What did Buddha really go through as he sat for 49 days beneath the bodhi tree, intent upon achieving a quiet heart? As he sat, his petty tyrant helper, Mara, projected a rapid-fire succession of intense scenes before his eyes, provoking feelings of lust, sadness, terror and rage. Buddha’s challenge was to remain fully open to his experiences and simultaneously arrive at the place of a quiet heart.
A quiet heart is the place of groundlessness. In groundlessness nothing is rejected, the full experience is felt and known. There is no attempt to “get grounded,” no need to “attach” to something to stop the action and restore control. Nothing in the flow of images or evoked feelings has the power to interrupt full presence, full awareness, and full living in the present moment.
No wonder it took Buddha 49 days of nonstop sitting to fully achieve a quiet heart, the groundlessness of “enlightenment.” That is, 49 days on top of years of prior training. We should all keep this humbly in mind as we face the deep challenge of recapitulation. It’s a process! Here are some of the major components of that process to keep in mind: that every journey is unique, with its own components.
As with Buddha’s quest, the goal of recapitulation is to achieve a quiet heart amidst the parade of truths and myths of life lived, as they present themselves in the form of memories, bodily sensations, emotions, and beliefs. Can we stay fully present with the images that appear, whether slowly collecting or rapidly firing, as memories coagulate and come into sharper focus? Can we stay fully present with the physical sensations, at times so subtle as to be dismissed, at other times excruciatingly painful or pleasurable? Can we stay fully present with journeys of disintegration, dissociation, blackout, the terror of pending death, times of dissolution and altered awareness? Can we stay fully present with emotions that have been sealed away for a lifetime, that come coursing from the heart like a raging river, a current of energy that leaps across synapses of never-used neurons along the motherboard of the spinal column?
Can we stay fully present with overloaded, interrupted circuits—physically painful, emotional misfirings? Can we allow the pent up energy of emotion and sensation to release through the breath, the tear ducts, the voice, the genitals?
Can we be fully present with the voices of old beliefs, constructions that defended the selves of bygone years? And, finally, like the Buddha, can we be fully present with the fullness of the experience with a quiet heart, with no attachments or need to stop the show? Can we be fully present in groundlessness that fully opens us to enlightened life?
We must remember that Buddha spent countless hours encountering and honing these components of recapitulation before he achieved the quiet heart that allowed him to step into groundlessness.
We must be patient and nurturing as the heart unlocks its feelings, as the body releases its memories, as our newly discovered neurons stretch and grow in order to carry and release our long pent-up energies.
Enlightenment awaits in the form of new, fully present life—NOW. And that means life unfiltered by the vicissitudes of the past, energy freed and restored, fully present, ready to live NOW.