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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.
I have this crazy desire. It is the desire for freedom.
I don’t desire freedom in the future. That’s just a wish – a casual sort of interest.
This is a burning desire. And it cannot be fulfilled in the future. It can only be met now. It is urgent. It is utterly impatient.
When I call it crazy, I mean that it defies the mind. The mind claims so many limitations. But this desire doesn’t care. It pushes me over the edge now, now, now…always now.
It is insatiable.
The idea of freedom is nice and friendly.
The reality is raw and chaotic.
For the past several weeks I’ve had a kind of “writer’s block”. But on a slightly larger scale. Because I can’t seem to do anything that I don’t love doing.
I think the popular term for this is “burnout”.
I’m burned out.
I pushed and pushed and pushed myself. It was the only way I knew how to do life.
Even though I knew better. Even though I knew life didn’t need me to do life.
The arrogance, eh?
But that’s how I was conditioned. And I was afraid to let go of that.
So thank goodness for this burning desire. Because it burned me out.
I don’t need to let go. I can’t hold on.
Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
To push myself to do life is violence. It is a war against myself. A war against life.
When I am burned out, I have a choice: continue to push and do violence or choose love.
In the midst of the struggle – I can lay down my weapons and discover freedom/love.
The more I lay down my weapons, the more I discover of freedom/love.
The more my heart is broken open, the simpler I become., the less burden I carry.
It is terrifying to be unarmed. But it is hell to work so hard to deny the ever-presence of love.
My friend and podcast co-host, Luis Campos, recently told me that he was diagnosed with something scary. He writes about it on the Completely Ordinary blog if you’re interested.
Luis has helped me to discover the importance of accepting the gift of the heart. He has taught me this not through knowing the answer and lecturing me about it.
He has taught me by being himself, being vulnerable, failing, not knowing.
He’s taught me by being a friend.
Luis and I have been exchanging emails since he told me about his diagnosis. And just a few moments ago one of our exchanges reminded me of a story that I then shared with him.
I want to share it with you too.
Another friend of mine – Thomas Seibold – went missing in late 2012.
I met Thomas first when I lived outdoors for a winter in 2009-2010. He was one of the other people living with me.
Thomas was a German man, then in his mid-to-late 20s, living in norther Wisconsin.
He was one of the gentlest, nicest, most open-hearted people I have met.
Thomas (pronounced like the English word “toe” and the Spanish word “mas”) loved being outdoors. He loved being connected to the world he loved.
He made his own clothing from hides. He hunted, trapped and gathered his own food, he paddled in remote regions for weeks at a time.
In 2012 he went to a remote area of Alaska on his own.
His intention was to explore for a few months until it got cold. Then he would return to Wisconsin.
When he didn’t return, his wife and friends became worried.
They initiated a search for him.
Nobody has ever found Thomas.
Nobody knows for sure what happened to him.
But the best guess based on the available evidence, is that he was killed by a bear while he went to get another part of a moose he had killed.
I was torn up by this news. I felt so angry. It seemed to unjust.
Why would Thomas be killed? Why somebody so honest and good?
I felt angry that he went to Alaska.
But then I realized something. He was living from his heart.
What I was wishing for, in wishing that he was still alive, was that he would have deadened down a bit, closed his heart, lied about who he was and what he needed. I wanted him to play it safe. I wanted him to be somebody else.
But who I loved was who he was. That open heart. That honesty.
Luis teaches me the same through his open-heartedness, his failings, his willingness to be whatever he is.
And life offers continual opportunity to say say to the heart.
For so long I thought I wanted security and enlightenment and power and bliss and to transcend.
Having gotten so many tastes of those things that I thought I wanted, I now realize that the real gift is the gift that is always here.
It is a heart broken open.
It is the imperfection of being what I am.
It is the willingness to say yes, including during shame and loss and fear.
It is the willingness to connect and make no effort to stop the flow of life, as scary as it can be at times.
And it is the willingness to let go and forgive in each moment when I fail completely.
Nobody has to do anything to earn this. It is not like that. It is available right now.
Thank you to all who have taught me and who teach me to recognize this gift.
I used to hate myself.
Maybe I still do. But I don’t really believe it much or perceive it as such.
When I say that I hated myself, I should clarify, because it’s a rather complex thing.
Here’s my best attempt to explain it.
I had an unquestioned, unconscious belief that myself was an object that limited and harmed the real me.
In other words, I had a sense that the real me was this thing closer in, and the thing that I believed to be good and right and true.
Myself was the thing just a little further out, and it contained all the unwanted stuff pinned on me. Like fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, worry, jealousy, etc.
I felt that the real me hated myself.
So much so that I actually recall instances in which I wished (in horror) that myself would get cancer and die a painful death. I thought and sometimes said, “I hate you, you evil motherfucker. I hope you die a miserable death. Go fuck yourself. I hate you, hate you, hate you. Stop torturing me.”
I sometimes screamed at myself.
I wanted to be only the real me. I wanted only to be good and pure and free of unwanted experience and conditioning.
Then, through the course of life and the misery of pitting the real me against myself for years – the exhaustion, the physical illness all of the fighting produced – I started to realize that I was doing this.
Unconsciously, perhaps, But I was doing it.
What was I doing? This gets difficult to say, exactly. But it had something to do with how I was placing my attention and how I was believing that I needed to maintain a contracted state to protect the real me.
When I began in investigate this, I started to see the falseness of it.
The division I imagined between the real me and myself turned out to be unfindable.
What I found, instead, is what seems to be indifference.
