Our situation in a bigger perspective

Speech (in Dutch) [download]

As a result of many questions laid before me during this session, I would like to try again to look at our situation in this life in perspective to the totality.
One of the practical difficulties I very often hear about is that you, even if you are already able through za-zen to be in your center in the pelvis, nevertheless during the day lose this connection, while you talk to people, at your work, in traffic; that you slide back into that temporary human being – that is the expression I prefer – whom you think you are.

Then I’ll have to go back in history to the situation here in the West just before the Middle Ages. In those days there was still ‘devout faith’, as it was called. That is a religious expression for the feeling a person can have when he belongs to an immense totality, he is here out of that totality. I have known that because I was born and grew up in a different country. We don’t have that feeling any longer at all, we have the feeling we are here now. There is a historical past about which we can read in books, but it is not alive. We don’t have a feeling that’s still alive, that we are a very long story, a story that goes back to immemorial times. We don’t know anything about that anymore, and that is a good thing.

All those adventures we had during thousands of years do however have an impact on the impulse of life which causes our return again this time, in order to try to continue. Because of all the things we already experienced, we have a specific direction that is just a bit different, and out of that emerge variations in preference and interest. When you look at it superficially, that is to say, only looked at from the present, it expresses itself in the way of choosing a more scientific direction or more linguistic; or you choose a more active direction, for instance in trade or health care. You can do that sort of thing, those are the possibilities to follow the direction of which you’re not aware. We always look for the cause at the father or mother who was like that, so we make up an explanation for that, but the explanation falls short, it doesn’t do justice to the totality which we are.

What can happen during meditation is that you get contact with your direction. We have to make a clear distinction between your fate and your direction. Your direction reaches much further than your fate. Your fate is limited to today and tomorrow, to this life, this small temporary life between birth and death. That is not related to that huge story which you are, which expresses itself over and over again in a subsequent story, each time you’re here. Also, it is absolutely useless to wonder what you were in your previous life. That is childish nonsense, you shouldn’t occupy yourself with that. You can become aware of your direction however.

In the development of human consciousness the body is the oldest. Thinking-feeling has developed after the body, as its foundation, was finished. The thinking-feeling still has to become one with the whole. That is why, I can only say, it is very sensible to give that body your full attention, to acknowledge it in its entirety. For the body is still very directly connected with the totality – in his way, which is not the way of thinking-feeling. Thinking-feeling is the last branch in the development of consciousness. It is the more self-reliant, more individualised and because of that more cut off part of our totality. As we live our regular life, when we’re satisfied with the things life brings us, we’re always in that sphere of thinking-feeling, of distinguishing, combining, comparing. You can retrace that in all the actions of mankind. However, to a large extent it is apart from that huge movement of the totality in which everything is accepted: plants, animals, minerals, everything. That experiences a very slow , sluggish development. Also man is taken up in this. So if you could restrict yourself – but you can’t – to the temporary life, this one life, even so you go along with evolution, in that very slow, sluggish way.

We experience ourselves as a very busy being: that is through thinking-feeling. Thinking-feeling knows, if I may say so, very deep down – but we can’t get to that – that it is separate, and that it really belongs to that totality of which it is not aware. Only in extreme situations, when you meet death, that awareness comes to the surface. Then there is also fear, because then it is clear that the domain of the ego, the temporary person, is limited. We all know that, but we don’t live accordingly. That is very peculiar: we know we will die sometime, but we behave as if ‘it will happen sometime or other’, we pretend temporary life could exist outside of the huge totality. Top science has already left that thought behind, but the underlying sciences still dream on quietly.

So the body is still of the totality. The body still has direct contact with what we call in psychology the ‘unconscious’ (in the East is also added the distinction between the ‘subconscious’ and the ‘superconscious’, which together makes the unconscious). Every time when, through circumstances, you come face to face with the end of your temporary life, where you stand before a mystery, you’re frightened and you don’t want to leave. You come up with arguments and you try to find explanations for the incomprehensible, which takes place all along. That is also why you have difficulty (that’s where all these questions come from) to allow that huge totality into your life – actually I should say: to entrust your temporary life to that totality of which you are, and what you are as well. That is to us a matter of surrender, of faith. That is because we are settled in thinking-feeling.

