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I’ve been well outside of my “comfort zone” lately. And it’s caused me to reflect on comfort, our pursuit of it, and the misery that ensues.
I’ve moved to Vermont with my family. We are (out of choice) living in a tent and working 20 hours a week on a small farmstead in exchange for the opportunity to pitch our tent there.
This adventure has me feeling physically, psychologically, and emotionally uncomfortable.
When I am uncomfortable, I attempt – almost, if not entirely, reflexively – to get rid of the discomfort.
My mind seeks to identify the problem. Then to solve it.
That appears to be unavoidable.
In fact, trying to avoid it would just be more of the same. So there’s no way out. There is no escape from it.
But the question is this: will it ever work?
This is why I so often suggest honesty.
Honesty does not solve the problem that the mind generates. Nor does it produce comfort.
Honesty just shines a light. And the fruit of that is awareness.
Not “Awareness”. Just awareness in the mundane sense.
And that mundane awareness reveals the conundrum for what it is. There is no way out. The problem is not what I’ve thought. And I will not be able to escape discomfort.
Which does not mean that one must seek out discomfort or shun comfort. Because the only reason to do that would be to try to solve the new problem that the mind has generated – the problem that states that comfort is the enemy, comfort causes suffering.
That is not true. But don’t take my word for it. Just shine a light with honesty.
I like feeling good. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t suppose. In fact, if I didn’t get to feel good sometimes, life would probably be unbearable, and I’d off myself.
But for me, getting really honest with myself about the subtext of my seeking/being is painful and important.
Whatever fancy language and ideas I might throw around, the secret desire is to feel good.
Why do I do things? To feel good.
Even if and when I seek to make peace with not feeling good – even when I aim to be honest about not getting to always feel good – my intention is to feel good.
It is inescapable. I cannot transcend my futile desire to escape discomfort and gain eternal-momentary pleasure.
I cannot avoid my shortsightedness and impulsivity.
But I can tell the truth. I can get real about my intention.
The purpose of life is not feeling good.
The purpose of life is not whatever I think the purpose of life is.
My pursuit of eternal-momentary pleasure is not noble.
But neither is it wrong.
I don’t have to suppress the desire.
I can just acknowledge it.
And in acknowledging it, I offer myself the opportunity to inhabit the murkiness of real life. Neither this nor that. Not entirely pleasure nor entirely pain.
Of course, my only motivation for doing that is because it will feel better than not doing it.
So I am trapped. I cannot transcend myself.
But I can tell the truth. Again and again and again.
When I don’t tell the truth, that is fine. I’m not getting anywhere by telling the truth. I’m not transcending anything. It’s not actually better in any ultimate sense.
But as soon as I acknowledge that, I am telling the truth.
Not as a thought or a memory.
Rather, as a present, honest, vulnerability. A humility. An acknowledgement of the heartache of being. The longing to become something else. The wish to transcend, escape, avoid.
Just that. That’s all. Nothing that will get me anywhere.
But strangely, it is better.
At least that’s what it seems.
So then I seek it out. I idealize it. I turn it into a religion. It will save me. It will help me to transcend.
Again, I tell the truth. I am just doing what I must do: trying to feel better.
That is all. Nothing bad. Nothing good. Nothing that will get my anywhere. And nothing that will prevent me from getting anywhere.
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.
I am ordinary.
This is a revelation after a lifetime of aspiring to be a superman – to transcend the ordinary.
I am habituated to delusion – believing in transcendence through self effort. If only I work hard enough, pray enough, meditate enough, do enough good, have enough faith, hope enough, sacrifice enough.
That habituation results in misery if I do not inquire honestly.
I am habituated to compare my deluded self-concept with my deluded concept of the perfected person. In other words, I compare what always falls short with what always is out of reach.
The conclusion of that comparison is always that my self-concept is lacking. Thus, the conclusion is that I must work harder, do more, etc.
But that conclusion is not fully truthful.
Underneath that comparison is the discomfort and terror of being myself. The comparison – the striving – is a game with the futile aim of avoiding or getting rid of the discomfort and terror of being myself.
The logic is that if I can become the perfect person, I will be rid of the unwanted feeling.
Telling the truth does not make me feel better.
The discomfort and terror of being myself remains. In fact, it comes more into focus. The discomfort intensifies, if anything.
