We have been exploring the elements. We deeply experienced the elements of earth, water, fire, and air. And I imagine when we finished with the fourth element, you figured we were done. But not so fast! The Buddha led this practice as a Six Element Meditation. Six? Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and…? What?
Ancients in several cultures listed five elements, including an element to describe what is beyond the earth’s atmosphere. But six elements?
I admit, at the start of this element series, I wasn’t sure I would teach the full six elements. But with each element, our practice and understanding deepened. And so, I think we are ready to at least investigate the other two. Who knows where it will lead us?
The fifth element is space. Not just the outer space that is already accounted for by other elements in the form of various gases, dust, and ice, but inner space.
We can come to a sense of space through our own experience. When we shut our eyes, the visual cues that this body is solid and separate fall away, don’t they? We may picture the body as separate, but that’s just our imagination. When we let go of thinking and allow for simply sensing, then boundaries disappear. There is no size or shape to the sensations that arise in our awareness. And the less we explain the sensations to ourselves, the richer the felt experience becomes.
The element of space is emptiness, and in that way, it is fundamental to all the previous elements, the ones we know and love. Earth, water, fire, and air are made of atoms. And each atom is more than 99% space. So we can experience the element of space as a way of deepening our experience with each of the other elements.
In each of our earlier elemental explorations, we eventually came to the same realization: there is no separation between what I call “I” and “me” and the rest of life. The element of space helps us further understand this truth, doesn’t it? If all the elements are 99+% space, then not only are our bodies expressions of those diverse-seeming elements, all the elements are expressions of mostly-space atoms, creatively configured in dramatically different ways. Wow!
So now, as I have done with each of the elements, I offer a guided meditation that may help to take this from a mental construct into a felt experience that will be more beneficial. In class, several students commented on how powerful it was for them.
I hope you found something of value in that meditation. Allow it to sink in and reveal its benefits without expectation over the course of the day and coming days.
As we open our eyes and return to our daily lives. We take up the responsibility for this solid-seeming ‘me’ body and respect the space of someone else’s also solid-seeming body. A good thing indeed! But the awareness of our inseparable and impermanent nature helps us to live more compassionately and more skillfully, with wise intention.
Cultivating this awareness is fundamental to awakening, lessening the suffering we create for ourselves and others when we assume ourselves to be separate solid entities.
Of course, a lifetime of seeing ourselves that way will continue to have its sway. The culture is full of messages of separation and solidity. We incorporate them into our veils of perception about ourselves, our bodies, our place in the world, and they blind us to the reality of life as it is. Meditation and simple full-sensory observation reminds us that there are infinite infinitesimal ongoing exchanges of energy, nourishment, etc. happening in all areas of life in one massive system of life, loving itself into being.
So the element of space is emptiness but it is also the commonality of all this aliveness of being beyond our limited perceptions of time and matter.
For this element I found two old poems of mine:
Who calls my name?
Does the Oneness
call out to itself?
I separate, and then
despair at the loneliness
of my unseen state.
But it is only
that is unseen.
The Oneness sees,
knows & loves me
there is no need
– Stephanie Noble, 2000
Silently, I greet everyone I meet:
O radiant being,
may you behold yourself
in every blade of grass,
in every drop or rain,
in every face you meet.
May your sojourn on earth
illuminate the oneness
of all life.
– Stephanie Noble