The Phenomenal World

phenomenal world
A familiar view

So, I have this kinda tense situation on the horizon: in the near future, I will be doing a favor for someone I care deeply for, and it makes me nervous. I want so badly to do well, and to be of use to this person, that I am having performance anxiety. It’s not rational: the task is not a hard one, and there’s really no way to perform badly if I just show up. But there’s still that nervousness that I can’t seem to let go of.

But this is a good opportunity to talk about the difference between phenomenal world, the world As It Is, and the world of perception, the world as we.. well, as we perceive it. I think this applies to all of us, but I’m going to personalize it because this is how I currently experience it. The mind seems to have different filters through which we experience the world. When I am tired or hungry or having an emotionally trying day, the way I see things is altered by that. And I have a bunch of habitual ways of thinking about myself that tend to come into play in various situations – ways of thinking about my abilities. This set of rules makes me feel safe. For instance, if I have a bad experience on the subway at a given time of day (rush hour?) I can say, well, no, I just won’t ride then. This way I can avoid all the “bad” situations that I think are too much for me. But this safety comes with a heavy price: the more I limit myself to “safe” situations, the more likely I am to create perceptual barriers to keep myself within that “safety.” It’s important to remember as well that this perceived safety is not actually safe. Anything can happen, and really, life is short.

The truth is that the world around me is changing all the time, and any given situation can be brilliant or boring or terribly tedious or annoying as hell. But as long as I’m centered in my perceptions, I have no access to true nourishment. I live in a bubble, breathing my own stale air constantly.

But if I can open, then I make available to myself a world in which anything can happen. Also, the world that offers me fresh air and nourishment:

“What we tend to ignore is the world that sees us. This is not the world you think you see or hear. Nevertheless you are supported by this world. It is actually the world as it is before you are conscious of it – before you form some idea about it. If you emphasize yourself, you completely forget this world that sees, holds, and sustains you.” Katagiri Roshi

So, while I am sitting here, nervous about this small errand in my future, what I can remember is that the truth of the situation is that I am actually a lot more capable than I give myself credit for. I have the opportunity, every moment, to open into the situation and experience life As It Is instead of limiting myself to a perceptual comfort zone. And if I do that, I can be there for others, like my friend who needs me.

So, how do I plan to do this? Regular meditation practice and self-care. The first, meditation, is essential because it keeps me grounded in my own physical experience. Without that basic physical tie to what is happening in my body, right this moment, it’s impossible for me to truly be open to what’s happening around me. The second, self-care, is vital for clarifying my perception of the world around me. It may be that I will never truly see clearly, but the more rested I am, and the less affected by changes in body chemistry (blood sugar levels, etcetera) the easier it will be to look out at the world with fresh eyes. It’s also useful for maintaining a good sense of humor.

I think that with these two in place, I can do whatever task I set before myself and trust that whatever happens, it will be workable.

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