But it does offer a strange relief.
The relief is from trying to be something else. Trying to transcend. Trying to grasp. Trying to become. Trying to attain.
What I’m talking about is not resignation – though it shares some similarities with resignation.
It is simply that telling the truth reveals that the feeling cannot be avoided. Not even a superman could avoid it.
And whatever I thought the feeling was and whatever I thought it would do…I didn’t actually know. It was just a story I used unwittingly to keep the cycle of misery churning.
There is no superman. There only is, only was, and only could be what I am.
If you want to know freedom, you cannot afford to offer comfort to ideology.
Freedom is the whole truth.
Ideology is, at best, the partial truth.
Ideology is relatively true when it is true.
“I am tall.”
This is true; I’m taller than the average man.
But it is not the whole truth; compared to a 50 ft. tall tree, I’m not very tall.
Or, perhaps a better example. “I am smart.”
I am smart. Sometimes. In a limited way.
But clinging to that belief as the whole truth is a terrible disservice to me and everybody else.
If I believe that it is the whole truth – or willfully reject the whole truth even if I don’t fully believe the ideology – I can do some horrific, stupid, and dangerous things. All while blind to what I am doing.
Nazis could not have all been inherently more evil than you and me.
Ideologies have limited utility. Yet we often cling to them as though they could save us from reality most of the time.
It won’t work. It only makes for suffering.
It only makes us blind.
This is extremely relevant to so-called non-dual philosophy adherents.
“Nothing is happening.”
This is true.
It is also not the whole truth.
Something is happening. Clearly. And we have to willfully reject and blind ourselves to that obvious reality in order to generate more suffering for ourselves.
That doesn’t mean “nothing is happening” isn’t true. It just means it’s not the whole truth.
Even if it is the whole truth, in fact, (which, in a sense, it is)…as soon as I cling to that as an ideology, it ceases to be the whole truth.
“There is no choice.” “There is no self.” “There is no separation.” And on and on.
These are true, but not the whole truth.
If you hold these ideologies up as shields in an attempt to protect yourself somehow from the terror of freedom in it’s fullness, they do harm.
This is the difference between description and prescription.
The ideology promises to protect you. But it actually imprisons you.
Freedom cannot be separated from terror.
Do not shield yourself from the whole truth.
The whole truth includes it all. Which includes the metaphorical fire that burns away whatever is unnecessary.
In regard to fear, there are two ways to go about life.
One is to avoid what you fear.
The other is to do what you fear.
I tried the first approach – avoiding what I feared – for a long time.
It was miserable. I cannot recommend it.
Perhaps because of genetics or karma or circumstance or chance or who knows what, I developed severe obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Whatever factors contributed to that development, there is one thing I am almost certain of: avoiding what I feared made it worse.
A lot worse.
So bad that I cannot even begin to do justice to how horrible it was.
Here’s an example to illustrate how bad it was. I was living in a place with only one road in and out. I was half an hour from the nearest town.
I had developed an extreme fear of fast food. So much so that trash from fast food restaurants would produce paralysis as if I was prey trapped by a predator. Utter terror.
One day I was out of food, and I was driving into town to get food.
Lo and behold, on the singular road in and out of my home I found that somebody had thrown out a bag from Wendy’s – a fast food restaurant.
What to do?
I avoided my fear. I turned around and went back home. I stayed hungry for several more days until the piece of trash disappeared from the road and I felt I could drive on it without paralyzing fear.
It may be easy from some perspectives to dismiss this story as merely the memories of a person suffering from severe mental illness.
And it may be true.
But we’re all suffering from mental illness.
And this story – and what I learned – is relevant to everybody who ever avoids fear. Which is all of us.
A couple of months ago, I was walking out of the grocery store with my kids. I glanced over the left and saw some McDonald’s trash scattered in the parking lot.
It didn’t bother me.
Not at all.
And the fact that it didn’t bother me stood in stark contrast to just 8 years prior when I had gone hungry for days so as to avoid a Wendy’s bag in the middle of the road.
Again, you might think that not being paralyzed by fast food trash is normal – not a big deal.
And you’d be right.
But consider this: many people consider the kind of mental illness – and certainly the severity that I suffered – to be incurable.
By doing what I fear consciously, I no longer suffer in that particular way.
