Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Walking the Razor's Edge

--by Charlotte Joko Beck (Jun 22, 2009)

When we aren’t into our personal mischief, life is a seamless whole in which we are so embedded that there is no problem. But we don’t always feel embedded because – while life is just life – when it seems to threaten our personal viewpoint we become upset, and withdraw from it. […] There are a million things that can upset human beings. They are based on the fact that suddenly life isn’t just life (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, thinking) anymore; we have separated ourselves and broken the seamless whole because we feel threatened. Now life is over there, and I am over here thinking about it. I am not embedded in it anymore. […]

How do we bring our separated life together? To walk the razor’s edge is to do that; we have once again to be what we basically are, which is seeing, touching, hearing, smelling; we have to experience whatever our life is, right this second. If we’re upset we have to experience being upset. If we’re frightened, we have to experience being frightened. If we’re jealous we have to experience being jealous. And such experiencing is physical; it has nothing to do with the thoughts going on about the upset.

When we are experiencing nonverbally we are walking the razor’s edge – we are the present moment. When we walk the edge the agonizing states of separateness are pulled together, and we experience perhaps not happiness but joy. […]

If I feel that I’ve been hurt by you, I want to stay with my thoughts about the hurt. I want to experience my separation; it feels good to be consumed by those fiery, self-righteous thoughts. By thinking, I try to avoid feeling the pain. The more sophisticated my practice becomes, the more quickly I see this trap and return to experiencing the pain, the razor’s edge. And where I might once have stayed upset for two years, the upset shrinks to two months, two weeks, two minutes. Eventually I can experience an upset as it happens and stay right on the razor’s edge.

In fact the enlightened life is simply being able to walk that edge all the time. And while I don’t know of anyone who can always do this, certainly after years of practice, we can do it much of the time. It is a joy to walk that edge.

--Charlotte Joko Beck, From "Everyday Zen"

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Previous Reflections:

On Jun 17, 2009 Liz, iJourney Editor wrote:

While I’ve been taught to experience pain verbally, rather than stuff the feelings and implode, as I evolve in my understanding of myself, I am more able to be with pain (and pleasure and joy) nonverbally and to truly allow myself to be with those feelings inside me.  A great goal I seek is to strengthen my endurance to stay closer to the razor’s edge, to experience feelings of fear or being threatened nonverbally without seeking to verbalize which dissipates the experience.  On the joyful side of the coin, I frequently experience pleasure nonverbally with my children; this is truly an amazing experience to just be with this joy.

On Jun 17, 2009 Prasad, iJourney Editor wrote:

Reading what Joko Beck said, I wondered whether it is the same as being an observer and actor at the same time. It is about being with the pain, being with the experience and emotions that associate with the experience and also being an observer. Then who is the observer? If my experience is my life, then are my thoughts, feelings and observation different from experience? Is being on the razor’s edge ‘not choosing’ my experience vs. my being a witness? I found that experiencing without being attached to that experience, feeling without making it personal, thinking without feeling proud or happy or upset, allows me to merge myself into larger life and not be separate. When I am with something and also have the ability to not be with it is when the razor’s edge comes alive. Even the subtle ego, subtle ownership and actorship seem to make me separate myself from life, from experience.

Reflecting on the larger context of Zen vs. Hindu philosophy Vedanta, Zen is making the experience to be nothing. Vedanta is about making the experience and observation to be everything. One is emptiness and the other is everthingness or completeness. Same thought — two perspectives!"

On Jun 17, 2009 iJourney Content Editor wrote:

Experiencing nonverbally is powerful. I remember one instance when I was meditating through a painful experience. I was just watching it and it felt like what Joko Beck describes here as walking on that edge. Though certainly not with full equanimity, it was nonetheless experiencing the situation mostly nonverbally. Out of untrained instinct, I remember moving away from the pain (i.e. away from the razor’s edge), and immediately, the experience became verbal. It was almost as if I couldn’t verbalize while being on that edge.

An interesting quote I've heard says, “Pleasure puts you to sleep. Pain wakes you up. If you don’t want to suffer, don’t go to sleep.” That makes sense to me, but this only relates to the “pain” side of the coin: I think it is valuable to explore walking on the razor’s edge when you are experiencing the other side, “pleasure.” And to me, walking on that edge in that way is even more important, and it seems like the same pointers given in this thought apply to the domain of pleasurable states: pure, nonverbal experiencing, at the present-moment, non-dual edge of being.

On Jun 17, 2009 JZ wrote:

This is a fanastic passage.  It make me think of a profound experience from my childhood, so thank you guys for sending out the passage.

On Jun 23, 2009 Ganoba Date wrote:

Cutting edge is a metaphor.

What does it signify?

What lies on either side of the edge?

It may be worthwhile clarifying these questions.

The edge is the interface between what we know and what we don't. It is subjective and personal. What we know is already in the past. What we do not know is our potential waiting to unfold. it would then be sensible to leave the known and go for the unknown.

 Because of ignorance about the nature of the edge we hold on to the known for dear life. This makes the edge a precepice, a razor's edge. 

If we realise this fact, it would be abundantly clear that it is foolish to walk on the edge.

Take off man/woman. There is nothing to lose but ignorance.

On Jun 23, 2009 Royco wrote:

"walking on the razor's edge - we are the present moment" is a powerful statement.  while being in the present moment of pain is to acknowledge and claim its cutting edge, knowing that feelings pass and fade away without resisting it.  verballizing it is a way of distancing from the present moment which actually makes pain more intense by dwelling or lingering on and around it.  in this fashion, pain begins to be a threat and thus becomes belligerent and vengeful.  being in the present moment without judging is the only way to peace.