When you have this clear, then a lot of things you’re having trouble with become clearer. There is absolutely no guilt involved, we can’t help it, we are the product of development , of evolution. Only, it is intelligent to know what that means, that you’re a product of evolution, that you’re in contact with the true, infinitely continuing story; and that of course you start to realise that through thinking-feeling alone you can’t progress beyond the area of thinking-feeling. That is an area that is still apart – I’m now talking about how it feels to you, of course it is not apart, but we feel it that way – from the big story. We don’t know the big story, but we can have a feeling of belonging to it, that our story of this life is one of the many stories that make up the big story. You could also say, that the temporary life is a word from a sentence, and that sentence is only one of the many sentences in a huge story. That will give you a tiny idea of what it is, how enormous it is, and that you are part of this story.

When you truly understand this, then you realise how difficult it is for you to stay in your center whatever the circumstances. That center, which is located in your pelvis (although it is something much larger of course), is there because our body still belongs to the story, the totality. That’s why it is wise to ground yourself (get in touch with the earth), several times a day, to ground yourself over and over again. Then there is a chance that over time you can stay in your center, in contact with that immense totality – while you’re in regular life: you’re having a conversation, or you’re at work, or something is asked of you, or you have to do something: that totality to which you belong, where you came from, where you return to, of which you’re never separate, where you’re always in, only you are not aware of it. When that awareness dawns on you, you can entrust yourself easier to it. You have that feeling of surrender because you have lived now through the development of becoming an independent individual.

I was born in Indonesia in very plain circumstances at the edge of the jungle, in a very primitive village community – that’s the way we call it. The people there, different from us, didn’t talk about that immense, all embracing totality: they were part of it, just as obvious as the sunrise (this casualness will be lost to them as well, because they’re evolving at a rapid speed, probably much faster than we did). They also have their superstitions, and of course they have their stories and their history as well. How life feels to you is what matters now, not what you say is important but what you feel, the way you experience life in its totality. At the time I was a little boy of about three or four, this was still natural. Things we now call psychic phenomena – and we give it an air of importance – were very common. No one talked about it, but everybody saw and heard them. These people have to go through our development now, they also have to individualise etcetera. Hopefully, because they have to do it in a shorter time, something will remain of the awareness of belonging to something infinitely bigger, that goes on undisturbed, no matter what we do.

We can mess up everything here, maybe humanity will cease to exist, that doesn’t mean however that evolution will come to a standstill, it will always find a new way. Of course from the standpoint of significance it is better when we do keep existing, if we become aware of our actions. We start to get that awareness, we start to notice that we can’t go on indefinitely with our use of the environment, we start to notice that climate changes can happen because of our conduct.

A big amount of empathy and imagination is asked for. It is a good thing to gain an in-depth knowledge in this matter, it is very much needed, because if you occupy yourself with that, the problems which now seem enormous to you will vanish by themselves. You start to realise what you are doing. You start to realise that that small life of yours is an expression of something much bigger in which your private problems hardly play a role, where the only thing that matters is the understanding that you belong to it; and that you should live in such a way that you’re in accordance with the direction of the whole, the totality which is so immense that it is beyond knowledge. That sense of direction is the real reason why you are on earth again and again.

When you get familiar with this, your life changes fundamentally. Of course you still have regular personal relations: family relations, friend relations, love relations, it is all there. Now you keep having the feeling that those are a part of you but not something you can give yourself to completely because then you lose touch with your center, the base that ties in with the unimaginable huge totality of which you are – you can’t say that enough to yourself.

It is remarkable that when you start to understand this you get a lot of time, you won’t be hurried anymore. Because you realise that the goals you set in your life have hardly anything to do with that totality of which you are an expression. So you become careful. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to exert yourself at all for that: you’re not so sure of everything anymore. You’re prepared to listen. You start to realise that everyone you meet is also an expression of that huge totality, and worthwhile as such. All the classifications we made, of ‘that one is like this and that one is like that,’ are all put between inverted commas. They still apply of course , but between quotation marks; for the time being. They have nothing to do with the direction of that impulse from the inexpressible, from the unknown – to which we’ve attached an idea of God and all sorts of different ideas, but those are all translations. What matters is the immediate contact with that totality. And that stays inexpressible; you can notice all sorts of things about it, but it eludes you. It is something you can experience, but it isn’t something you can describe ‘it is like this or that.’

Your life takes place between these two aspects: on one side you’re a part of, an expression of the totality and on the other side you are that temporary life. That is the state of affairs in evolution.

