I used to think that I wanted transcendence. I thought transcendence would be the answer to all my problems.
To be honest, I never really, really, REALLY got clear on what exactly that transcendence would be. But if I had gotten really clear on it, I’d have discovered that what I was actually after was Supreme Avoidance.
In other words, I had dressed up something rather unattractive by giving it a more desirable name of transcendence. Or I could use other words in place of transcendence – other fancy sounding, highfalutin words like enlightenment, awakening, etc.
In reality, all my actions revealed the truth of what I was actually pursuing.
Because all my actions were based on a single (assumed) mandate: “Get rid of this terrible, horrible, unbearable feeling.”
I assumed that the goal of my life – not only my life but LIFE ITSELF – was to “transcend” (i.e. get rid of) what I didn’t want.
I didn’t want the tense feeling. I didn’t want the scary feeling. I didn’t want the dull feeling. I didn’t want the sharp feeling. I didn’t want the bad feeling.
I STILL think I don’t want many feelings.
Case in point. This morning was cold. Cold to me, that is. Maybe not cold to a polar bear. But to this hairless animal it was cold.
And that cold provoked all the cold-provoked conditioning in me. The fear. The anxiety. The worry.
My wife and my kids and I are effectively camping as we are building our housing in preparation for the winter. So I had nowhere to go to get warm.
This feeling – the feeling I am calling cold – seems undesirable to me.
Find something in your recent experience you can relate this to. What recently have you felt that you think is undesirable? Maybe a bodily sensation. Maybe anxiety seemingly about money or world events. Maybe awkwardness or tension in relationship with other.
And follow along with me so we can explore this together. Me with my cold feeling and you with your feeling. Whatever we think is undesirable.
Now when I have a feeling that I think is undesirable, I start thinking about how to solve the feeling.
Isn’t that funny? A feeling isn’t a problem. It’s not something that needs to be solved. But that’s what happens. I start thinking about how to solve it.
In order to try to solve a feeling, I have to take a step away from the direct experience and instead start to imagine that some CIRCUMSTANCE is CAUSING my feeling.
So I start thinking about things, events, circumstances, people, situations, etc.
Do you do this too?
Of course you do. This is what humans typically do. It is so commonplace that most of us don’t even notice it. Even when someone points it out, we often don’t see it.
We mistakenly believe that our feelings are caused by something outside of us.
In order to remain entranced in this way, we need to allow ourselves to believe that if and when we solve the problem-feeling, all will be well.
But let us stop and tell the truth! We have done this before. Countless times we have done this. And what happened?
Every time, without fail, the next feeling-problem came along. And what’s more, 99.9999% of the time, the next feeling-problem is fundamentally identical to the one we supposedly just solved.
It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Except that we don’t recognize it. We’re so entranced that we believe that this next feeling-problem is different.
Until we wake up. When we wake up – which can happen now – which IS happening now if we tell the truth – we see the truth. The truth is that all that has ever been happening is that we were trying to avoid the same essential feeling.
We told all kinds of stories about it. We created big dramas about it. But at the heart of it there is just this bare naked, raw vulnerability here now.
Everything I do – no matter how I dress it up otherwise – is an attempt to fix or solve or get rid of this feeling-problem. My friend, John Veen (“Hi John!”), will remind me that in Shin Buddhism this is called “self power”. I’ll just call it “everything I do”.
And I’ll differentiate “everything I do” from another possibility. That other possibility is what I’ll call “what actually is”. John Veen will remind me that in Shin Buddhism this is called “other power”.
“What actually is” always trumps “everything I do”. This is plainly obvious for all of us to see…if we only stop and tell the truth now.
So let’s stop and tell the truth now. Can we see this now? Let’s look sincerely. Let’s let it be simple and light and effortless. Let’s just drop all the pretense that we’re getting somewhere and figuring it all out and winning (or losing or whatever our particular trance-du-jour is). And let’s just see this plainly as it really is.
Everything I do is based on habit. It is nothing more than a repetition of the conditioning from the past. It is unconscious, by definition, until I stop and see it.
