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“Every mind state is the journey and our only problem is we don’t trust it.”

I read Reggie Ray’s admonition inscribed beneath a single brown pipal leaf on one of Rashani Réa’s collages after scalding my hand with boiling water and spewing obscenities at the kitchen sink. Fortunately for my reputation—and foreshadowing some sort of Zen koan—no one was there to hear them. Except that mind state that I usually identify as “me.”

“…We find the journey that needs to be made within the exact experience we have at this moment,” I read on the next collage. Is this a coincidence? I asked the mind state currently fixated on the pain radiating from the back of my hand.

I’ve been a practitioner of various forms of meditation for a long time. About forty years ago, I had what some people call a “kundalini experience,” in which a current of energy traveled from the base of my spine up to the crown of my head and seemed as if it would explode right through my skull. As ecstatic as this felt, I somehow feared it might kill me if I let myself fully experience it. In subsequent years, no matter how many hours I spent sitting on my zafu pondering both ecstasies and agonies, I could never reproduce that radical, volcanic awakening of inchoate potential. Eventually, with enough practice, I learned that meditation has less to do with altered states of consciousness than with stiff shoulders, an aching back, itching, daydreaming and unrelenting boredom. It has entirely to do with whatever state you are in, whatever you are currently experiencing—a painful burn on the back of your hand, for instance—and just how willing you are to exist in that state. Fully.

I learned this lesson from the transcribed lectures of Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan rinpoche—“precious one”—who, as a young lama from Kham, escaped the invading People’s Liberation Army of Mao Zedong in 1959. Making his way to Oxford University then Scotland to co-found Kagyü Samye Ling monastery, he subsequently disposed of both his robes and celibacy to marry a 15-year old English girl and relocate to the United States with nothing but a crippled body animated by an extraordinary “crazy wisdom.” In 1970, he started a school of meditation based on the idea that we are all basically good just as we are, albeit humanly prone to chasing what he called “spiritual materialism”—the ego’s obsession with seeking the status of enlightenment. It was a malady I understood very well.

Chögyam Trungpa inspired countless students, one of whom was a tenure-track professor at the University of Indiana. At Rinpoche’s request, Dr. Reginald Ray moved to Boulder, Colorado, to become first Chair of Buddhist Studies at Naropa Institute in 1974. I became acquainted with Dr. Ray’s work about thirty years later, through his two comprehensive treatises on Vajrayana, Indestructible Truth and Secret of the Vajra World—neither of which I really understood, even though I’d spent a lot of time in Tibet. But this “secret” world of wisdom he portrayed appealed to my discursive intellect and made me sound erudite when I brought it up at cocktail parties.

I have since come to know Reggie Ray personally as a man of dry wit, great humor and stunning wisdom. Trungpa’s anointed student and former senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition is now Spiritual Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, which he co-founded in Crestone, Colorado. There, Reggie and his dedicated students share Trungpa Rinpoche’s “crazy wisdom” amplified by other Earth-based wisdom traditions.

Which brings me to the captivating book you have just cracked open.

In her latest volume of collage, titled A Brief Collision with Clockocracy, my dear friend, Rashani Réa, has visually illuminated some of the most profound writings of Reggie Ray. The simplicity of her work—an aesthetic marriage of layered imagery and calligraphic language—merges both hemispheres of the brain to create seductive backdrops on which Dr. Ray’s words are presented like pearls nestled within multi-chromatic rose petals.

It would be entirely appropriate, if prosaic, to call Rashani a “Renaissance Woman,” a creative polymath who first rocked my world with her poem, The Unbroken. When she asked if I would contribute a foreword to her collaboration with Reggie Ray, I said “sure,” then promptly panicked:

What the hell does “clockocracy” mean, anyway? I wondered.

Rashani called it “an aboriginal word for ‘time’.” But I also found the term used by “Second Wave Feminist,” Joanna Russ, to describe “a linear time that is complicit with patriarchal ideologies.” I still didn’t get it. But then, I’m a guy. Finally, I ran across a post by a blogger calling him/herself “Sorceryofthespectacle,” I kid you not.

In the beginning was the clock, the Grand Machine of the Universe, of Newtonian-Cartesian design. The whole universe a deterministic machine made of step-wise temporal-logical operations, this therefore that. Everything had a cause… And so there must be a Clockmaker greater than the whole universe, a being comprised of infinite clockery. This conception of the universe as machine amenable to holy rules was the seed of The Enlightenment. The whole ordering of society was altered, politics, business, and religion alike… Under the rule of The Clock humanity was liberated… free to pursue more advanced and nuianced [sic.] forms of clockworking.

Now this, I kind of understood. Time as illusionary taskmaster—Cartesian deus ex machina. Whether patriarch or feminist, aren’t we all subject to this linearity that appears to map and then rule our lives? Meditation provides us a tool for observing this flow of now-ness outside temporal constraints, watching our thoughts float in and out on a gentle breeze without granting them the power to push or pull us in any particular direction. And if we pay attention, we cannot help but see that we are not our thoughts, not our fears, not our anxieties, not our desires and not our egos.

“When we accept what is not,” Reggie writes, “we make room for what is.” Only by inspecting illusion, turning it inside and out, can we free ourselves from its fascination and misdirection, and thereby allow what is real to surface in our consciousness.

In my experience, this process—formalized or not—is the genesis of art, the vision that emerges after inspecting the illusory aspects of our world, trying to make a copy of it, then realizing that what we are attempting to duplicate is inherently empty of meaning. As we pass through this “hollow space too vast for words,” as Rashani puts it, “we are sanctioned into being” and “break open” to create a new representation of reality.

After forty years of seeking enlightenment—the Holy Grail of spiritual materialism—I discovered it to be every bit as much an illusion as my discursive thoughts. When Sakya Prince Siddhatta Gotama sat with his own hopes and fears beneath that legendary pipal tree at Bodh Gaya, he “awakened” to the truth of existence, and according to Buddhist tradition experienced nirvana—literally a “blowing out”—a cessation of dissatisfaction with life and its concomitant suffering. But that was only the beginning of the Buddha’s journey, a tantalizing preview of life’s great mystery.

“Maybe the final truth of our life lies precisely in the ever-deepening unknowing,” suggests Reggie Ray. “Let your life be a mystery.”

And as Rashani Réa taught me, learn to trust that “place inside which is unbreakable and whole, while learning to sing.” Especially when you are in pain.

— Tom Joyce • Sebastopol, California • 29 September 2017


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