Be Where You Are
I was hiking my way to the cave located on the edge of a frothy, turbulent ocean eddy that pounded incessantly on rock off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The cave had mentored me for years.
On this day, I scrambled over volcanic rock the size of barrel cactus, moving ever upwards to get to the cave that was situated just out of sight of the tide pools and blow hole on the east side of the island. The climb would put me at thirty feet above the turbulent waves that crashed onto rocks lodged into the tiny beachhead like a fruit basket of papaya, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
As I clambered across the rocks and then descended the last volcanic outcrop on the cliff side that prevented swimmers at the tide pools from seeing the cave, I sighed with anticipation.
For years this cave had communicated with me about life, awareness, dreaming, and freedom. It was no wonder that I approached with pen, paper, and an open heart.
I sat down on the hard-packed dirt and glanced around. Several years ago pigeons had discovered the cave just as I had, although unlike me they had made the cave a permanent home. Nests, hidden due to the darkness in the cave, were opportunistically built in crevices and niches above my head. At times I could hear squabs crying aloud as their parents scavenged the volcanic cliffs outside for food to satisfy their young’s ceaseless appetites.
In and out the pigeons flew, dropping guano in their wake and tiny, fluffy feathers that floated silently to the dirt floor. The cave was littered with pigeon droppings and feathers but little else. The sunlight warmed the dirt slope outside the cave but was unable to penetrate to the deep interior, thus there was minimal evidence of plant or animal life inside apart from the birds. But oh did that cave have a life of its own, and we often spoke with one another.
On this trip I brought worry and frustration with me. Just like a squab waiting for its parent to provide food for its maturation, I came to the cave waiting to be fed. The cave always made provision for my needs. On this day, circumstances at my job were causing me anxiety, and I wanted the cave to help me transcend those worries.
I also knew it was difficult to hear what the cave would say if my mind was chattering about those same worries, so I needed first to quiet my mind. Years of coming to the cave had taught me that I couldn’t take in what it had to say if I was talking incessantly to myself.
A quiet mind was an open mind. It never took long for the cave to speak, as though my mere desire to seek out its company was enough for its telepathic communication to begin.
“Be where you are.”
The cave’s cryptic message in no way put me at ease. Far from it, I was annoyed. Hearing a koan for the first time always annoyed me. Why the cave couldn’t just speak in plain English was beyond me.
I wrote the statement down and paused, waiting for the cave to say more, but nothing more was said. This was unusual because the cave usually spoke so rapidly I could hardly write it down. The phrase that came to my mind, and which I began to turn it over and over was this:
“Be where you are.”
On the surface, the koan was simple enough, but I’d found in the past that koans were often deceptively simple. If I stopped at a surface explanation, I would miss the heart of the matter.
Like kneading dough in order to activate the leaven in the flour, a koan takes manipulation—not a negative act, but an act of force upon the words in order to displace them. To grasp a koan, the participant must act upon the phrase to turn it over, under, and around, to push and prod and poke so that the koan releases its essence.
There is more to a koan, however, than working it out in the mind. A koan is grasped when the whole person, including the body, soul, and spirit, embraces its message until there is no separation, no duality, between the koan and the one working it.
In a manner of speaking, when the koan becomes one with the person engaging it, then its work is complete.
In order to put this act of assimilation into motion, I set aside each word. By meditating and gestating each word, I was better able to grasp the koan. (And by the way, this process took much longer than the time I sat in the cave that afternoon. The process of becoming one with this particular koan actually took several years.)
Simple, right? At first glance, it’s easy to “Be.” But when I sat with “Be” for a while, I realized that “Be” is singular and doesn’t allow for any other way of being to confound or crowd it, or else it’s not “Be.”
Stop what you’re doing at this moment—yes, even as you read this sentence—and “Be.” State what you see. State how you feel. Are you aware of a tendency to define, to explain, and to think about what you’re experiencing? Are you able to “Be” without your mind giving commentary to it?
Being has no value, no judgment, no beliefs, and no thoughts—to “Be” just IS.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…” Matthew 6:28
Nature simply IS, and in this passage, a flower. It doesn’t fall into the trap of worrying, evaluating, judging, and determining due to the circumstances it finds itself in.
