us is a challenge to our comfort with how we believe the world works and therefore our place in it. The joke of pissing our pants is on us. Literally.
While you’re on your video streaming service of choice, check out compilation videos of animals unsuccessfully trying to attack children at the zoo while their parents are filming them. When the lion tries to rip little Billy’s head off, it’s hilarious. The parents might be shocked and laugh nervously, or they might fly into hysterics. Were there no barrier, this would be no laughing matter. It certainly isn’t to the lion.
The parents in this case can remain calm and in good spirits because there’s a glass partition, a cage separating their family from the other animals. That barrier means safety. It is the known. And in the known, where we feel good and situations like these are funny, we can only imagine how we’d react if the barrier broke and the lion came roaring through. We imagine we’d grab our kids and run, or attack the lion, divert its attention, or some other act of bravery. The barrier gives us time to think. Time to think is an interval between you and action. If that barrier did break, however, there would be no interval of time to think and react, there would only be action. Taking time to think means your family is definitely dinner.
In that time to think what we’re doing is translating the unknown moment into knowable scenarios we can rehearse for. We’re making the unknown comfortable in the fluffed pillows of rational thought. Unfortunately, you cannot rehearse for the unknown moment because you are not the same person in that moment. You can’t drag that moment into you—into the known—because in that moment, you cease to be and action just is: no more lounging and lazily dreaming about what you’d do if….
The barrier, you see, is made of fear and time and the self is made of fear and time. The barrier separates you from the animal, which means you can never know one another. You can only gawk and approach, misunderstand and fear. Ideally, the barrier provides a safe space to observe, but should something go wrong, say, the glass start to crack, it also provides time to evacuate the zoo safely.
But if the barrier falls completely, you must fall completely. Thinking and reacting must fall completely so that there is only the moment. If you struggle to remain as you are in the moment, it will rub against the moment, creating a friction of fear and reaction. Fear is the suppressed dominant aspect of self coming to the fore in reaction against the necessary fall of self. You’ll assault a magician. You’ll get eaten by a lion. If you consider yourself a spiritual seeker, you’ll learn a new meditation, a new yoga pose, a new way to label yourself as someone with power to not die to the inner silence that you seek and such promote.
And isn’t that interesting: you are the one caging the lion to approach it from behind the divide. You are the one choosing to watch the magician, waiting to be awed. You are the one seeking silence and wholeness in spiritual materials. Yet when you catch a glimpse of what you claim you came to see—the stark reality on its own terms, out of your control—you are the one running from it or fighting it. You didn’t come for the real. You came to witness your expectations of it, the safety of it, because—here comes the mirror—you are the one in the cage, you are the mechanical dullard closed off from magic, you are the noise you are trying to quell. You are fear.
In the moment there is no fear. In the moment there is only action. It is the moment’s action and so you cannot know what that will be. It will do you no good to know anyway, since you won’t be there to do anything with that knowledge. Whatever happens is what happens.
There is no fear because there is no you as fear. There is only the moment, which contains and is you. And also the lion. And also the magician. And also meditation. The moment’s action is the action of each, for in the moment you are all truly one. One coordination. All parts in right relationship with each other. This is the mechanical nature you seek and it is more a ballet of freedom than choreography of a fight scene. Light or dark, the moment is beauty itself; the moment is everything.
No matter how we fantasize about it from behind the comfort of our glass partition, oneness is truly unknown to us. More, oneness is unknowable. Therefore, we are unknowable. Yet ours are lives of fear reaction to the unknowable, not lives of action as the unknowable, hence why we never find the Truth we seek behind facades. To split ourselves and then seek that great part of us we hide in a shadowy cave is to keep ourselves split. You can’t search for you, you’re already there. It’s all you, cage included. The seeker is you, the facade is you, and the Truth behind it is you.
Sang Dorothy to the coward, “Be a lion!”
And they were both Dorothy.