Distance and Closeness
On zooming in and zooming out in your practice
I grew up learning to experience my thoughts with distance, being taught that it was not me feeling the thought, it was my monkey mind. I mistook distance for numbness. If I could cultivate distance from my thoughts, I didn’t really have to feel them, process them. I could just move on in two states, one that had actually experienced the thought, the other that had watched me experiencing the thought. (I was thirteen.)
As I grow older, I am learning to embrace the intensity of that monkey mind jumping from branch to branch and get really close to what am I feeling. I am learning to climb up on the volcano and get into its mouth. I am learning to hang out in the pause between the in-breath and the out-breath when the electrons from my heart beating are running around so fast I’m afraid it’ll burst.
In so many ways, this second path is so much scarier. I have to actually be in my body, feeling the very visceral reactions and breaking down everything in slow motion.
I was doing this earlier as well, watching the breakdown in a way, but with a kind of frozenness that didn’t let me really feel anything.
Being present is a different game. Being present means you don’t get caught up in the story, but you do feel the feelings. It takes you to the brink and lets you expand in the sky of your own self. You get a front row seat to the full range of thoughts and emotions, but with the gentle reminder perhaps that this is just temporary.
With both, perhaps most crucial is that you get permission to explore.
Having experimented with both, I can tell you that perhaps distance and closeness are the same thing. If you get far enough, you get close in. If you get close enough, you can be further than you’ve ever been.
Distance is good. It allows you to step away from being too caught up in what you’re feeling and look at it not through the white heat of rage or the fluorescent bubblegum haze of peak elation, or from behind a dark molehill of sadness. Instead, distance allows you to step away from the burning in your skin for a second and look back with a more temperate gaze at whatever is happening — facts that are happening now but that will probably change in the future.
The experience of being an outsider looking in at your own thoughts (distance) is in a very fundamental way the same as being present in the middle of your experience (closeness). You are reminded, either way, that you are not alone in your experience, and that this too shall pass. You are reminded that your experience is just a thread in the perpetually-woven carpet of history. In the same way that a picture of a cell nucleus looks almost exactly like the universe expanding, I think you see the same things in that moment that you zoom in or zoom out to your own experience.
If in some way that gives you some space to understand that your experience of a moment is different from the moment itself occurring, (i.e. your experience of the truth is not the truth itself), well and good. If it, instead numbs you to the fact of being there, maybe that’s a signal to go in and explore, be curious about how it is to be in there. How does your body feel? How does your brain feel? Is there conflict, resistance, openness, anger, stress, love, friendliness? In the eye of the hurricane, there is room for calm.
I’m learning that distance was a good first teacher and that closeness is a good second one. I’m learning to dance with both teachers like the atoms that expand with the universe.
Try it, tell me what you feel.