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Why do you exist?
What if you don’t give me a belief as a response? Can you respond authentically? Can you respond from the knowing of the heart rather than the knowledge of the mind?
Here’s what I think: I think that too many of us have bought into an unhelpful, life-sucking story about why we exist. And we don’t tune into the real Why We Exist often enough.
That life-sucking story about why we exist could be the “we exist to suffer” story or the “we exist to do” story (i.e. the “we exist to produce/achieve” story). It could be the “there is no reason” story. It could be the “there is nothing” story.
It could be any number of stories. But what is that story? What is its nature? Is it fresh? Spontaneous? Alive? New?
Or is it a dead belief, found by sorting though boxes of beliefs that weigh us down.
If your life feels like it is heavy…maybe you’ve been lugging around too many of these boxes.
Lighten your load.
It’s Christmas today. Love it or not. Celebrate it or not.
Like most people (or so I imagine), I don’t care for the commercialization of Christmas. And I could gladly do without the Christmas music.
But symbolically, Christmas is a beautiful reminder. And I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect and inquire directly into your experience to discover what this can point to.
In the northern hemisphere, where I live, we are coming out of the darkest time of the year. We’ve just turned the corner, and is it any surprise that we’d celebrate the birth of the Sun at this time?
The light is with us always. The dark is with us always. And try as we might, we can’t find the difference other than to say that one is light and one is dark, though we know beyond doubt there appears to be a difference.
We live in a world of apparent multiplicity. This is truth. And yet it is not the whole truth.
When we imagine this world of duality and multiplicity is all there is, we suffer. We fear that the waning light and waxing darkness in our experience is a bad thing. We position the dark as bad and the light as good, and we imagine ourselves to be a victim to the whims of the universe who plays games with light and dark.
But if we inquire directly right now, we may discover that while darkness and light are always at play, the light (and the dark) is always here fully. And we are this. Our apparent darkness, confusion, and separation, is not separate from that ever-present light.
“Whoa! You seem *angry*!”
Translation: There’s something wrong with you. You scare me. Get away from me. And don’t come back until you fix yourself.
Of course, this isn’t limited just to anger. Sadness, depression, fear, anxiety, and more. All things that I have been taught are wrong, shameful, unacceptable.
I spent the first three-quarters of my life thus far giving my all to trying to fix myself. I desperately wanted to make myself acceptable. Lovable.
And it was horrible. Deeply isolating.
And a lie.
Here’s another of my favorite quotes: “God don’t make no junk.”
Consider for a moment the immense arrogance of the belief that life is happening – a mysterious miracle that no one can comprehend – stars are being born and dying – planets are spinning around in the universe at gazillions of miles per hour – existence exists…
…but I am unacceptable.
Sounds mightly arrogant (and wrong) to me.
When Moses went to commune with God and receive the Ten Commandments, he first told the Israelites that they should remember one important thing: don’t worship false idols.
When he came back the Israelites had made a golden calf idol that they were worshipping.
I’m reminded of this story because it’s a great story to describe what so many of us do. Everything is happening. Creation is being created. It is utterly immense. Inconceivably boundless.
And moreover, our actual, direct, moment-to-moment experience, our most intimate experience of being, is of this boundlessness, this awe-inspiring everything-nothing.
And yet…and yet…we keep worshipping golden calves.
What golden calf am I referring to?
I’m talking about the idea that I can be unacceptable. That my experience can be unacceptable. That I need to fix myself. That I can know how things should be and that they should be other than they are.
That I have the power to know what is right and wrong, good and bad. And that I have the responsibility to manage everything. Most importantly myself.
The arrogance to believe that I know better.
Fortunately, the remedy is ever present. Just stop. And in stopping it is clear that there never was any arrogance anyway. It was just stuff happening. Noise. Color. Movement.
One of my favorite quotes is one attributed to Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
Of course, that’s a nice quote to throw around. I’m sure it performs well on social media. Probably garners lots of likes and shares. Because it *sounds* nice.
But the *reality* of simply being oneself isn’t so glamorous.
It’s often humiliating. And that’s on a good day.
There was a time in my life – when I was just a baby – when I was unabashedly myself. I didn’t doubt myself at every turn.
But by the time puberty hit, those days were gone. Junior high school was all about trying to be *someone else*.
