Emptying ourselves of self:

Behind a temple there was a field where there were many squashes growing on a vine. One day a fight broke out among them, and the squashes split up into two groups, making a big racket shouting at one another.

The head priest heard the uproar and, stepping outside to see what was going on, found the squashes quarrelling. The priest scolded them in a booming voice. “Hey, you squashes! What are you doing out there fighting? Everyone meditate! Fold up your legs like this, sit up, and straighten your back and neck.”

While the squashes were sitting in meditation in the way the priest had taught them, their anger subsided and they settled down.

Then the priest said quietly, “Everyone put your hand on top of your head.”

When the squashes felt the top of their heads, they found some weird thing attached there. It turned out to be the vine that connected them all together.

“This is really strange,” they said “Here we’ve been arguing when actually we’re all tied together and living just one life. What a mistake! It’s just as the priest said.”

After that, the squashes all got along with each other quite well.[1]

~~~

One of the greatest gifts of meditation is how it helps heal us of the illusion of separateness, the misperception which veils our essential interconnectedness and oneness in the oneness of God.

The great and all too evident danger of this illusion is that it deeply influences how we relate to each other and the world. A false conceptual distance can quickly become an emotional distance and a moral distance.

How does the illusion of separateness arise? It arises, in large part, from the noisy chatter of the thinking (discursive) mind, which likes to categorise and parcel up the world of our experience into tidy, separate boxes, giving rise to a strong sense of “I” and “you”, of “mine” and “yours.”

In meditation, we follow a path of self-forgetfulness which unfolds quite naturally as we focus our attention on something other than ourselves. Our simple practice progressively brings the thinking mind to stillness and silence. And as this happens, our sense of separateness starts to dissolve.

What we might previously have taken to be solid dividing lines between us and God and each other (so many of us have been told this is the case) become porous before the quiet light of awareness. Notions of distinguishing identity we may have held for many years become increasingly transparent before this loving light, until they eventually evaporate within it.

The illusion of separateness causes us to imagine we are in some way separate from the vine which gives us life and apart from which we could not exist.[2] Emptying ourselves of self, we discover the infinite fullness of our shared life in God. [3]

The old Japanese tale about the angry squashes speaks delightfully simply about the problem and the antidote to be found in stillness and silence.

When the squashes became still and quiet — when they let go of their angry thoughts — they discovered they were not entirely separate at all, but profoundly, intimately connected. Their new way of seeing opened into a new way of being. To the one that knows they are one with the vine, all talk of difference and separateness becomes unimportant beyond a certain point.

From time to time, people ask me, “If I let go of all my thoughts, all my ideas about who I am and how the world is, what is going to be left of me?”

The only answer I can give is, “What will be left of you is you. What will be left is a ray of God’s light.”

We meditate to know we are one with the vine.

How does this oneness register in our awareness?

It is “like rain falling from the sky onto a river or pool,” says St. Teresa of Avila. “There is nothing but water. It’s impossible to divide the sky water from the land water. When a little stream enters the sea, who could separate out its waters again?”[4]

The realisation of oneness is the foundation of peace within us and the foundation of peace between us. It is the deepest basis for compassion and justice, for our care of each other and of our precious world.

To discover that we are one with the vine, is to discover that everyone and all creation is one within the oneness of the vine. “When it is truly seen,” wrote Julian of Norwich, “no person can separate themselves from another.”[5]

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[1] Adapted from the tale as set out in Opening the hand of Thought, by Kosho Uchiyama (pages 77–78).

[2] John 15:1–17.

[3] See Philippians 2:5–7.

[4] See The Interior Castle, St, Teresa of Avila, translated by Miribai Starr (page 270).

[5] See The Revelations of Divine Love, translated by Barry Windeatt (page 138).

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Chris Whittington is the Founder of the School of Contemplative Life. Visit our website: www.schoolofcontemplativelife.com