Forest SanghaNewsletterOctober 2000
Third Foundation of Mindfulness; Luang Por Sumedho
Traditional & Contemporary
The Space Between; Ajahn Candasiri


The Space Between

Thoughts, ideas, plans, memories, emotions, complexities, crises - these are all interesting: in a positive sense (we like, and are fascinated by them), or in a negative sense (we don't like, we want to change or get rid of them). We tend to be less attentive to the space between, where it seems that nothing is happening; we can find it boring, a waste of time as we wait for something to happen; we want to get on and do something important. A sense of impatience creeps in unnoticed, we lean into the future - and miss the moment! What a pity. Not only do we lose an opportunity to be still, to rest, we also limit our options: through latching on to this mood of impatience, we close the door on Life as it is now, with its infinitude of possibility.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness can be seen as tools that can help us to get in touch, and to stay in touch with each moment. Body, feelings and mind objects: these, in a sense, are 'things'; there is a substance or area of focus to them. The mind, itself (traditionally, the third foundation), is more like a container that tends to be defined by and to take on the quality of its object - the mood or preoccupation of the moment - just as a clear glass filled with coloured water appears coloured. Any container, by definition, has a boundary - that which contains. In the case of the mind, this boundary is flexible; it can contract to the smallest imaginable point, or expand to infinity - this is how we can experience it. However such is our obsession with the objects in this 'container' that our perception of them and their significance is usually completely distorted; we can give them a prominence, solidity and authenticity that is quite unfounded. The strange thing is that although this 'reality' that we create can cause us immense suffering, we cling to it tenaciously - preferring its familiarity, and the sense of security it promises (only to disappoint us time and time again) to the space of the Unknown. That space, that mystery appears terrifying - abhorrent to those of us who are addicted to certainty!

What is needed, simply, is trust that perfect wisdom is there for each one of us...

The wise use of techniques of meditation can help us to begin to attune to the mind itself, as we feel out the space around and between its objects. It can be done with great gentleness - little by little - but perhaps there will always be a sense of awe as we allow ourselves to approach and to rest in the mystery of the moment. It is like an unveiling; for an instant we see clearly what has been encased in the carapace of concept. Ideas of 'Me' and 'Mine' are irrelevant; they have no place.

But can we dare? Do we have the courage to put our faith to the test in this way? To really rest in that space which the present moment affords us with no plan, no strategy to protect or guide us into the future? What is needed, simply, is trust that perfect wisdom is there for each one of us and will manifest in appropriate behaviour when we remove the clutter, the incrustation of stale outdated views, and allow it the space to find itself. The Three Refuges are there, they invite us to do just that; and we can use the structure of the Five Precepts to protect us from the danger of harmful speech or action... It is likely that our efforts at first will be faltering, we will stumble and make mistakes, but little by little as we grow in confidence, we will find ourselves lighter, as the redundant patterns of thinking fall away - and definitely more joyous.

Ajahn Candasiri