First of all, thank you to those who have made a pledge of financial support through Patreon. Your support makes it possible for me to do what I do.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I do on this blog, in books, and in videos. What is it that I want to share? What is it I want to invite people to consider in their own lives?
The cop-out is to fall back on the “nothingness card”.
Which is not entirely untrue. After all, to me, the willingness to discover again and again that my ideas of myself and life are empty of the inherent meaning I think is there is very important to me.
Without that, suffering is multiplied many times over.
But suffering multiplies when I stake my flag in the “nothingness camp” as well. Because as soon as I do that, I am claiming that I now know something that is fundamentally true of myself and life.
Which is not true.
And perhaps more importantly, the “nothingness card” does not have the heart of compassion and humanity that I believe is essential to what I am and what I wish to share.
So a more complete truth is that what I want is to explore the ways in which we suffer and find out how to suffer less or suffer better.
Suffering better might seem like an oxymoron. But I’ve come to see that suffering is not antithetical to peace or freedom or whatever we want to call that which we actually desire.
Suffering is, in fact, essential and unavoidable. And it is our attempts to avoid it that produce the greatest suffering.
So that’s one piece of this puzzle.
But there’s more.
I’ve also realized that one of the things that I have to share that is unique to me is the way in which I view this exploration of suffering and aliveness and freedom and so forth as very ordinary.
I don’t believe that it is necessary or desirable to retreat from the world we live in – the relationships, environments, etc.
I don’t believe that we need or benefit from special meditations or spiritual practices. I really do not. And that is kind of shocking to admit that fully to myself and to you.
But part of my unique voice is that I honestly believe that a discovery of what we most want (and I really ought to write a piece exploring that a bit more in detail and come up with a clear way of referencing that) must be integrated into and spring forth from our real, daily lives.
I find that my mundane life – my anxieties, my fears, my relationships, my environment, money problems, health problems, etc. – is a far greater guru than any other and a far greater practice than any other.
Yet I am not suggesting that being flung about in the stream of life with eyes closed is as desirable as being flung about with eyes opened.
Because I don’t think that is true.
I find that there is a huge difference between the two.
I just think that is one of the most important things we have available to us to do: open our eyes, tell the truth.
Everything else that I’d ever done – the prayers, the meditations, the pranayama, etc. – was done with eyes closed. I was willfully blind to what was actually happening. I was fighting and flailing, struggling against life. I was metaphorically shouting, “no, not this!”
But I never opened my eyes (again, metaphorically) to even see what it was that I was proclaiming was unacceptable.
So opening my eyes is the most important thing, I think.
I heard a story on the radio a few days ago about the Volkswagen “scandal” in which the company programmed the on-board computers in their U.S. diesel cars to cheat the emissions tests. This is incredible when you think about it. Many people must have been involved in this project to intentionally deceive regulatory agencies and customers alike.
It worked. They pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes for years.
But it made things more complicated. When the Europeans wanted to toughen up emissions standards to match the U.S. standards, diesel car makers complained that it wasn’t possible. But then everybody said, “uh, well, VW does it, so it must be possible…”
And I saw how I do that in my own life. And how it appears that others do that in their lives.
Lies that seem harmless. Or lies that seem like they are short-term.
But they aren’t harmless. Nor are they short-term.
They have far-reaching implications.
The lies result in an identity that needs to be protected. And I (we) come up with rationalizations.
Such as “my income depends on it” or “my family would be devastated if the truth came out” or any number of others.
And yeah, it’s complicated. Because should O.J. Simpson go to prison if he can avoid it? I wouldn’t.
So it’s not a matter of needing to always tell the truth or needing to always be completely transparent.
That would be an interesting experiment. And I may want to play with that.
But what I do believe is important – based on my own experience – is honesty with myself.
And interestingly, that’s not as straight-forward and easy as I would have naively believed a handful of years ago.
Because it depends on awareness. Just as the implication of deception are far-reaching and lies build upon lies to build a huge web of deceit, so too does honesty build upon itself to generate awareness that reveals more opportunity for honesty.
Many of those opportunities are difficult. How aware do I really want to be? Or, to put it in more dramatic terms, “can you handle the truth?”
Recognizing my faults, my shortcomings, my ugliness, my badness, my capacity for cruelty and insensitivity…as well as my capacity for generosity and sensitivity…that is often heartbreakingly painful.
So this is not a feel-good strategy I am proposing.
In fact, I’m not exactly proposing anything specific with this post. I’m just exploring the subject and “thinking out loud”.
But I do believe that honesty with myself forms a virtuous cycle that allows me to suffer less and suffer better. I believe it gives me greater compassion, patience, and understanding. I believe it makes me more nuanced and reflective.
I am happier for it.
But not in the way I would have thought I wanted to be happier.
I am not richer. I am not more attractive. I am not even a nicer person or easier to get along with.
I’m just more compassionate, patient, and, understanding of my failings.
I’ve been taught in my life that it is possible and desirable to perfect myself and become pure of spirit and mind. Ironically, this belief just led to greater violence and division in my experience.
Through more honesty with myself, I have not become more perfect or purer. I’ve merely acknowledged my shortcomings.
But this has greatly eased the violence and division in my experience. Not eliminated. Just eased.
This division and violence that I see in myself – and the capacity for more or less of it – is something that I have also been seeing at play within society.
At present, I see more violence and division rather than less.
I believe that violence and division is borne out of these lies – the “little, harmless” lies that build upon one another to form identities and groups.
This is a subject (how these lies and identities play out in society) I want to explore more in future posts. I believe it is important.
This is not just about me, my freedom, my enlightenment. That kind of thinking and pursuit of my freedom, my enlightenment, is a function of the lies. It is the only logical escape from a nightmarish identity and world created by these lies. The suffering is so great, so scary, so unbearable – I must jettison into enlightenment or spiritual realms.
But that never worked for me.
I have to slowly, painfully, humiliatingly tell the truth, one step at a time, moment to moment.
It is not a quick fix. Not a fix of any kind, in fact.
See you next time.