The Island is called “Terra Cognito” – Latin for “known territory“, and the name pretty much describes how our habitual self takes up residence with its repetitive, reassuring and therefore safe, routines for daily living. The island is an insane little place where we live on a very limited diet surrounded by an ocean of abundance and sanity.
Leaving Terra Cognito, this rock of comforting knowledge we all know so well, happens when we see that sky-high piles of ideas can only ever tell us more about…ideas. It happens when we discover our island shoreline – the minds’ edge and limitations. That movement is a venturing away from the comfortable little island of what we think we know –the terra infirma on which our manufactured hopes and dreams were built – to the exploration of the unknown along the shore where all possibilities lay in waiting. It’s a walk taken now gingerly, now reluctantly, now with abandon, along the edge where mind-generated knowledge is touched by the profound nature of our actual, mindless existence.
Here, we are invited by our Self, to meet our Self
One of the most useful things about this island life with its amassed mental constructs called “knowledge” or “beliefs,” is that even as it grows bigger it produces a longer and increasingly varied shoreline. Indeed, twenty-one centuries of Thought have produced a very long beach! One which more and more people – usually through suffering – are now enabled to reach. It’s a shoreline a few of us are driven to more or less willingly by some deep need to find real happiness, or truth, or god or reality or love – all words about an underlying need for connection and real relationship which we come to see we’re missing.
Indeed, in our exploratory wanderings along this beautiful shore in the shadow of those towering Terra Cognito mountains, we may find evidence of our Self: a seashell with white and gold veins with hints about creation; a piece of withered white driftwood may tell us about the universe; a glimmer of something fleetingly glimpsed and somehow lost or misplaced is now…glimpsed again. And we can’t forget it, right? We cast are eyes out on this Sea of Unknowing. And mumble something like “what is that?”
It is here – and only here – that we take off our sandals, stop walking the shoreline, and step off – or are pushed – into the mystery beyond words, beyond the concepts-about-concepts. We step away from the minds constant production of a descriptive, measured and value-conditioned sense of reality; we step off into the unknown and uncharted. We pause, lingering with a fearfully vague notion that perhaps the answers to our deepest longing may yet be found in knowledge, in our repeated and known experiences…in a mind stuffed with beliefs-about-beliefs and served up to us with our childhood pablum.
Still we pause. A few more hesitant steps are taken anyway, all the while turning and casting our eyes back on that island of comfortable certainty we inhabited for so long. It seems tramatic, it feels dramatic – just talk to anyone who has moved away! But it turns out that the Sirens on the Island were all our own invention…
That first step is the big one of course. It asks of us only one thing: trust. We must trust in our self, withdraw all our investments in outside authorities in whatever forms they have been assumed – parents, peers, society- and step into the formless unknown. Now Hongzhi, the twelfth – century Chinese Zen master, has one very useful piece of advice for those of us who would venture to leave Terra Cognito, and that is this: “Do not weed out new shoots, and the self will flower.”
In other words, allow for new possibilities and they will present themselves to our open and welcoming awareness. Step boldly into places where we fear to go, knowing we must sprout, to grow.