The moment I see it, something miraculous happens. Everything I do stops and what actually is becomes clear. “Everything I do” and ‘what actually is” merge into this now. (Or, perhaps more accurately, I see that there never was two.)
And moreover, I am unburdened of all suffering.
Because suffering – by any name we choose to call it – is nothing other than “everything I do”. That is to say, my habitual, unconscious attempts to solve my feeling-problem.
Because suffering is simply that. It is the arrogance that somehow I know what this is. The arrogance that I can know that this should not be as it is.
The arrogance that I know that this present feeling means problem.
Which is perhaps why I really like the story of the Chinese Farmer that I learned from Alan Watts and recount to you often. In summary, the Chinese Farmer story illustrates that whatever happens, we don’t know its meaning or value.
Or look at it this way. I woke up this morning – on this cold morning – and saw a sliver of a crescent moon and maybe 10 degrees to the west, Venus. These are two of Earth’s nearest neighbors. But both are so far away that I will never visit their surfaces in this human lifetime.
The Sun, which warms this planet and allows my human life to be is so far away that it takes 8 minutes for light to travel from it to me.
Lately in the evenings on clear nights I see Jupiter and Mars. Both – you guessed it – really far away.
And then there are all the stars. Those in the Milky Way are nearest, and most of those are unthinkably far, The rest are so far that they are beyond unthinkably far.
And beyond those that are visible to the naked eye, more stars. Those so beyond beyond unthinkable that we can’t even begin to think of them.
And my human animal life is certain to come to an end. Fifty billion years from now it will matter so little that no one will even know to think that I existed. In other words, I will be to them like the stars so distant from me are now.
In fact, we don’t even need to go fifty billion years into the future for my life to be so insignificant. Just a few generations and I will be forgotten.
But on cold mornings I have the arrogance to think that I know better.
This is not just about cold. This is about all of the things we worry about. All the feeling-problems we try to fix. All the energy we squander trying to figure out how to get ahead or get more comfortable or even to survive.
We can’t help it, of course. So let’s not make the mistake of trying to fix that! Which would be only more “self power” trying to fix the supposed problem of “self power”.
Instead, here is a possibility. This is just one possibility. I am not saying it is the best. But it is one possibility.
Non-duality purists, hardcore hardliners, will be deeply offended by this possibility. It won’t be pure enough for them. But then, nothing is.
But this is a possibility that I believe is valuable. And it is true to my heart.
This possibility is prayer.
The prayer that I will propose is a prayer of thanksgiving.
There are as many variations on this as there are stars in the universe. You will find your own authentic variation. Your own song-prayer.
Here’s something to riff off of.
Oh Lord, thank you for this perfect moment. Thank you for this gift of discomfort that offers the opportunity to wake up from the trance of winning and losing.
Thank you for the possibility of humility and the discovery now of my inherent innocence.
Though I notice my impulses of reactivity – the lashing out, the writhing, the despair, the anger, the fear – I choose to stop now. I choose now to receive your Grace.
I see in this moment of Grace my arrogance in believing that I knew better when in truth I know nothing at all. I confess that I truly know nothing at all. And I look sincerely in my heart of heart and see the truth of this confession.
I give thanks for the miracle that is occurring right now. This present miracle is the revelation that what I had wrongly imagined was my enemy is in fact none other than Grace. What I had worked so hard to get rid of is my most perfect salvation.
It is a salvation so perfect and so instantaneous that it is completely beyond all concept and all striving. Your perfect Grace in this moment now reveals inescapable humility.
With gladness and thanksgiving I bow down and receive this Grace now.
Like I said, this is something you can riff on. Allow an authentic expression to come forth from your heart.
You can substitute words if my words offend you too much. Maybe words like “Lord” and “God” and “Grace” are too charged for you. Fine. Do what you need to do.
But hear me on this. Don’t think you know better. Don’t believe that you have some pure and perfect way that transcends this simple, innocent way.
Be willing to be humble and to receive the Grace that is so freely and endlessly offered every moment. All it takes is to soften your heart enough to allow your authentic prayer-song to express.