When you get that clear, then a lot of things that don’t seem to make sense get connected. Then you start to understand why the big religions exist. You stop saying: ‘That translation is better than that translation.’ What does your opinion rest on? Partly because this person grew up with this translation, the other person with that translation. However, you should go back, you should have a model of the totality, just as top science says these days. But, they confess in all honesty not to have that model, so they have to manage for the time being with a couple of hypotheses. That at least is a reasonable procedure, a genuine argumentation. For us the same applies: we don’t know that totality, we all grew up in some sort of translation. But it is a translation. It is all about the immediate contact with that inexpressible totality, that your life is tuned in with the totality, however difficult that may be, and however odd you then might seem to people who still completely believe in the translation. That is just part of it, you shouldn’t be amazed about it and not say: “Gee whiz, how lonely I’m getting.” I hear that so often: “I’m getting so lonely.” Yes, of course, in the world of translations you become isolated, because you don’t fit in anymore. Is that so bad? If you mind so much, it means you don’t have real contact. Because you can’t be lonely if you are in the totality. How can you be lonely then, what is that about? Yes, you can be lonely in temporary life, for instance in a relationship. Of course that is possible, but it is a temporary loneliness as well. However, when you are connected through your center, even if that feeling can’t be expressed, you are connected, you belong to the totality and the person you have detached yourself from belongs to it as well. Meeting and separating all takes place in the temporary. We don’t feel it that way, for us it is the only reality. We get into our car and we leave home, but in that fundamental feeling of the inexpressible very little is happening: you get into your car and you move along, but essentially you don’t leave the one you left behind at home.

When you start to realise that, your life changes. That has consequences , but you can then handle them. You don’t mind being different any longer. Neither are you arrogant, because what would you be stuck up about? Doesn’t everyone belong to it? Only you realise it a little bit more, a tiny bit more, it is only a very tiny bit. So there really is no place for arrogance. The feeling of veneration for everything alive wells up. There is nothing so insignificant that it doesn’t deserve your attention. What I’m saying now is a difficult pill to swallow, because we have divided the whole world up in ‘that is important’ and ‘that is not important, you can just throw that away…’ That is gone then, everything continues. And have you realised sufficiently that it continues, that which leaves you continues, doesn’t stop – like garbage that is still burning continues in some way or other? So all those instinctive divisions we make, don’t hold water. That asks for our utmost attention, and it also asks for – a word we have invented as well – love. ‘Love’ really means: awareness of the connection, awareness of the essential impossibility of separating yourself from anything ever. You can pretend you do, and we often do, and that’s why it gives us so much trouble: we belong to this group, not to that one; we belong to this religion, not to that one; we belong to this ideology, not to that one. You can also have compassion for the way things are, for the way we are. At the same time you realise it can’t stay that way, we have to develop that awareness anew.

The big difference with the human being who was just part of the totality and realised it but not consciously, is that we start to belong again to that totality with the acquisitions of that period of individuality. Everything we picked up in this period of individuality we take along, we don’t reject it. There are movements who reject that and are of the opinion we should return to the old ways. But that is impossible, it can never happen, you can’t go back, it can’t be done. So we have to move on, with the acquisitions we gathered, no longer in their destructive aspect but as enriched possibilities. Of course you can be an expression of the totality and yet take the acquisitions of your temporary life along, that life of emotions, thoughts, ideas, images. There is no contradiction, they are part of it.

I have drawn a rough sketch, but if you carry this with you your practice will become much more transparent. Then you understand why you have difficulties, then you won’t get upset about it, you will think ‘that is part of my being human.’ If you can see that, the case looks very different: if you can see that you devote yourself to something immense, all your day to day problems – of course you have problems every day, small and big difficulties – get into perspective, into proportion. Because of that you have more strength, more joy. You notice it is a huge game, and you play along, and that is an incredible privilege. Just as it is a fantastic privilege to be born, to receive a body, to receive consciousness, allowing us to continue: that is unbelievable. There are not that many people who realise it is truly a great gift. It gives us the opportunity to continue, it never stops, it always continues enriching, enlarging itself. Till a certain phase ends, and a new phase starts.

Isn’t that a wonderful feeling, that it always gets more complete and that you are part of it? I think it is easier to meditate that way, easier to understand why it is important to be in your center and practice steadily. So don’t say: “That’s twenty minutes a day,” but just do it, and then notice that your life is changing. Your life doesn’t change through intentions, resolutions, goals, whatever, as we usually go about matters. It only changes by doing, always over and over by doing, and slowly getting that contact, getting tuned in, and continue from there.


Dialogue (fragment)

Question: what you’re telling us is nothing new, but I wonder why it vanishes so quickly again, because we do know this really, and yet all the time you suddenly lose touch with it.

Answer: It is a habit, we are used to working with emotions and thoughts, also in the religious area. We work all the time from the concept that we are a small unit. We are used to that, we have done that our whole life. So that can’t be changed just like that, that is impossible!

Question: So you have to hear it frequently.