Initially, that indifference seemed unbearable.
For years I had thought that I needed bliss or joy or something a bit psychedelic.
I had imagined that the bliss/joy/psychedelia would protect me (the real me) from everything unwanted. I’d only experience wanted stuff.
Indifference didn’t meet my expectations.
Indifference didn’t protect anything.
Indifference didn’t care about objects.
Indifference didn’t even have knowledge of objects.
Separation doesn’t make any sense to indifference.
But through luck, I started to notice that indifference wasn’t the dull, lifeless, horrific thing I had imagined it would be.
What I am calling indifference could alternatively be called openness or unconditionality.
Or maybe love.
It’s not love of something. There’s no object involved.
But love seems like a correct word to describe the unconditionality and aliveness.
This has surprised me very much.
And it continues to surprise me.
I didn’t get to get rid of myself. I didn’t get to protect the real me.
I didn’t get rid of unwanted experience.
I don’t experience bliss or joy or psychedelia endlessly.
Sometimes I am fearful, angry, sad, anxious, worried, depressed, and so on.
I make lots of mistakes. I am sometimes mean and petty. I often recoil into a contracted state.
But by tuning into the indifference, I get to discover that I am that and that is me and the real me is myself and myself is the real me.
It’s so simple. So simple that I can’t understand it or own it or do anything with it.
All I get to do is tune it, let go, inquire, see, tell the truth.
Now and now and now.
It’s very humbling.
None of my fantasies came true.
I’ve heard people speak of “being yourself”.
I thought it was something to aspire to. I thought that someday, once I figured everything out and was perfect, then I’d get to be myself.
As if being myself was a reward for being good enough.
As if myself is some static object.
I first saw the falseness of this years ago. I thought at that time that I had “woken up” to my “true self” through this seeing.
Yet it’s such a seductive idea that I am amazed at how it continues to hypnotize me.
But that hypnosis – though it promises ease and painlessness – turns out to be a kind of suffering.
I started writing and blogging a few years ago with the intention of shining a light on that suffering, revealing it for what it is.
Despite the fact that I’ve done my best to proclaim my imperfection and utter lack of attainment of anything, I slowly built up in my own mind the idea that I had an image to protect. The image of the one who woke up through this seeing.
Which is nonsense. And suffering. And unnecessary.
What I want so much to share is that it is okay for us each to be ourselves…as we are right now.
Not that we have to become ourselves. Or maintain ourselves.
Or that ourselves need to be nice or good or smart or right or true or authentic or anything.
And not that we need to take pride in ourselves or defend ourselves as right.
Just that it is okay to actually love ourselves unconditionally.
But I guess the truth is, I don’t know that is true for you. I just know it is true for me right now.
I get to love myself unconditionally. And I get to love you unconditionally. I get to love unconditionally.
Which doesn’t mean I have to condone everything. It doesn’t mean I have to justify and defend anything.
I can be wrong. I can make mistakes. I can learn and do better.
But I also get to love unconditionally.
It also doesn’t mean I have to love unconditionally. Or that I have to act in a particular way. Or that I have to appear loving. Or that I have to acknowledge this unconditional love.
Because that’s the trap of building up an image of myself to protect that I was referring to earlier.
What I mean is simply that I get to love unconditionally. Right now. In this fragile moment of vulnerability.
And that’s the danger of being myself; it’s so fragile. It’s completely ungraspable. And inimitable.
I don’t get to be anything other than this.
Sometimes my opinion of this is good. Sometimes bad.
But this is what I get to be right now.
If I am willing to be vulnerable and love unconditionally, I receive the gift of my imperfection.
If I am unwilling, then I suffering until I am willing.
Then, a miracle. The danger of being myself is that miracle.
I woke up irritable.
My partner, Sarah, wasn’t feeling well.
I got up – irritably – to feed and otherwise be available for my children.
And I didn’t like any of it.
I didn’t like being irritable – the shoulders tense, the knotting in the stomach. (Things I “should know better than”.)
I didn’t like my behavior – the tone in my voice, the aggression in my demeanor and speech. (More things I “should know better than”.)
I just wanted it to go away. (Yet more that I “should know better than”.)
Because none of that is part of my self-concept.
My self-concept is nice, relaxed, at ease, friendly, kind, generous, selfless, happy.
Always because concepts are dead.
Life is alive.
Life isn’t always anything. It is dynamic. It is ungraspable.
So what should I do? Should I do a meditation? Should I breathe consciously?
How about this: nothing.
Like life (because it is life), the significance of “nothing” is dynamic. And I am ever-amazed at the ways in which nothing is possible.
It’s not a dead nothing – not a concept of nothing. Not like sitting in empty space with no light, no breeze, no movement, etc.
It’s a living nothing. It’s the complete ease of this as it is.
Which includes irritability and not liking irritability and not liking not liking irritability and so on to infinity.
Because, and I’m sticking my neck out here, I find no evidence whatsoever that any of this matters.
Meaning, why have I imagined that irritability is a problem?
If it’s not a problem – or at least if there’s no proof that it’s a problem – is there any obligation to do anything about it?
And even if I play along like it’s a problem and do something about it, is that a problem?
Nothing is so easy that it is mind-blowing. So easy that if difficulty occurs, even the difficulty is occurring with absolute ease.
Which is exactly what is happening.
The mind comes up with so many objections. But the objections happen with complete ease. Tension happens with complete ease. Because none of this is opposed.
Not even the opposition is opposed.
What if we get to be exactly as we are?