Not me. Because me was unacceptable. Someone else – the ideal person – was all that was acceptable. And so my task was to hide myself and do everything within my power to project an image of myself as the ideal person.
This game of hide and seek (and pretend and project) can consume an entire lifetime.
But what’s the upside of this? Relative safety? Simply avoiding some excess bullying and shaming?
And the cost?
The cost is the recognition and acknowledgment of the truth.
What’s the truth?
The truth that this me that is so unacceptable and that needs to be protected can’t even be found.
And please, I’m not saying that we should all trot out the “right, right, yes, I know that…there is no separate self” line.
I’m saying, let’s all pause right now and actually take a look.
What needs to be protected? What is it that is actually unacceptable?
And is this game of hide and seek (and pretend and project) really all that fun?
I will suggest to you that if you actually pause and look right now – or ever – you will see directly that the imagined problem that needs to be solved and the imagined thing that needs to be protected…can’t be found.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Be bold. Look for yourself. Really. Right now.
Even if you have looked in the past. Just humor me and look right now. Be curious.
What needs to be defended? What is in danger? What can be harmed?
Seeing this doesn’t change any of what I thought needed to be changed. It does not get rid of the unwanted, uncomfortable feelings. It does not get rid of the sense that I have referred to as being a person. It does not confer a sense of (everlasting) invulnerability. It does not offer me any greater self-concept. It does not relieve me of frightening or unpleasant thoughts.
It does something else.
It reveals that I am, always have been, and always will be absolutely, perfectly myself. There is nothing whatsoever I can do to screw this up. Neither can I escape it.
And neither can anything escape this, which I have called myself.
Utter non-separation is not something that you or I get to realize or attain in the future. It is the ever-present reality.
We just told a different story about it.
We just called it being an unacceptable me. We just called it hiding and seeking. We just called it shame, blame, humiliation, etc. We just called it separation.
Just take a look. Right now.
I’m a big failure. (Sometimes, at least.)
I have big failure thoughts. Big failure feelings. Big failure insecurities. Big failure behaviors. (Sometimes, at least.)
It’s nice when we get to be nice, feel nice, have nice thoughts, act in nice ways.
But what kind of hell would it be if our fundamental okayness depended upon sustaining that niceness?
That would be horrible.
Fortunately, that’s not how reality actually is. Fortunately, reality is such that we get to be exactly as we are. And we can’t screw it up. No matter how much we worry about screwing it up and no matter how much we screw up according to our ideas about how things should be.
The big joke has many facets, many punchlines. Here’s today’s punchline: big failure thoughts, big failure feelings, big failure insecurities, and big failure behaviors are included in reality without discrimination. Life does not discriminate. All is received equally.
What needs to be hidden? What needs to be contrived? What needs to be altered to make you or me acceptable?
See? It’s such a big joke.
You don’t have to be a big failure just because I am. You get to be whatever you are. That too is received equally.
And then that which you imagine yourself to be and that which I imagine myself to be – failures or successes or anything else – it swept away and there’s nothing to grasp.
It all comes and goes. There’s nothing to possess. Nothing to claim.
Doubts remain. Doubts don’t have to go away. Doubts are not a problem.
15 years ago I sat in a park in Santa Monica, California with my mentor, Brian Marc Zimberg, and he guided me to discover directly, for myself, that life is already happening without my effort, without focus on thought…even without any sense of a separate self.
That experience was pivotal. Until that moment, I had been wandering around in the dark, so to speak. I had no idea what I was looking for other than that I wanted relief from the suffering that I perceived that I experienced. So any carrot that was dangled in front of me seemed like a plausible solution.
I chased so many things. I’ll spare you the long, long list. But let’s just say a LOT of things. Ranging from the tame to the insane and extreme. Because they promised an escape from my perceived suffering.
But on that day as I sat with Brian, he guided me to discover *directly* what true peace is. And in that moment it was absolutely clear that this peace is always here. It cannot be diminished. Nothing can harm it. There is nothing separate from it. Nothing needs to be done to attain it or possess it. It is the very foundation of all that is.
And it is absolutely clear and unavoidable and reliable.
Still, ten minutes later, I was again searching for a solution to my perceived suffering. My imaginary suffering. But though imaginary, it seemed real.
I’ve told the story before, so I’ll spare you the grueling details, but for another ten years after that I went on trying to solve the (imaginary) problem of me and my life and my suffering.