And I believe this is relevant to everybody who avoids fear. Which is all of us.
While in the “big picture” nothing is really a waste. From the perspective of an individual lifetime, some things are valued more than others. Meaning, some things are a waste.
Spending a lifetime agonizing and retreating from fear – a lifetime constructed around avoidance – is a waste from that perspective.
Nondual belief systems make the claim that nothing is real and nothing really matters. And that’s true.
But it’s not the whole truth.
The whole truth includes the fact that it does matter. It matters to me. It matters to you.
When I was suffering from the worst of mental illness – at least the worst I’ve been able to recognize to date – I wanted relief from that suffering more than just about anything.
And I turned to spirituality – and eventually to nondual philosophy – for that relief.
That was a mistake. Because spirituality and nondual philosophy didn’t relieve suffering. They made suffering worse.
Why? Because they offered me more hope that I could avoid what I feared.
Eventually I was washing my hands most of the day. I was counting most of the day. I was trying to blank my mind. I was trying to organize my life so that I wouldn’t have to think or see or smell or taste…or be.
I wanted nothingness.
My choices in spirituality and nondual philosophy seemed to hold out the hope of nothingness. Nothingness for me. That I could have and experience.
And so I kept trying to avoid what I feared.
Eventually I realized that my life was a waste. It was not a life worth living.
No amount of beliefs and philosophies to the contrary would counter that fact.
I could use logic to reason my way to the ultimate truth of emptiness. I could even sense it and feel it at times.
But that led to the classic “I understand it but I don’t live it” belief.
The truth was, as I have said, my life wasn’t worth living.
And when I finally saw that clearly, I realized that I had two choices: keep doing what I was doing…or do something different.
Doing the same thing had an almost certain outcome; in short order, after suffering miserably for another couple days or maybe months, I’d kill myself. Because nobody can endure that much misery without any real hope.
Once I saw that avoiding what I feared wasn’t going to work, the hope died. So doing the same thing was the most depressing nightmare. I would have killed myself.
Doing something different, on the other hand…that was the most terrifying thing I could imagine.
Which, of course, seems silly from a certain perspective. Because something different, in this case, appeared to be little more than just driving past a piece of trash and getting food. Big deal, right?
But that’s trivializing things.
None of us is that stupid. We don’t suffer because we are stupid.
We suffer because we are challenged with going against the momentum not only of a lifetime, but the momentum of all our ancestors and all of evolution.
We have evolved to avoid what we fear. We have evolved to freeze when we can’t avoid.
So the actual challenge is to stand up against billions of years and all of life.
When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound so trivial.
With that out of the way, we can dispense with the “I don’t know what’s wrong with me” nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with you or me. We’re just programmed to avoid fear.
But we have a choice. I am living proof of that.
We don’t have to be victims of our programming. We can do something different.
We can face what we fear.
No, not face. We can fully embody the fear, do it with awareness of what it feels like to be afraid, and do whatever we fear anyway.
Not just get it done and out of the way. Not gritting our teeth and bearing it.
No, no, no. That doesn’t work.
I mean to find out what fear actually is. Not theoretically. But actually.
Which is done by consciously being afraid.
Do it over and over and over.
It will not stop. You won’t reach a perfected state. You won’t get rid of fear. And each time you experience fear, you will be afraid. You will not master it.
At least not in this lifetime.
But I’m telling you this: fear isn’t what you think. I can promise you that. It is not bad.
Neither is it good, exactly.
I’m not claiming that life is all “love and light”. No. Life is suffering and pain and horror.
But the black and white thinking that wants to categorize fear as good or bad…or good or bad as good or bad, for that matter…is limited. It will never satisfy because it is not the whole truth.
You have to find out for yourself. And doing so requires a leap of faith over and over and over again.
Because each time it means doing what you feel might destroy you. You may not rationally think it will destroy you. But it feels that way. And you have to act counter to billions of years of evolution and do it anyway.
Consciously. Feeling what it feels like to be utterly terrified. And soften into that. Dive into the heart of fear.
You will not arrive anywhere.
But you will be turned around.
Of course, someone will object, raising the argument that nobody can do anything and nothing really happens.
True, of course. But not the whole truth.
Because the whole truth includes the obvious fact that things are happening.
In the course of life, things are always – at least apparently – happening.
