Esteemed Reader: Life, the Movie | August 2021 | Esteemed Reader | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

One thing, all things:
move among and intermingle, without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about nonperfection.
To live in this faith is the road to nonduality,
Because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
Words! The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is
  no yesterday
  no tomorrow
  no today.

—Seng Ts’an, the Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen

I was sitting with my nephew on the couch. He’s nine. I asked him what he wanted to do. 

“Let’s watch a movie!” 

This is a boy who, fortunate for him, is generally not allowed to sit in front of screens of any kind. Though he has seen a few children’s films, the world of remote-controlled imagination is a forbidden, and correspondingly fascinating fruit. 

“Okay,” I replied to his suggestion, “I have a secret to tell you.”

His interest was piqued. “What?!” he demanded. 

“This is a movie.”

He looked at me quizzically. 

“What you and I and all of us call ‘my life’—it’s a movie—"and you can watch it any time you want, even right now.”

His already wide, bright eyes got wider.

“We are all characters in this movie that’s always playing. The movie even includes your own thoughts, emotions, and sensations. You can watch your mind think, make images, form opinions, make discoveries. You can watch your heart be bored or enthralled. You can see your tongue taste a lemon or your finger feel the fuzzy back of a caterpillar. It’s all part of the movie.”

The boy looked at me for a long moment, and then ran out the door to build a miniature village out of leaves and stones and the bark of a maple tree.

The extemporized explanation felt more relevant for me than for the boy, who is not at all occupied with philosophical questions. I found myself taking a step back from my experience, sitting on the couch, watching the play of thoughts, impulses, and states.

I realized there is a part of my consciousness that is always simply watching. It’s neither interested nor disinterested. It doesn’t know, nor is it ignorant. It just sees, like a bystander sitting on the bank of a river watching experience flow by. It seems to be beyond anything functional, beyond thoughts, emotions, sensations. This part of my nature exists in a kind of boundless void.

When I attempt to retrace the beam of my attention to its source I begin to inhabit the position of the observer, the audience of the movie, I find a place of stillness which forms a backdrop against which all the activity of my inner and outer life is projected. It’s here that I find a stillness that is not the opposite of motion. It just is.

From the standpoint of the observer there are no opinions for or against anything, no agreement or disagreement, no fulfillment or thwarted desire. The seeing is defined by what it is not—no judgement, no criticism or correction, no categorization or distinction, no emptiness or fullness, good or bad, right or wrong. There is, however, a hint of one discernible quality, just a subtle hue of curiosity, tacitly suggesting the question, “What is this that I see unfolding around me and within me?”

Sitting in my car getting ready to travel, I see the boy bounding across the grass with a stick in his hand. He yells something that I can’t understand. As he comes closer, I roll down the window and he says it again.

“See you later in the movie!”

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