Living on the edge emerged as one of the themes at our most recent Awareness School retreat.
The edge is a place of transition where one thing changes to another. It is where two different things meet. One cannot diminish the significance of edge when looking at presence and consciousness, but living on the edge is not confined to things of a spiritual nature.
Magic happens at the place of yes and no.
Holding that place of two things simultaneously brings about a third thing. It is not one or the other, and cannot exist without either of them.
The edge is the third force.
I talk so much about the third force that I could collect most of my essays and entitle the collection, The Third Force.
There’s a reason why. It means living on the edge in every way possible. It is the place where one can hold opposing forces within oneself, whether that is acceptance of a negative state or holding a place of stillness amidst the chaotic nature of the mind.
At the retreat, we learned that in permaculture, one seeks to create edges. It’s in that place that nature is teeming with life. Forces of different types interact with one another. Sea meets land; wetland meets a higher elevation to create very fertile soil. We were reminded of this when someone recounted a dream of being on the beach and being keenly aware of that place where the ocean meets the sand.
The edge is dynamic where something new can happen. It is not fully oceanic life nor dry land. It’s both.
It’s not fully giving way to regular life, nor living only an interior life. It’s both.
When we look at attention, awareness, and presence, living on the edge is where we want to be. Even in meditation, we do not work to eradicate thought, but accept it and not latch on. We must sit in this place of aim, wish and hope without becoming attached to improvement or achievement.
Acceptance is thus living on the edge.
There is a reason for this. We are not on the one side immersed in self-loathing, wishing to change, and we are not on the side of accomplishment, full of ourselves. We are seeking to see both and accept where we are.
Everything we do at the retreats aims to place us on the edge. We do a project together with an aim and we try to see the end result not knowing how we will get there. At first, the project is very bumbly for we have not found our “role”, identified our strengths and weaknesses, and how we can contribute in the way we are most capable of.
Often it can fall into someone taking the lead and directing everyone. People stop using their good mind. They quit seeing what needs to be done and defer to someone else’s direction. There is a lot of banter and questions and chaos.
It becomes all about getting it done.
Then there is something that happens where presence comes in. A rhythm settles in where everyone is noticing what others are doing, what they can do themselves and how it can fit together. People stop overriding the flow. Suddenly, there are those who can break up roots and move lots of debris, some who can shovel it to the other side of the path, some who can level with a rake, and some who can haul large tree rounds.
We are now in life doing but not of it. The edge.
No one is telling others what to do. We see it as a unified coordinated event and yet we are also in our individual contribution. We hold both in our midst and begin to see something new evolving, a magical edge of unity and diversity that manifests a beautiful four-foot-wide path that meanders through the woods.
Our evening zikr brings us the same phenomenon. We are individuals entering into a group voice. We cannot lose ourselves to the group nor can we sing louder and ignore the others. We must be on the edge of being with both. If we can walk this edge, something starts to happen that is beyond us, and yet we are very much a part of it.
Our meditation is also “on the edge”. How can we hold an awareness of our awareness, an overarching stillness while accepting that the mind will wander? There are varying degrees of this edge. Sometimes that edge means teetering between the two. Sometimes the mind is wilder than others and we must stay on the edge of accepting that that too is where we are.
The minute achievement and accomplishment enter any of these scenarios, we are no longer on the edge.
There is no room for acceptance of what is and it becomes a goal to power through. Affirming force gone haywire.
We also live on the edge in the transition from activity to activity. How can we hold onto the energy generated from a meditation or a movements class, and still allow ourselves the out breath? If there is not imposed silence, we all must learn to stay collected from our own volition. We rest in a place that is subtly filled with bodily sensation and attention and watch.
This in itself is also an edge because we move in and out of the ability to do this.
Doing the movement classes bring us to the test of maintaining attention while being able to dance and move with feeling. We learn the ultimate experience of being able to hold our bodies, minds, and hearts in a simultaneous edge where land meets sea and air. At first, the nature of the effort is to keep our minds focused on the patterns. Elements are added that keep us constantly on the working edge in order to develop the kind of attention required for situations in which we need to see. From this effort grows our Being, the place where we can accept the ebb and flow of our effort, attention, acceptance and lack thereof.
We become capable of something unfathomable that is made from both our effort and non-effort.
It was explained to me in quite stark terms of effort-no-effort in the Zen tradition of which I was steeped in for six years. No words could ever allow me to understand what the practice taught me about living on the edge. It was a lot of sitting and struggling with my own self.
The retreat became a wider macrocosm of this inner practice. Sometimes we lost the thread of presence and that had to be accepted without judgement as well. From the tiny individual efforts came the possibility for us to experience something new. Each person came away understanding more about themselves in addition to the greater living Work that lives beyond us.
Living on the edge allows that power to come through us into the world.
We become the living edge between spirit and matter.