And what I am proposing – another way to view it – is that we are conditioned to interject unnecessary effort and suffering into the stream of happening.
Or, at least, create that illusion.
In the course of life, hunger arises, and that naturally is followed by seeking food.
That is what happens when nothing is interjected unnecessarily. That is what happens without unnecessary effort. That is what happens without avoidance of fear.
If fear arises, I have a choice. Either I can attempt to avoid the fear, which means unnecessary effort, which is suffering.
Or I can embody the fear, be the fear, accept the fear – and do whatever follows naturally. If I am hungry and seeking food, what follows naturally is the seeking, acquisition, and eating of food.
The avoidance of fear is unnecessary. At least in cases (and this accounts for 99 percent of cases in most of our lives today) where there is no genuine threat to the organism.
Of course, if there is a predator standing in my path with the intention to kill me, I am wise to heed the desire to protect myself at all costs.
But that’s not unnecessary effort. That’s appropriate self-defense.
Yet take an inventory of the unnecessary effort in your life. See that none of it is appropriate self-defense.
A character/self-image doesn’t need to be defended. A thought doesn’t need to be defended. And over 99 percent of our so-called “self-defense” is not defense of the organism against genuine threat to safety. Instead, it is defense of self-image and thoughts.
And a defense against feeling states.
And a defense against emotions.
It doesn’t work, though.
It just creates a false identity. And a fantasy prison that feels very real.
And it generates incredible (and completely unnecessary) suffering.
Do what you fear.
Don’t go out of your way to generate fear and do unnecessary things you are afraid of. I’ve not suddenly started channeling Tony Robbins. I’m not advocating walking on hot coals or skydiving.
But in the course of the day, notice how much fear happens. It is natural. It is not a problem.
Then notice how much unnecessary effort goes into trying to avoid the fear.
See how much you try not to do so as to avoid the fear.
I’m saying to do that stuff. And feel the fear. Discover how you try – futilely – to protect yourself against the fear. Notice how you clench and armor yourself.
That awareness is all.
The doing is incidental. But also essential.
It is the awareness that comes from the doing – or, rather, the not doing of the avoidance – that is needed.
In some circles, the question “who am I?” is popular as a form of inquiry.
Rather than just asking the question, I am proposing that you live it.
To find out, you must inquire actively. Live the inquiry. Don’t make it a theory. Make it alive.
If you want to know who you are, find out what you are not.
Are you bound by this or that fear? Is that your limitation? Is that where you begin and end?
Do what you fear. Accept the fear. Find out if you are that boundary.
Find out if the boundary even exists independent of the avoidance of fear.
In my most recent blog post a commenter asked me what the freedom I wrote about was a freedom from. Here’s my response.
If it is a freedom from anything, it is a freedom from the idea that the purpose of life is to avoid what I don’t want, what scares me.
But there’s another way to look at it. What if freedom is inherent? What if it is not about freedom from something? What if it is simply the freedom that is already the case?
We’re so conditioned to believe that freedom is from something. Meaning, there must be some kind of enemy that seeks to destroy or oppress us, and we are seeking freedom from that.
But in my experience that game is the game of searching for the boogieman. I have never found him. I don’t think I will, either.
Do I need to be free from the boogieman?
I don’t think so.
As long as I believe I need to be free from the boogieman, I pretend that I am not free.
But as soon as I tell the truth, which is that I’ve never seen the boogieman, and what the boogieman represents in my actual experience is the fear that I want to avoid…well, as soon as that happens, my inherent freedom is revealed.
I’m not free from the fear. I’m free to fear.
Most spiritual endeavors I’ve gotten involved in over the years create boogiemen of various sorts. And while they promise future freedom, the irony is that what they produce is misery and a sense of suffocation.
They turn experiences of all stripes into the enemy.
But as soon as I tell the truth, my inherent freedom is revealed.
I’m free to fear. Free to be depressed. Free to be anxious. Free to be foolish. Free to be wrong. Free to be petty. Free to be bigoted. Free to be unjust.
Freedom is not a justification. Freedom doesn’t justify bigotry or anxiety or injustice or pettiness or insensitivity.
It’s just that freedom is free. I mean really free.
So free that all is included.
We give lip service to our love of and desire for freedom. But the only reason we don’t recognize our inherent freedom more often is because it scares the bejeezus out of us, and we are conditioned to reject fear.
