Conversations on the High Wire
“Life is walking the high wire with no net;
everything else is just waiting around.”
— Karl Wallenda
Someone recently asked me what my “Conversations on the High Wire” are all about. How are they different from other talks I give, from “The 5 Principles of Authentic Living,” for example, or from “Speaking Truthfully”? Simply this: “Conversations on the High Wire” has absolutely no predetermined content, as do my other talks, which deal with specific content. Though, truth be told, everything I do has an element of improvisation to it. But “Conversations on the High Wire” are off the rails! And “Conversations” are just that: intimate, honest conversations rather than presentations with questions. We create conversations together. My role is facilitate questioning and exploration, to encourage all who are present to dive deeper into the depths of our being, to let go of impediments and certainties and unexamined assumptions, beliefs, and prior decisions. We are not looking to find freedom in dogma, but in freedom itself. If there is an aim in these Conversations, it is just that: freedom.
Here’s the backstory:
This moment when I am supposed to begin talking is always very exciting for me, exciting in an unpredictable way because I never know exactly what I’m going to say. In the same way that you are waiting to see what I might say, so am I. I do not have a rehearsed talk. I have not come with an outline of talking points. I come with an openness to discover the truth of this moment. I do not want to blind myself to the beauty and depth of this instant, of meeting you for the first time, of being used by this time and place, I do not want to blind myself to all of this by hiding behind something prepared, something remembered, something from yesterday. Yesterday is dead. It is gone. Where is the vitality in yesterday? Where is the life in yesterday? Nowhere. It is only here, in this moment, and meeting it with openness and wonder and readiness, with curiosity and awareness, with the spirit of exploration and discovery.
It feels to me that I’m on the roof of a building and I have to go across a thin wire to another building, 50 feet away. The ground is 50 stories below. I have to go across this tightrope, fully exposed. I can feel my attention become so focused on the moment and the movement of this moment as I am about to step from the roof onto the wire. I can’t possibly think of anything, remember anything … my attention is too riveted on this moment, sensing any sway in the wire, sensing any breeze, feeling my body, entering fully this moment, with full alertness and responsiveness. I can’t even remember myself in this moment. If I stop to think of myself, to remember myself, I will certainly fall. That’s how it feels when I begin a talk; it is a gathering of alertness and attention, gathering it from where it may have wandered, into some thought stream or reverie, into some ancient past where the myths of myself are stored, or into an imaginary future, where projections of fantasies are already writing new myths.
Through this alertness, what is always present, a background of awareness, comes alive, because there is no thought, there is no projection of memory, no anticipation, there is no habitual self to get in the way, to obscure that clear awareness. None of those things can sustain themselves in that alertness. You become a part of each moment. There is no separation or difference between oneself and the breeze and the wire and the height and the distance. You simply participate in that total moment. Everything happens together, in unison; one thing does not stand away from other things, thinking independently, acting independently.
Actually it’s not like this just when I give talks, it’s how I experience my life. The complete attention to this precise moment allows only this moment to be real. Thoughts about this moment cannot interfere in the moment, because the attention is too alert to be distracted by thoughts. When one is completely present, then the focusing dissolves, the effort to pay attention is dissolved and there is just this moment in which we are fully participating; we are used by the totality of this moment, which includes what is beyond our sight and touch.
In a way, we are bound by the requirements of each moment. We actually are never free of that bondage, we are bound to the precision and intelligence and demands of the moment, regardless of what we might think, regardless of what we might feel, regardless of what we might anticipate, expect, hope, regret—it doesn’t matter. Through that bondage to the present we experience freedom.
That is a good kind of bondage, the one that does not allow us to leave the purity of this instant. If we do, we will fall from the wire. In the moment, all you hear is your acrobat’s slipper shuffling over the wire, moving, moving, carefully, exquisitely.
Focusing allows the awareness, which is always present, to reveal itself. We are not creating some kind of magical state that doesn’t already exist by focusing our attention on the wire. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically when I talk about the wire. But this focusing is the essence of meditation. In my dictionary, I define meditation as dis-identification with conceptual thinking. Anytime we bring our full attention to something — whether it is externally focused, like cutting vegetables, or internally focused, like reciting a mantra — we take our attention off of our thoughts. As we do this, awareness emerges, and that awareness links us to the present.
Having said that, we can see that the waning of that attention and the feeling of distance from the awareness of the moment is thought itself. Not so much thought, but identification with thought. When we notice this, we simply focus our attention elsewhere, away from thought, on a single thing, like the metaphorical wire we are walking across.
The focusing, which we can call meditation, is something I practiced for a long time. It leads one into the present in which no focus is required, because there is only the present, there isn’t anything to focus on. Then, the “focus” is self-sustaining in that space of clear awareness. During the practice part of it, the focus is very difficult to maintain. It certainly does wax and wane. But one comes to realize what interferes with the focus, what causes one to fall from the wire time and time again: It is following thoughts. They are what will take the focus from the present, they are what will cause you to slip and fall. After enough practice, one just isn’t pushed by the thoughts off the wire, one’s focus is not interrupted because the attention is on the space in which thoughts arise and subside, the place of awareness, the place of Silence.
On the wire, the consequence of leaning to the left because a thought leans to the left, or of leaning to the right because an emotion leans to the right is disastrous. So, we don’t follow thoughts, and we soon discover that awareness cannot be disturbed by thoughts and emotions. And then you realize that clear awareness is the present. In that present, thoughts come up, emotions come up, but they don’t have the power to push you off the wire of present attention and focus. Being present isn’t being present in a conceptual way. Being present doesn’t even mean to be alert with our senses. Being present means to live in the interval between thoughts, in that timelessness. That is where the present is. It is not a conceptual present; it is not an idea. It is the nature of how things are.
And because it is how things are, it is really no big deal.
“Conversations on the High Wire” are spontaneous, free-wheeling adventures in authentic living, loving, and speaking.