Patterns part 1 – leaning into emptiness
Leaning into uncomfortable truths
One of the reasons red ladder studio is bringing the dharma together with art is to help us ‘lean in’ to the truths that the dharma has to show us.
Notions such as suffering, impermanence or emptiness might not be immediately appealing, we are being asked to turn towards these uncomfortable truths. Chances are we won’t want to do that.
That’s where art comes in, that's where beauty can help us. What happens if we have a sense that looking at these truths in our lives and experience will also reveal beauty?
Exploring emptiness through patterns
What if seeing patterns in the world was a way of looking at emptiness that simultaneously showed us beauty, helping us to ‘lean in’?
When we look at our experience in the dimension of space (rather than time, we’ll save 'time' for another day!) what we see is that everything is made up of parts, it is composed.
When we see certain parts gathered together, in a particular pattern, we perceive, for example, a ‘car’. If we were to see the same parts laid out in a different pattern, we can no longer find the car.
This raises the question, where, or what, is the car?
It is not any of the individual parts, they aren’t cars, they are wheels, or handles (at least until we look closer and see that wheels too are made up of parts).
But the ‘car’ can’t be something separate from its parts either, without the parts no car!
The emotional weather of the inner world
So that’s the outer world. What about the inner? Take an emotion like sadness, is it ‘one thing’? Or made up of parts? We find sadness is made up of certain sensations in the body, certain thoughts, and when we experience all of those together we call that sadness. We even find a pattern in our facial expression and our body language, that we read as sadness.
Emotions can be seen as compositions, or patterns. I often think of my inner world as being like the weather, we talk of weather patterns. With emotions the pattern is alive and changing, it's sunny for a while, then a shower.
Everything that arises in experience, inner and outer, is a pattern made up of parts.
Me too, and you.
If you can’t find the car does that mean it doesn’t exist?
The two truths
The Buddha taught that everything is empty, but what did he mean by that? Is Buddhism telling us we don’t really exist? Seems to me there’s no point in telling yourself something you don’t believe, that's not likely to lead anywhere helpful.
The Buddha's method was to ask us to look and see for ourselves. What can you find?
You can’t find a car. But you can still get in your car and go to work. This is what is called ‘the two truths’.
These two truths are the absolute truth, that no car exists, and the relative truth, you can go to work in your car!
Awakening is an understanding of the two truths. It is not that we are moving from relative truth to absolute truth, or that absolute truth is somehow more true than relative truth.
It is that when we see the two truths, then we understand that the car does not exist, and we can still drive to work!
Same with sadness, it can't be found, and does not 'exist'. Yet that sadness is real and we experience it fully.
And, ultimately, we see the same is true of the whole notion of 'self'.
If you want to explore this idea more in your day to day lives, just notice the patterns. Everything is a pattern, a composition of elements, look for the beauty in that truth. Here are two patterns found one night, same spot, looking up, looking down.
We’ll continue this theme over the next few posts.