– The problem of repetition –
Seeing it as it is, again.
We are there again – here again. The feeling of having arrived. On the first evening we very carefully move around on the beach, smell the air, hear the waves whispering on the shore, feel the sand shifting under our soles. Aha, yes, that’s what it feels like. Memories surge up and, very consciously, I let them sail by; memories are just memories. – Aha, that’s how it is now. I came here not to see it again, but to really see it as it is, again.
That’s what this beach always was for me: the place where the mind finally found peace, where I could let go of searching, of thinking and doing and just be, just see. Of course it could have been any place, and in the final analysis it isn’t really only this beach, it’s rather a process, a long ongoing process of gradual awakening. But this was where we one time thought our travels had come to an end – it didn’t really, it was just a major mile stone. Maybe it was the place where we once transcended the whole idea of traveling altogether and started traveling inwardly, (as if we had not done that all the time).
What do you see when you return to a place? Change. What do you see when you remain at a place? Change. What do you see when you look, really look? Impermanence. Stagnation is a concept that doesn’t exist. Clinging and grasping is what causes suffering. So here we are; here we are again. ‘Wherever you go, there you are‘. It doesn’t matter that we’ve been here before; I learned this lesson long ago during our wild traveling times. But I learned it also by coming here again and again.
To simply repeat what once was perceived as good clearly seems to be the most common way in our old “pursuit of happiness”. However, there is a danger in repetition – it is in fact the essence of addiction – to do something again because you know it, because it is familiar. We do something again because we prefer what we know to what we don’t. In a tragic way this preference is often deeply problematic. Familiarity is a deceptive quality. Our mind has this somehow strange way of separating things into known and unknown, assuming with never questioned certainty that such separation is good and actually vitally necessary. And – equally strange, when you think about it – the known gets all the votes, no matter what, and the unknown is detested. But is this preference of the known, of familiarity really justified? Haven’t we seen, time and time again, that what is familiar is so often far from being optimal or even desirably at all? And haven’t we seen that the most fantastic surprises and mind boggling wonderful solutions have an undeniable tendency to come from the unknown?
There is the danger of getting lost in blind repetition and living somewhere beside reality, in a made-up world instead of the real one, of actually missing our life because we prefer what was (what once pleased) to what is.
You can fool yourself forever by wanting something again, seeking to reproduce conditions that once lead to contentment, anticipating a recurrence of past happiness. Real happiness doesn’t depend on conditions, real happiness affects conditions.
But there is a most interesting side effect: You can be aware of the repetition, of the factual behavior, the pattern; you can know what you are doing, instead of just doing it. You can check if you are really there or just going through the motions of being there. In the act of repetition lies the potential power of practice, of practicing paying attention, practicing to not forget to pay attention.
When I sit on our beach again I not only look, I see myself looking. And this seeing is fresh and new each time; it cannot be repeated, it can only be resumed. You cannot repeat finding something beautiful, but you can repeat looking for beauty again and again, and each time it’s different.
And in a heart-breaking way it is actually only beautiful the very first time. – No one can escape this apparently so tragic ultimate disappointment forever. It’s the first time that captures our imagination, that truly inspires us. But there is another layer to this insight, a profoundly liberating aspect, trivial by definition but as exciting as each new breath we take or the morning sun greeting us every day: There are as many first times as there are moments in this universe. The eternal moment. There really is no repetition, no beginning, no ending. It all starts the moment we pay attention, and it ceases when we don’t. Repetition is just an idea, an arbitrary interpretation of observation based on a lack of precision.
Today, on our first yoga-session, I saw the sky between my legs, upside down, with birds majestically circling in the wandering clouds, and it was as if I saw everything for the very first time. I felt the delicate warmth of a slight sunburn and drying salt on my skin (the first few days we always have to be careful with sun exposure). A few nights before, the moon was full, and the silver light on the sea was like clinking glass.
* * *
Klaus Dec. 15 2009