Our idea of freedom is limited.
Freedom is so free that it doesn’t pick and choose. We aren’t merely free to experience pleasant and desirable things.
We’re totally free.
Like it or not.
You can’t opt out. Because the alternative is not free. And freedom is inherent.
We can deny this. We can metaphorically stick our heads in the sand. But it offers no benefit.
Opening our eyes and minds, telling the truth, is not pretty. It’s not all nice and easy.
As I’ve already written, it includes anxiety, depression, mania, rage, etc.
There is no Superman. No Buddha. Not as we’ve been led to believe.
The Buddha, the awakened, is not transcendental. The awakened is merely eyes opened to his freedom – the freedom to be in all its totality.
This is not a happy message. It’s just the truth.
There’s a lie that people get caught up in; they believe that either one must progress toward freedom or one must somehow luck into freedom.
Neither is true.
Freedom is immediate and it is totally unearned.
It is also not the freedom you’ve imagined.
Therein lies the rub. And as long as you cling to wanting freedom to be how you’ve imagined, you’ll keep believing in your delusions. (Well, there’s a nuance here, because you will almost certain continue to believe your delusions regardless. But if you are willing to let go of the meta-clinging for just an instant, you will see something differently. You will discover directly that freedom is not what you imagined.)
Freedom is not something different than this. It is so seductive to believe that freedom will be had in the future, that this right now is not freedom.
But that’s a lie. And – at least for me – one of the most painful, nightmarish lies.
Don’t waste your time hoping that if you can sort through and resolve the past sufficiently that you’ll fix the future and get to have the freedom you have imagined.
That is misery.
Freedom is already here. But you have to recognize it to enjoy it.
That recognition is immediate. It has no prerequisites. You cannot achieve it in the future.
You have an idea of what freedom is. We all do. And those ideas are all lies.
Those lies obscure (or seem to obscure) the recognition of freedom.
You cannot achieve freedom. But you can simply tell the truth. Look at your actual experience right now. See that you’ve been chasing your tail, trying to solve an insoluble, non-existent problem.
That’s all that is needed.
This will not produce the feeling that you have believed is the indicator of freedom. Or, at least, it won’t do so reliably.
But don’t get caught up in chasing after a feeling. Freedom is not a feeling.
Just tell the truth. Now. Now. Now.
You’ll almost certainly doubt this at times. You will – as we all do – get caught up in chasing your tail, trying to solve insoluble, non-existent problems.
But that’s not a problem either. Don’t pretend it is. Just see it. Tell the truth.
Now. Only now. Don’t worry about what has happened. Because when you tell the truth – directly, not just a mantra – what has happened and what will happen are seen for what they are: a story happening presently.
That’s truly it. Don’t complicate it.
Though you will. We all do. So don’t make that into a problem either.
There’s a lie that I have been discovering over and over and over again in my life.
That lie goes something like this: there exists a state of perfection – satisfaction, ease, grace – that is ceaseless. This present experience is not that. Therefore whatever this is presently is wrong, bad, a problem. I must do something about this problem.
The basis of this lie, as best I can tell at the moment, is the idea that there exists something permanent that can be obtained and held forever.
That is, as best as I can tell, misery – the unquestioned, unseen assumption that there is something other than impermanence and that it can be possessed.
I don’t see that it is possible to solve this problem. Or the problem that one can imagine is created by this belief. Or any variation of this or any other problem.
My friend, Luis, recently said something to me that really struck me in a profound way. I don’t remember the exact words he used. But one aspect of what it revealed to me was that the belief that suffering should not be is – as best I can tell – a baseless lie.
Suffering, impermanence, unwanted experience, loss, dissatisfaction, unease. This is what happens. And, in some sense – in the sense that fullness and emptiness are flip sides of the same coin, that one cannot exist without the other – even the experiences that I call the opposite of suffering – happiness, peace, okayness, love, bliss – they are not separate from suffering. They are, in this sense, suffering.
The claim that suffering should not be turns out to be just another way to say that life should not be.
The claim that this should not be happening is just another way to say that life should not be happening.
It really seems that way a lot of the time. A lot of the time the pain and horror is so great that it seems that life really should not be.
But there is no absolute basis for this. It is empty.