Answer: Yes, and especially lower yourself into your center as often as possible, also when it is not necessary. There are of course regularly solitary moments, without people. If you then develop the habit of falling into your center 5 or 10 min. at the time, then the moment will come when you’re in the heat of the fight, during a discussion or in a seemingly threatening situation, that you can stay in your center. It is a matter of getting used to the fact that you’re not grounded yet, that still has to happen. So work on that steadily. It is not something that happens suddenly, but there will be a time when you have a difficulty, that you can look at it from your center: ‘this is a difficulty facing me, but in reality I’m not in danger; what feels threatened is that little part, but in reality I’m not in danger’. This is a huge change. So what can you expect if you have been for a big part of your life only in the temporary life? You have a notion that that’s not all, we all do, but it is vague, far away. Then however, it is a reality, you have the feeling: I’m here now, and this is happening, it is a difficulty, but I’m not in danger. That is a big difference. That doesn’t apply to you only. I hear it often. So, just do it, ground yourself again and again and don’t think about it. Don’t think: ‘am I doing it wrong’?, ‘am I doing it right’? The way you do it is excellent. Just do it. Then the moment will come that you notice: ‘Ah, yes, it is like this’. Then you stay with it. Of course you lose touch with it again. When the little part is threatened in a big way, the situation becomes very critical. Maybe you’ll drop out of it. It is also possible – I have experienced that – that you realise when your life is endangered, that suddenly you become aware: ‘so much the worse, they can kill me, so be it’. In our life however, we are rarely in such circumstances. We are always threatened in a tiny way: our finances, our status, our relationship. What really matters in the end is if you can bring this together, if you can introduce the eternal into the world of time, if you can express the eternal through your way of life, through being, through being present. And can you do that in a relaxed way, so it is friendly, not aggressive? A lot of Zen-stories go like: ‘……whhhham!!’ No, it is not like that. It is opening up in a friendly way, allowing kindness. It is not an achievement, it is something that goes much deeper: it is getting connected again. You can imagine that is quite something: to get connected again, connected consciously, in such a way that all temporary notions just vanish from your life experience. It is already a very good thing that you notice that it slips away, because that means you know the other side. So, be cheerful!

Question: You often talk about that impulse of life. Vaguely I can imagine something about that: a direction, a start in creation, but I can’t manage to define it.

Answer: I’ll try to clarify it. You have to imagine that the totality is not only inconceivably immense, but also subdivided, branched out in a very subtle way. We talked about this once already, that in the time you’re not on earth you have some sense of what that is like and that is why you want to come to earth. When you come to earth and get born, you forget all that. Because you’re busy – just look at kids – to find your place in society and in this time frame, with the thinking – feeling and everything that goes with it, so with that separateness. The point is to restore the contact with the totality. Of course you can have all sorts of thoughts about it, like: ‘what is that totality really’? Because the impulse of life originates in the totality, it is actually the totality, the Whole. This is a difficult concept which is put into words in Hindu mythology like this: The drop contains the ocean. That is something you can’t really understand. You can understand that the drop is in the ocean, that is easy to follow for our thinking-feeling. But for the drop to contain the ocean… And yet it is true. You could say that each phenomenon of life is a focus point of the whole, and in the light of the complexity of the total instrument – consciousness in this case – it is able to be aware of the whole accordingly. In potential everything contains totality but it doesn’t realise it. So a human being is more able to be aware, that is what is important. So don’t try to get in the position of Our Dear Father to get a view of the whole. That is impossible, you can’t grasp that. You can only become conscious of how it works. You can become conscious of the fact that when you’re centred, things look and feel different, and especially that you are carefree. Someone who is centred, is carefree. All kinds of things can happen to him, he can drop dead, but he is not preoccupied with it. It is very important that you’re carefree. Not as an achievement, like ‘I’m carefree’, but being it, coming from the feeling of ‘O, yes, I belong to it.’ That is all you know, it is a feeling that is alive, it is not a concept.

Question: Maarten, for me it was much clearer earlier on, when you said: ‘just do it, rest in your pelvis (center).

Answer: Yes, that is what you can do specifically. But her difficulty is the difficulty of all of us: we also want to understand it a little. We want to understand it with the instruments we have, and that is our thinking-feeling. And that is not possible, it is already splendid if you see that. The most thinking-feeling can bring you is the notion that you can’t understand it. However, you can do it, that is a very remarkable paradox. So, indeed, just do it! Then you’ll start to notice how your attitude towards life changes. It was also observed that you slide out of it now and then, but that’s part of it. Sweat and tears belong to this revolution. It is part of it, that sweat and those tears arise from being separated. That is the fate of all of us.