Excerpt: Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

It is not just the contemplatives or the Buddhists who work toward insight. Good men and women from all spiritual backgrounds have tried to see reality clearly for what it is. Why? Because once you catch a glimpse of it, you realize that ultimate reality is peace.

Ralph Waldo Emerson calls it the becoming of a transparent eyeball. Buddhists would call it buddha nature or rigpa maybe. Psychologists might call it ego loss. And Annie Dillard:

“There is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I stand transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer…

But I can’t go out and try to see this way. All I can do is try to gag the commentator, to hush the noise of useless interior babble that keeps me from seeing Just as surely as a newspaper dangled before my eyes. The effort is really a discipline requiring a lifetime of dedicated struggle; it marks the literature of saints and monks of every order East and Wesr, under every rule and no rule, discalced and shod. The world’s spiritual geniuses seem to discover universally that the mind’s muddy river, this ceaseless flow of trivia and trash, cannot be dammed, and that trying to dam it is a waste of effort that might lead to madness. Instead you must allow the muddy river to flow unneeded in the dim channels of consciousness; you raise your sights; you look along it, mildly, acknowledging its presence without interest and gazing beyond it into the realm where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance.”

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