Trying more things. Extreme things. Desperate things.
Then, even after ten years when I finally got the joke and saw that I couldn’t get out of this all-pervading peace and wholeness…I *still* believed that I needed to get rid of doubts.
Because I *still* believed that doubts somehow actually clouded or affected or diminished this all-pervading peace in some way.
It’s such an easy mistake to make.
Maybe I shouldn’t call it a mistake. It’s just part of the play. We wake up and then we fall asleep and wake up and fall asleep. And each time we think that something of significance has happened.
Until perhaps some day we discover the bigger joke. The joke bigger than the big joke. The joke whose punchline is this: no one is waking up or falling asleep. Waking up and falling asleep are of no consequence whatsoever to the all-pervading peace that is already the case. And I – even my ideas of myself as a separate thing – are not separate from this all-pervading peace.
Nothing can diminish this all-pervading peace. Not my waking up and not my falling asleep. And not my feelings, my thoughts, my virtue, nor anything else.
All that is happening is the flow of happening. Just as the currents in the ocean don’t diminish the ocean, neither do the currents of me and my life diminish this all-pervading peace.
One of the big doubts that often results in the most unnecessary agony is this one: is this as good as it gets? Is this all?
But here’s the antidote: any doubt starts with assumptions. If we allow those assumptions to remain unquestioned, then we may well set about trying to solve the imagined problems presented by the doubts.
How to question? Not in thought. You’ll just wrap yourself in knots doing that.
To question authentically is to pause, to pause completely for just a moment. Let go of all effort for a moment. And notice how much effort it takes to try to solve the problems. So why bother?
Just remain still for a moment. Don’t make the effort.
And then tell the truth. Not in thought. But directly. What is the actuality of this experience right now?
Before you consult thought, you have to admit, the truth of this right now is that it is neither bad nor good. It is without boundaries. It receives everything without discrimination. And you cannot find yourself as something separate from it.
If you tell the truth, when you are still like this for just a moment, the direct experience is that the “this” of “is this as good as it gets?” can’t be found as a separate thing. “This” is boundless, all-receiving, whole.
“This” is the essence of aliveness.
The unquestioned doubt seems to be a problem. The unquestioned belief that doubts are obstacles seems to be a problem.
But the direct inquiry always reveals the boundless, all-pervasive peace/okayness that is completely reliable.
So what does it matter if doubts arise? What does it matter if you get lost in suffering? What does it matter if you wake up or fall asleep?
All that you need to is inquire directly now and where does all of the problem go? Can it even be found? How can you solve a problem that can’t even be found? And why would you bother trying to solve it?
For me, this kind of pointing was very frustrating. For a long time I got angry with this kind of pointing. Because, dammit, I wanted a *solution*! And this kind of inquiry doesn’t solve a thing.
It just reveals the truth.
Which is better than I could have hoped for from any solution to any imagined problem.
P.S. – Brian Marc Zimberg – the person who guided me in Santa Monica all those years ago – is on instagram (https://www.instagram.com/brianmarczimberg), and recently he’s been broadcasting live on instagram 5 days a week. I believe he’s only doing that one more week, this week.
Also, he’s offering free one-on-one meetings by video chat for a limited time – probably just for this week. You should definitely check him out while the offer is valid.
In 2009 I lived in an unfurnished apartment. As in, no furniture save for the futon mattress I slept on.
No chairs. No table. Just that futon mattress.
I read and I sat and I tried to blank my mind of thoughts and desires. And then I would wrestle with thoughts and desires, trying to figure it out. And by “it” I mean the problem of my life that I was sure I had.
I called Tony Parsons. I called Richard Sylvester. I called John Wheeler.
I contemplated going to India. Or maybe to Australia to visit Sailor Bob.
I was trying really hard to force what I thought was a choiceless. desireless state. This is ironic, I know. But it is what I was doing.
I thought that perhaps I could fake it until I made it. If I could just want to be desireless with enough desire. If I could just get rid of thoughts. If I could just make my life stark enough. Then maybe everything would click. Maybe, magically, I’d have that experience that I thought others were promising was available…to discover non-separation, ego dissolution, etc. as a permanent state.
I had read that there is no choice. I had read that there is no one to make a choice. And so, as these things go, I tried to arrive at a state of no choice and no one. I tried to make it so.
