Present Absence • 6 February 2008

Monday in practice, not seeing it coming, I went to a place I didn’t know I could go. Funny, that first experience of it. I went in to slight holy shit-mind for a second: the mind that says Oh this is a threshold. This is something.

When I came out of it (the holy-shit mind and the posture) the teacher was standing there. Not feeding back anything. Not approval, smirkingness, or it's- about- time- you- went- there; just a being there for it. 

–That was a no brainer.


Walking off.

A friend—I will call her Jedi Riverdance—said this looked like analyst-analysand in a traditional psychotherapy relationship. A truly processed analyst doesn’t take up space or cut the stream of consciousness by inserting much reaction. If they’re good, they tend not to privilege one moment over the other—there’s juice to be found as much in the mundane as in the apparent climaxes. If they’re good, they know exactly when to respond and otherwise they just sit, actively, and hold the space.

After I listened to Jedi Riverdance (trying just to listen and get her, without half-hearing as I jumped to telegraph a response), I thought of the monks at Deer Park. Their unnerving “mindful listening” thing. Active, but not re-active. Just being there to receive what another is saying, hoping their present absence of word or body language will open up more possibility for the speaker to go deeper into what she’s capable of saying.

A lot of times, that kind of being-there for people—without much obvious feedback—just freaks us out. We want cues to know how we are doing, and do not understand the highly cultivated, chilled-out silence of a mature teacher who is saying Go on, I’m good with whatever comes next. Just go on.