December 18, 2009


Between is a relationship. Often we think of it as a state of existence, a fixed time or place, but it is not. Anything between is only such in relation to at least two other things. Between, like all else, is empty. It has no inherent existence. It is only dependently co-arising.

I feel very between. It is very groundless, yet also anchored. There is a light tug back and forth, a shifting of gaze, place, time, state of mind between two (or more) things. These are not things I have to decide between, choosing one over the other. I do not have to fight against them. In an interdependent world, “freedom from” is an illusion. I am never free of the things I am between. These things are like navigational beacons, showing the way without prescribing it.

Frank Lloyd Wright always designed an elaborate entry sequence to his houses. One turned at least twice and sometimes as much as half a dozen times – onto the path from the sidewalk, up some steps onto the stoop, into the front door and out the vestibule, into the hall, and finally entering the grand living room with a large fireplace opposite windows and views. This way was clear, elaborated by steps, planters, views, doorways, and columns, between this space and that, but never absolute. There was always the opportunity to see the other paths and to take them, turning into the backyard, the dining room, down the hall, yet the intended route was clear.

Life is not always so unerringly defined. I was born between, raised between, have lived between, and now plan a future that is between. I live between east coast and west, great rivers and great mountains, hot south and cold north. I was raised in that time between feminism and the history books about feminism. I can read a map and ask for directions. I’m not poor and not wealthy. I’m preparing to leave and preparing to arrive at the same time.

Life is very between. I don’t even think we realize it most of the time. We default to a view of life that “is” failing to see the life that “is between.” There is life between myself and my family, my friends, and my coworkers. There is life between everyone I know – life I can sometimes step through, sometimes watch, and sometimes step away from. Spaces are only ever between – one wall and another, the building and the street, the tree and the fence, floor and ceiling, earth and sky. Time is only ever between – the past and the future, history and the master plan. Sometimes we lose sight of that and see only me, only here, only now. Life does not exist that way.

The universe exists in relationship to everything within it, even if (especially if) those relationships are unseen. We will always be between things and things will always be between us and something else. The trick is not to get whiplash trying to look both ways at once.

In the forest there is always a path. Most people can’t see it. They are looking for a thing, some kind of easily identified symbol or marker, a red flag or blaze on a tree, but paths are often more subtle than that. We think paths are intentional objects made by people, but lots of beings live in the forest. They make their own paths. The trick to finding a path in the forest is to look not for the path but for the relationship between things, trees, shrubs, flowers, rocks, hills, light, and even wind. Then you simply walk the way that seems to be between. You may find yourself at a place where the path disappears, but just stop and look calmly, and find the way between again.

Life is like this, but often we don’t, or feel like we can’t, stop and look calmly. We think we are searching for an object, a “me,” a “here,” or a “now,” and because of that we don’t pay attention to the things we see that are not “me here now,” so we don’t see the between. Between is where we fit, it is the path, and exists only in relation to the things that are not “me here now.”

We are never “me here now,” we are only ever between.

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