It’s such a common trap. It’s purgatory. This idea of no choice. The idea of no one.
It’s still just an idea, though. It’s not the reality of no choice and no one.
It wasn’t until I made a choice that things shifted.
How’s that for a paradox?
The funny thing is this: if there’s no choice and no one, then who is so concerned about making a choice? What does it matter?
The appearance of choice happens. This doesn’t need to be negated. What will be gained by arguing with the appearance?
Just make the choice. It’s so much better to finally make the choice. Because then you’re no longer arguing with reality. And the whole illusion of a separate self who is has something at stake in the game of whether there is a choice can finally be seen for what it is – just a phantom.
The obvious reality is that choices are happening all the time. What will you eat? Chocolate or vanilla? Or perhaps pie instead? Or maybe a coffee? Or maybe no dessert?
You’re not doing all those things, though. You can’t eat the ice cream and not eat the ice cream simultaneously. A choice is being made.
That’s happening all the time. You’re reading this instead of doing something else. You made a choice.
This is not a problem. How could it be?
It just seems like a problem when your identity depends on getting it right. Then you feel that you have to come down on one side or the other…preferably the correct side. And that, incidentally, is (the illusion of) separation.
It’s just an idea. That’s all. What can it hurt you?
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The big stuff…the really, really, really big stuff…the stuff that is infinite and indivisible and whole…is that hurt or diminished by the illusion of choice? Does it care? Does the idea of choice matter one iota? Will it in any way cause any harm whatsoever to the really, really, really big stuff that is infinite and indivisible and whole?
No. No. No.
In 2009 I seriously contemplated suicide. A lot.
And I prayed to God to help me.
God helped me. God nudged me off the fence. To start making choices.
The most important choice, in my arrogant opinion, is this: the choice to stop giving (so much) attention to all the small stuff. And to instead give attention to the really, really, really big stuff that is infinite and indivisible and whole (which is non-separate from what is conceived of as the small stuff, by the way).
In my arrogant opinion, the best choice a person can make is to stop squandering their attention on the illusion of separation and to give their attention to self-inquiry. Directly. Experientially. In the most intimate way possible. Before thought. In the body. Subtler than the idea of the body. And completely and always already obvious.
Because if you stop right now…and I highly recommend it…just stop, just pause for a moment right now. Stop giving attention to thoughts and worries and anxieties and stories. And just for a moment, inquire directly. Feel into the direct experience of being.
Not thought. Being. What is always 100 percent obvious. What is always here.
You are. This presence is always here. The feelings come and go. The states come and go. Everything else comes and goes.
But the fact that you are is always here.
Now, pause again. The tendency is to jump back to thought, which says, “Yeah, so what? It’s always here, but what’s it going to do for me? Will it fix my problems? Will it make me feel better?”
But pause. Don’t jump to thought. Just rest in being – what is always here.
And feel into it. Notice that in direct experience, there is no boundary between you and it. And in direct experience, there is no boundary to it. It is infinite. And timeless. And totally unbounded. And it receives everything.
What problem do you have right now?
Now, tell me…why *wouldn’t* you make this choice to inquire directly? It’s a choice. And a good one.
God nudged me off the fence. I’m passing along the favor.
There was a time I thought I was enlightened.
I was experiencing bliss for months.
Which is exactly what I thought enlightenment was supposed to be, I thought.
The only problem was, there was a nagging worry underneath it all…one that I wasn’t aware of until what I had been worrying about came to pass.
That worry was that I’d lose it.
And lose it, I did. The bliss disappeared. In the blink of an eye. And I was devastated.
Everything that happens is a blessing. The loss of bliss included. Because until I lost bliss, I didn’t realize how small that “enlightenment” was. Just how miserable it was.
Even though it was shiny, happy, blissful…even though I was genuinely happy…that worry that it could all be taken away was unmet. I was still making effort to protect myself from it.
When bliss disappeared, I had a choice.
And this is the choice that happens every moment of my life. And I will propose that it happens every moment of your life too.
That choice is not a choice of how I will feel. Not a choice of what I will think. Not a choice of what I will want. Not any of the choices that I think I have to make.
It is simpler. Subtler.
The choice is this: will I tell the truth or not.
