Exercise: Watch dust in the sun.
Duration: 15 to 30 minutes
Props: a room, a ray of sunlight
A room that is fairly dark. The shutters almost closed. The light piercing the gloom is filled with tiny glittering bodies. Spiraling, turning, thousands of sparks hold the brilliance. Microscopic feathers, tiny flecks, pass through the light in a way that is sublime, grave, joyful; fearfully busy, moving in whirls and arcs impossible to follow, in fragmentary trajectories, pure glints of existence.
The most exquisite thing about this miracle of scintillation is its density. Leave to one side your memories of childhood, of old-fashioned games, of houses in the country, the smell of cupboards. Concentrate wholly on these astonishing specks. The border between light and dark is suddenly so emphatic, clear and direct you feel you could almost touch it. The teeming bodies pass in and out, either side of the frontier. This is the space to dream in.
Few simple experiments give us such a strong feeling of an invisible world suddenly revealed. There in the ray of light, like a slice of different space inserted into our own, is a universe from the other side, from inside out, from elsewhere. What would the world be like if we could see dust glinting all the time, everywhere, unceasingly, a stratum of existence that is both invisible and present? A plane we might be able to reach, a different space, contained within the one we know?
And what if, to reach it, all we needed was to know how to adjust the shutters correctly?
Exercise: Call yourself.
Duration: about 20 minutes
Props: a silent place
Sit down in the middle of a quiet room, sparsely furnished for preference. First of all, just spend a few moments attending to the silence, knowing that you are going to speak and to hear. Listening hard to the slightest sounds, think how all this peacefulness is about to end. Prepare yourself for the intrusion of human speech.
Now utter your first name out loud. Articulate distinctly, and then repeat it, insistently, as if you were hailing, from some distance, a person deaf to your calls. Imagine you are calling someone you know, but who cannot see you. From the other side of a field. Or from one house to another.
To begin with, for the first fifteen or twenty times, you feel as though you are simply calling into space. Calling someone who isn’t there—or is inaccessible—in an absurd and ridiculous way. You can lengthen the vowels or stress the syllables differently as much as you like—nothing doing. But carry on. The door is shut tight.
Little by little you start to get the feeling of being called. Confusedly at first, almost imperceptibly. Hesitant, uncertain. This is where you should concentrate, attentive to the unstable equilibrium between within and without. Go on, keep calling yourself a few dozen more times, mechanically, automatically. It’s your voice all right. But it’s also that other’s, over there. You’ve only just become aware of it.
Your voice has not become double. Nor have you, obviously. And yet you feel a kind of doubling, as if you have in some sense been internally split down the middle. It’s you who are calling, but you don’t know to whom you are calling. And it’s you who are being called, but you don’t know where from. Or rather, yes you do; you know that it’s you in both cases, and as for this “you,” you presume that it’s one and the same. You know it to be so, what’s more, and everybody is agreed on this point. And yet it’s not what you feel at this moment. You know full well that “you” and “you” are identical, but you no longer feel it fairly and squarely. The one who is calling is the same, and not the same, as the one who is called. The experiment consists in prolonging, for a few minutes or more, this game of within and without, of calling and listening. The point is to feel, from as remote a point as possible, the strangeness of this name that is so familiar, but which you can never use to address yourself without feeling you’re someone else. Only other people call you this; you don’t, normally, ever call yourself. Go on hailing yourself, at regular intervals, almost shouting out the name from time to time. The aim is to solicit the slight—and not necessarily unpleasant—sense of unease that accompanies those moments when the self becomes a little unstuck from the self. And to maintain yourself in this slightly dizzying situation.
To escape it? To close the gap and stick the edges back together? Simply say, in a clear, loud voice, and as naturally as possible: “Yes, I’m coming!”
From Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger-Pol Droit, © 2001 by Éditions Odile Jacob, translation © 2002 by Stephen Romer. Reprinted with permission of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.