I anticipate that this post will be a bit scattered. But I promise to do my best to make it worth reading.
Let me start by saying this: in recent times I’ve felt – more than ever before – close to death. I know that some will find that alarming. But I don’t share it to alarm you or for shock value. And I hope that my health will improve. And no, I don’t believe there’s anything you can do to help me. Thank you, though.
I share that only to explain perhaps why it is that my attention has shifted as it seems to have shifted.
A few months ago I published the book Wake Up Dream On, which starts with me describing what I called a near death experience.
That was really a catalyst for what has followed.
I am a slow learner for things that truly matter. For stupid stuff like math and science, I’m reasonably quick to learn new things. But when it comes to stuff like love and acceptance, it’s sometimes felt like pulling teeth.
So the lessons that I’ve learned through this process may not seem particularly profound. They may even seem obvious. But that’s because I’m a slow learner for this kind of thing.
My attentional shift has been toward this question: what is important?
Not as an academic question. Not as a philosophical question. But as a direct inquiry. Stripping away whatever is unnecessary to discover what is actually important.
I’m not dead yet, so I’ve still got a lot of unnecessary stuff to unload. Therefore, I cannot tell you for certain what it is that is essentially important. I can only give you some of the hints I’ve gleaned by paying attention.
What it seems to me, through this inquiry of stripping away whatever is not essential, is that by and large what remains is what I might call open-heartedness.
And one quality that I find in this open-heartedness is that it sees commonality.
This is a pretty stark contrast from what seems to be en vogue, which is highly divisive.
I notice how much oneupmanship there is in the culture I live in.
“Oh, you believe in religion? Gee, you’re stupid. I’m enlightened because I believe in science.”
“Oh, you believe in science? Gee, you’re stupid, and you’re going to hell because you don’t believe (as do I) in Jesus as your personal savior.”
“Oh, you are Mexican? Well, you’re lesser than me, because I’m American.”
“Oh, you discriminate against Mexicans? Well, you’re stupid. I’m superior to you because I am blind to nationality.”
We are taught to take a position. Even if that position is just downright stupid. Even if that position is cruel. Even if that position results in the murder of other humans. Even if it results in the murder of entire species. We take a position.
Somebody wrote me an email a short while back asking me to write about religions claiming to know for a fact what happens after death. This person wrote that their family tries to convert them to Christianity to “save” them. And they resent Christianity and also Buddhism because of the behaviors of family members associated with those religions.
I understand. Because I was taught to take a position and to make it an elevated position in my own mind. I also resented Christians.
But this open-heartedness – while not negating or denying the relative reality of that position – offers a different perspective.
It shows me how we are the same.
They are afraid.
I am afraid.
They do stupid things.
I do stupid things.
They are entranced.
I am entranced.
And by giving attention to open-heartedness, I discover something amazing: that story about how offensive those Christians are is just a story. I don’t have to give my attention to it as if it was the only truth.
This might sound prescriptive; as though giving attention to open-heartedness will solve the problems of feeling offended or feeling hurt or feeling scared.
But that’s not actually my experience.
What I actually experience is that open-heartedness includes and integrates all those things.
I can still experience feeling offended, hurt, and scared at the same time as giving attention to open-heartedness.
In fact, that seems to be the only way it works. Because open-heartedness is not a strategy to get rid of what I don’t want.
Taking a position is a strategy aimed to get rid of what I don’t want. I take a position against Christianity because I want to assert my righteousness and get others to agree with me. We can go on a crusade against Christianity and their pushiness and how uncomfortable they make me.
But open-heartedness includes all that. It reveals to me how violent I am. How I want to get rid of not only Christians, but also a good portion of my own experience.
In fact, all of my own experience. Because it’s all too dangerous. It all holds the potential to destroy my self-concept, my idea of myself as progressing toward perfection and righteousness.
But open-heartedness reveals to me that I am not what I want to be. I am a failure in being anything other than what I am.
I am often violent, cruel, unconscious, petty, stupid, and all kinds of things that don’t match with my idea of myself.
Open-heartedness doesn’t negate that. It just welcomes it all with an open-heart.
I’m not saying you should see what I see or experience what I experience or want what I want. I am not saying you should give more attention to open-heartedness. I am not saying it is better for you.
I’m just saying that for me, it is like coming home.