And by tell the truth, I mean, in direct experience, what is actually happening? Not what do I think about it. Rather, in direct experience – the simple felt sense of being here – what is happening?
I can’t think my way out of this. No story will save me. No amount of clinging or avoidance will extract me from the unavoidableness of being.
Whatever happens, this is the choice. And it is totally unconditional. Because there are no conditions that can truly obscure this. No matter what the content of this moment – whether bliss or fear or boredom or unworthiness or love or anything else – this choice to tell the truth…to *acknowledge* the effortless truth that is already here as what I call me…this choice is always available.
It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter what I have done. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seemingly forgotten or lost my way or become confused. It doesn’t matter how terribly unenlightened I have been or for how long or anything else.
In this moment right now, equally available to the greatest saint and the greatest sinner, the simple acknowledgment of effortless being.
Bliss comes and goes. It’s nice when it’s here. But it will go. And its presence or absence does nothing to augment nor diminish what is always effortlessly present. Totally obvious. To you. To me. To everyone. We can’t actually miss it. We can only imagine that we could miss it.
But it receives even that. It receives the overlooking and the acknowledgment.
We can’t mess it up.
I’ve always had all my actual needs met.
Air. Food. Water. Shelter.
Yet I’ve lived most of my life as if it was a live or die moment. It commonly feels like I’ve got to get it right, right now.
But when I tell the truth, it’s all just made up in my mind. It’s just story.
Today I heard an interview with a journalist who recently wrote an article in The New Yorker about Facebook.
In the interview, he said that Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) and many of the true believers within the organization believe that Facebook is not merely software or a media company…they view it as a means to influence culture and politics in a revolutionary way. That the prevailing view of Facebook as an organization is that individual privacy is bad for us.
Okay, sure, so that’s silly. I mean, it’s obviously silly. Because none of us would believe that Facebook is a vehicle for ushering in virtuous cultural change. Right?
I mean, we’re not so crazy as to believe that we know what is right and that it’s up to us to force the masses to change against their will…for their own good.
Because that’s a crazy story. Obviously.
Funny thing, though. I agonize over money.
And what people think of me.
And whether I’m getting it right.
What if at the end of my life, God judges me badly?
What if I fail?
Crazy stories, indeed.
Sometimes I think I’m getting somewhere.
I think this is complicated by the fact that in some ways I *am* growing and changing. This is obvious, I’d hope. I mean, I’m not the same as I was when I was 5 years old. I’m taller. Heavier. Stronger. I have more facial hair. My voice is lower. I have more wrinkles.
And I’ve developed, hopefully, some modest gains in the emotional maturity department.
So that’s good. I mean, it would be weird if I was still 4 feet tall, 50 pounds, and throwing tantrums every time I don’t get seconds on ice cream.
But there’s another level in which I fool myself into believing that I’m getting somewhere. I still fall for the old belief that I’m going to get the “get out of jail free” card in life. I alone will master death and sickness and unpleasantness.
Whereas everybody else might have to get sick and die, I’ll be healthy forever. And perhaps much more seductive is the notion that somehow I’m going to get to finally be done with all the feelings and sensations and thoughts and whatever else I don’t like.
Okay, so maybe I haven’t matured very much emotionally after all. 🙂
Because it’s insane. I look around, and I don’t see a single person who gets to be superhuman.
Oh, sure, I read Autobiography of a Yogi. And dozens of other books. I know the promise. I’ve been led around with that carrot dangled in front of me long enough to be familiar with the sales pitch…”In a land far, far away there once was a perfected sage who lived always in equanimity and who healed people with a mere thought and who never had to eat and who had angels flying around him all day and all night…”
But still, I’ve never met any such person. And believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve looked. I’ve wanted to believe fully.
At the end of every day, as I would get into bed, feeling weary from my continued failures to get rid of even the smallest of my unwanted experiences, I would pray, “Please, let me be gifted complete enlightenment tonight so that tomorrow when I wake I will finally be free.”
As usual, the joke was on me. Because I was already free. Freer than I understood.
So free that I was and am free to have *this* experience too. Not only the experience that I deemed acceptable. But *this* experience too.
That’s freedom. And it was already given.
What if I’m just feeling stuff? What if that’s it? What if that’s all that’s going on? What if I’m not transcending it or evolving beyond it or learning to let go of it and be rid of it?
Man, that’s a relief.