Martin LeFevre: The Action of Unknowing
The Action of Unknowing
It’s amazingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon in the municipal park, even at the upper end, furthest from the city center. A nice place overlooking the stream is unoccupied, and I sit down with my back to the sun, surrounded by the new foliage of spring.
A pair of mallards, who obviously make their home at this spot, nonchalantly drift downstream as I walk up, but stop in an eddy only 20 meters away. A quarter hour later, obviously feeling the human is safe, they paddle back upstream to clean, preen, sit, and sleep directly across from me.
The green head of the male fluoresces in the sunlight, and the blue chevrons on his wings add the perfect touch to his startling colors. The brown and white speckled breast of the female looks very plump; she must be just about ready to give birth to a new brood. The male turns its head nearly 180 degrees, tucking it into his back feathers, and goes to sleep.
The quietness penetrates and deepens into the inner silence of meditation. Only at the end of the hour do a couple of dogs bark and a machine start up, and they are far enough away not to be disruptive.
Walking out and feeling once again the almost ‘unbearable lightness of being,’ I’m quickly brought down to earth when I encounter a young man conducting business on a cell phone headset where the dirt path meets the narrow park road. Three large dogs walking a trio of overweight people immediately follow him.
For some reason an experience I had when I first moved to this town comes to mind. The edge of town was a mile from the apartment complex I moved into, and the countryside was still quite wild. I would often see pheasants, and various hawks (including those extraordinary hoverers, the kestrels), and even sometimes catch a glimpse of a coyote.
After sitting down one pleasantly familiar summer morning in the dry grass next to the creek, I heard something moving toward me. A few seconds later I saw it—a fat, four-foot long rattlesnake! Since, for some inexplicable reason it kept coming directly toward me, my legs and arms became springs, adrenaline jumping me off the ground as quickly as the big-eared jackrabbits I’d often observe.
The snake stopped, stretched out to its full length in the grass. It didn’t coil, and it didn’t rattle. So I did something that seemed fitting—I sat back down.
With the rattler only an arm’s length away, I sat there for a full hour. Fear dissipated, but I didn’t take my eyes off the snake for long. Attention, which grows intense during passive observation in nature anyway, intensified to a tremendous degree. Walking past school kids playing on green, manicured lawns during recess, I felt like I’d been in the wilderness for a week.
A few years later, I knew it was over for the wildlife in the area when I passed some shmuck, his young son adoringly in tow, proudly holding up a rattler of the same size he had just killed. ‘Why did you kill it?’ I needlessly asked, knowing the answer but feeling I had to say something. “Because it might have bitten my boy,” came the disingenuous reply.
A professor I talked with recently said that even his cat suffers from what he calls the ‘primal paradox’—that is, being both a separate individual and an inextricable member of a collective species. But that simply isn’t so; animals aren’t having a crisis of consciousness, except as man is visiting it on them.
There is only one way out for humans now—to grow into human beings. Collective content-consciousness has accumulated so much useless material that it has formed a black hole, at least where western cultures used to be, sucking all but the strongest into it.
But there is a way ahead. One can leave the stream of content-consciousness through passive observation, if only temporarily each day. Leaving the stream means that the content of consciousness (memories, old emotions, associations, even recognitions) cease operating in one as the dominant movement in the brain. Negating the known, one enters a consciousness of a completely different order.
Negation does not happen through effort or will, only through undirected watchfulness, which gathers attention and permits the action of unknowing.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.