The Rock

I first found it in my back yard – the lawn mower ran over it and the blade took a sizable chunk out of it.  How it got there, I don’t know, as I’d mowed that section of the lawn many times.  But there it was, sort of grey with flecks of quartz scintillating in the sunlight.  And of course with a chunk missing.  Good thing rocks can’t bleed.  Still, looking at it, I felt a kind of sadness that this rock had somehow found its way into my yard only to be partially decapitated by the spinning blade of the mower.

I brought it into the house.  No point leaving it in the yard for further potential mutilation.  It wasn’t that big – maybe the size of a big melon, and seemed rather light for a rock.  I put it on the coffee table, the bloodless gash turned out to make good “foot” for it to rest on, its grey face and many faceted pinprick eyes staring up at me as if to ask some unspoken but important question.   I had no answer; even the cats sniffed it just once and promptly got bored.  Still, there it was, a stranger that had been invited into the house but that leaves an awkward silence between guest and resident, each wondering where this was going.  Each wondering, maybe this was a mistake.  But then again, the rock didn’t have much choice in the matter, did it?

As I did the various chores of the day, I’d occasionally walk by the coffee table that was somewhat reluctantly, but without complaint, holding this new burden.  I kept noticing how the living room felt different – yesterday, there was no rock on the coffee table, today there was.  It felt strange having this new addition in the house, and yet at the same time growing familiar.  Every time I walked by it I experienced surprise, a flash of “what is that?” that was replaced immediately with “oh, it’s the rock.”  This happened several times throughout the day until at one point I realized I had passed the rock without even noticing it.  Even the coffee table seemed more at ease, as if it were growing more comfortable with this new addition.

After feeding the cats their late night snack and turning off the kitchen light, I headed upstairs to bed, and on a whim stopped in front of the coffee table and gave the rock a gentle pat, whispering “Good night.”  With no light to reflect off the tiny quartz shards, it seemed asleep, eyes closed.  Yet it also seemed to feel a kind of foreboding, the way someone pretends to be asleep because they don’t know what’s going to happen next but hope whatever it is will just go away.  I decided not to disturb it further.

Blame it on the glass of Shiraz I had with dinner, or the full moon, but I awoke at 2 AM with the call of nature.  Heading downstairs, the rock was awake now, moonlight glimmering in its eyes.  Feeling a bit self-conscious in my nakedness, I stepped quickly past it.

The next morning I noticed something odd.  There were flakes of what can only be described as debris in a circle around the rock.  Sort of like dandruff or flakes of dead skin.  Maybe the cats had after all taken an interest in the rock and had brushed off some loose material when they rubbed their noses on it.  It glared up at me in the morning sunlight, its eyes dulled a bit by whatever had transpired in the night.  I decided to leave it, as I wasn’t sure if wiping it with a rag or washing it would do more harm than good.  That night I decided not to give it a goodnight pat.

Every morning, there was a new pile of this rock dandruff in a ring around it.  Every morning, I brushed it off the coffee table, being careful not to touch the rock.  The coffee table was annoyed – these flakes were sharp and left tiny, almost microscopic scratches in its surface, something that wounded its antique pride.

A week later, the rock died.  I came downstairs to find a pile of rubble instead of a rock.  It had shattered into a hundred fragments, its bones and cartilage and sinews all crumbled apart.  Perhaps the original blow by the lawn mower had created tiny internal fractures and it had finally succumbed to its wound, which must have been more grievous than had first appeared.  Its eyes were gone, only dull, empty grey ruin remained.  I grabbed the dustpan from the kitchen shelf and swept up its corpse, and was about to toss the remains into the trashcan when something in me stirred – this was an ignominious burial for my house guest.  Instead, I took the dustpan outside and scattered the remains on the lawn.

That night, in the waning full moon, the lawn gleamed like diamonds.

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Inner and Outer Activity

In Chapter 8, “The Discovery of Inner Space” of A New Earth, Echkhart Tolle writes:

“Non-resistance, non-judgement, and non-attachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.” (pg 225)

I’ve been practicing this, and I can definitely say that yup, that is true.  As the Borg say, “Resistance is futile”, and indeed, my experience of resistance is that I miss opportunities, because I’m stuck in a resistant space that potentially has a lot of charged emotions to it like anger.  Not resisting, I have the physical sensation of relaxing and mentally, not worrying about the future.  Non-resistance brings me back into the present and I am more receptive to opportunities.

My experience of non-attachment dovetails with the ability, described in Non-Violent Communication (NVC), of having empathy for others.  When I practice non-attachment to my own ideas, I’m much more open and interested other people’s ideas.  And this has a very interesting effect (which could be called the Dale Carnegie effect): when I show an interest in other people, they become interested in my ideas.

And non-judgment is a vital ingredient for empathy–not judging another person (or even myself).  I find judgement to be a closing, exclusionary activity.  When a person consistently says one thing but does another, (and here I dive into NVC again) I can observe the inconsistency and I can be aware of my feelings of frustration and need for consistency, but I do not have to judge the person as being “bad”.  Non-judgement is a path to accurate observation and experiencing my own feelings and needs, which allows me to come to decisions based on what I experience rather than on my judgement of a person or situation.

But I found myself in a quandary.  Accepting (non-resistance) without judging, combined with non-attachment, I found myself in a space of almost continuous inner joy, but I found it very difficult to engage deeply in any activity.  What does it now mean to say “I love you” to my partner, when I live in a space of non-attachment?  What motivates me to break the silence on a lovely walk with a friend when I am experiencing non-judgement?  Why should even bother expressing my needs (other than the bottom of Maslow’s core needs pyramid) when I live into non-resistance?

This bothered me in an abstract sense, as it seemed like I was losing something important in my experience of life.  The answer to this came in Tolle’s last chapter of the same book, in which he describes the three modalities of awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment, enthusiasm.  Tolle writes:

“You need to be vigilant to make sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all–from the most simple task to the most complex.  If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”

Once I read that, I realized that this was the key to unlock my question.  I am still experiencing my degree of acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm, even while practicing non-resistance, non-judgement, and non-attachment.  Indeed, one of the things I noticed first when practicing these was an significant increase in joy.  So I can say “I love you” to my partner in and as the result of the experience of joy and enthusiasm.  There’s a duality to this space, balancing the inner activity (and it is an active thing!) of the practice of inner peace with the outer activity of expressing acceptance, joy, and enthusiasm.