To “Be” is to be in the moment without thought, to be present for whatever is occurring regardless of past or future.
We’re not raised to “Be”; we’re raised to “Do,” and the two ways of existing are diametrically opposed to each other. It takes awareness, discipline, and courage to “Be” rather than to “Do.” Doing is not a bad thing, although it crowds out Being by its very nature.
I asked myself: Can you simply “Be” without falling into “Do”? And what I discovered was that my job was crowding me with doing and the pressure to conform was intense. I was on the verge of losing my “Being” because the imbalance between the two was so vast.
“Location, location, location” is the real estate agent’s mantra. Top on the list for a homebuyer is the location of their potential new home. The location of a dwelling will in large part determine the buyer’s appeal. But it’s also more than that—location must match the buyer’s interest. If a buyer values a log cabin nestled amidst a mountain glen, then he or she isn’t interested in a cottage on the beach.
Ask yourself where you are at this moment. Yes, identify the physical surroundings and environment. For example, perhaps you’re at Starbucks drinking a latte with your laptop seated on the table in front of you. Or, maybe you’re seated on your couch with your iPad on your knees, reading this article. Okay, so you think you know where you are. “Where” is easy to determine if we specify concrete and physical surroundings.
Now let’s move “Where” into the abstract. Where are you in your head? Are you already at the party with friends you’ve scheduled for the evening? Are you in the conversation with your partner that took place last night? Are you in a mood that colors your day regardless of whatever else happens—a mood of sadness or agitation or even happiness?
When I can be present in the location I find myself at this moment, and not anywhere else, I go a long way towards being singularly focused and available for the koan’s next word.
Here is where it would be easy to get into a long non-dual explanation for exactly who “You” is. But I want to be honest with you: those explanations leave me dazed and confused. Let’s see if I can simplify “You” without sounding like a philosopher.
The lily in the Bible verse above has no “You”; it only experiences “Be.” It has sentience; it is present in the moment; it practices non-duality within its universe; it is aware with no value judgment placed on that awareness.
What a gift to be in that state of being!
The personal pronouns “You” and “Me” are our attempt to be where the lily already is, and to define, evaluate, assess, and think ourselves into being. The concepts “You” and “Me” are mankind’s heritage and we’re good at playing the part. “You” and “Me” defines who we are as humans, but there is another distinction, much like the distinction between the physical and mental locales.
The belief in a separate self can take charge of who I am and run the show, or it can be part and parcel of the totality that I am and “Be” balanced between body, soul, and spirit.
I don’t want a concept of myself to run my life, as it is wont to do. I want “Me” to be in harmony with all aspects of my being, to play all parts, to acquiesce when called for, to step aside when necessary.
What is running your life? Do you know how “You” can step down from an ego-driven position and allow the totality of who you are to step into action? That’s what the word “You” calls for in this koan.
“Are” links it all together into one.
“Be Where You Are.”
Be present in the moment. Know how to be in conjunction with knowing how to do.
Locate where you are and be there without judgment. Be in one place at one time.
Let all of you—consciousness, spirit, soul, sentience, sapience, and awareness—operate your life, not merely a “You.”
Link all of these together and your being will experience peace, presence, and the ability and wisdom to know exactly what to do, what to say, and how to proceed.
Nothing else is needed to live life to the fullest. The trick is in embracing the koan fully so that it becomes you.
So what happened to the job I was worried about that day in the cave? Well, in brief, within a year’s time, I lost that job. I was no longer able to be there. The location was not one conducive to my health and wellbeing—tough because it was a position that had paid well. I lost it just as soon as I accepted that it was no longer a good place for me to “Be.” I lost it as soon as I accepted that my “You” was acting way beyond its boundaries. That job allowed me to gain balance between my being and my doing, even though it meant I was no longer able to continue working there.
That job freed me in a way it could not have had I not lost it.
Koans work upon us as they are designed to when we allow them into our lives. They become who we are when we embrace them with every ounce of our being. They take us to new vistas that without them we might never reach.
Gifts, they are.