“Each universe has its own set of laws. The horizontal universe operates according to the principles of pleasure and pain; when we are entranced within this sphere we seek the pleasant and avoid its opposite. The vertical universe cannot seek or avoid anything since there is only what is. Within the horizontal, we like to imagine we are somewhere we are not. We go on excursions in time, and through our imagination create a better place than the here and now. Desire and fear operate by convincing us that the future is a concrete fact, and the present is malleable and can be shaped through our expectations. We then operate under the assumption that life is fulfilled in the future, and the present is either an aid or a limitation toward that goal. The present is only useful as a way toward procuring what we want, and means nothing by itself. Meanwhile, the vertical universe remains still.
The sense of being someone is supported by the horizontal. We feel three-dimensional because memory ties the past moments together into a story. We are born in such and such place, went to such and such school, etc., and up ahead is our destiny. With the story comes meaning, value and purpose. We live life for the value we invested in, but we will despair if the ideals we create are unreachable. The vertical universe is empty of separate content and void of meaning, but this absence of purpose is not meaningless or despairing. Because it is not going anywhere, every moment is complete. It just is, without any sense of itself.
We love to be distracted because if we are quiet within ourselves, we will have to acknowledge the vertical universe. Frolicking within the fields of time gives us the correct dosage of mental activity and holds us firmly within the horizontal reality. As a result we live much of our life within a state of restlessness and discontentment because we are continually seeking distraction from stillness. By staying ahead of stillness, we get to be a separate someone with direction and distinction, but if we stop, the vertical universe will reveal the inherent emptiness of all things.
The horizontal dimension has a flaw; dissatisfaction and discontent are inevitable. Ignoring the vertical universe and focusing exclusively within the horizontal dimension causes suffering. When we desire and run toward something in the horizontal plane, we also fear and run away from its opposite. This tension between desire and fear defines our life and creates the resistance that forms each of us as individuals. Once ‘we’ are created, we must remain in a state of tension to subsist. It is therefore inevitable that we will suffer because the state of resistance is the birthplace of our individuation.
The payoff of the horizontal dimension is considerable. First and foremost we get an identity we can build upon, and in addition the identity can acquire material objects, status, owner, control, and prestige. These payoffs are only satisfying as long as we imagine that we can keep acquiring without experiencing loss. To validate this dimension, we have to pretend we will not die, or lose, or forget, or age. The horizontal universe holds itself together by denying the losing half of its reality. The vertical meanwhile denies nothing and does not perceive from the perspective of individuation, vanity, or ego. It sees in totality without priority. Everything is equally important and unimportant at the same time.
Clinging separates the universe into two distinct dimensions. Playing out our needs and wants keeps us from looking up and acknowledging the ever-present vertical plane that has no agenda. When we become weary of the greed and loss of the horizontal, we begin to search for another universe. The journey begins by owning the pain we inflict upon ourselves through the play of time. We see time past and time future as a fabrication that has only relative truth within the horizontal dimension. Eventually we realize that if we are going to create time, we will also create change and inevitably suffer. Suddenly we have an urge to look up.”
Smith R. "Stepping out of self-deception. The Buddha's liberating teaching of no-self." Shambhala, Boston, 2010.