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I spoke earlier of the possibility of a "conscious evolution", a process through which humanity could free itself of delusion, come to a state of ultimate clarity, and in turn relieve itself of suffering and become the conduit through which the Earth becomes aware of itself and heals its own wounds.
That's a nice thought -- or a confusing one, or an insane one, depending on your perspective. In any case, it's also a fairly vague and abstract one, when stated as such. That's why I sat down, opened up trusty old MS Paint, and went about the task of describing, in poorly drawn figures, my specific ideas of how this actually could, and might, happen. So, grab some popcorn, get comfortable, and join me in this slideshow, in which I will attempt to convey to you my vision for the conscious evolution of humanity, and the cessation of suffering on a global scale.
Note: clicking on any of the figures will enlarge them so you can experience them in their full MS Paint glory.
First, let's get a look at the players in this particular show. I've labeled the figures first with the concept they symbolize, and then parenthetically with the literal object they are intended to represent. I offer this last bit because I can't draw, and I don't want you sitting there thinking "what the heck is that supposed to be?"
Here, we have a representation of our five sensory perceptions; sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. We also have our mind, which takes in all this valuable information and figures out what to do with it. The result of that process is a conceptualization of the world around us, our idea about how things really are. This, finally, is fed to our awareness, that amazing capacity that gives our species the trinomial name homo sapiens sapiens -- the knowing of the knowing -- and gives us the ability to both suffer, and more importantly, relieve that suffering.
So, let's first take a look at Bob. It may or may not be the same Bob whose new Mustang we already read about. In fact, it's not really Bob at all. Bob, for our purposes, is a representation of most every human living on the planet today.
Bob's got his five senses, and he's got his mind, and his mind is busy cranking away conceptualizations of "how things are", based on the input he receives from his senses, and based on past conditioning, his understanding of how things work, genetic patterns of behavior, his own personal quirks and pathologies, et al. These conceptualizations include a plethora of labels and judgments attached to various aspects of his experience. Here are some examples, with which you may already be familiar:
"Hot, cold, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, here, there, me, you, yesterday, now, tomorrow, tree, cat, up, down, work, play, money, cheeseburger, red, dark, website, new Mustang." You know, nouns and adjectives.
Those nouns and adjectives are then presented to Bob's awareness as a comprehensive view of reality. So that's Bob. Welcome to Bob, who is also us.
Bob has a couple of friends, named Jane and George. Let's take a look at them now:
Jane and George look a lot like Bob.
As an aside, this is one of the main reasons -- perhaps the primary reason -- why there is war. Look at this picture. Though their sensory apparati may be sensing the same phenomena in the real world, Bob and Jane and George are only aware of their mind's conceptualization of that reality, and they're all looking at different projections. All three may be looking at a flower. Bob loves it, because he loves nature and pretty colors. Jane hates it, because she's allergic and flowers give her acute asthma. George doesn't care about flowers one way or the other. Same reality, three different projections. And since all they are aware of is their own projection, strife ensues. "It's good!" "No, it's bad!" "No, it's boring!" Their own version of "reality" is so compelling and persuasive that if someone sees something else, they are obviously wrong, and potentially a threat.
So, this is, in large part, a picture of humanity as it currently exists on this planet. Whether there's anything wrong with it, whether anything needs fixing, is a personal choice which you'll have to make for yourself. Be aware, though, that it is this schema which in large part has caused, and continues to cause the suffering endured by every single human who has ever existed, or will ever exist. And as the concern of this website, and its author, is the liberation from that suffering, I am suggesting the possibility for change.
As it has borne limitless fruit in my own life, and the lives of millions of others, I am convinced that the practice of mindfulness is the key to this change. Here it is:
This is it. This figure represents everything this website stands for, and is the ultimate source of freedom, clarity, and joy available to each and every one of us, if we are willing to put for the determination to realize it. It is simply a subtle shift in consciousness, in which we learn to intentionally pull our awareness away from the projection which has mesmerized it for so long, raise the curtain on the Wizard of Oz, unplug from the Matrix, and finally see what's really going on here. If you want to begin the practice, I have written a short introduction which can help you get started.
One day, Bob took up mindfulness practice, continued it, strengthened it, and awoke to reality:
Bob is still aware of his conceptualized projection, and still feels its persuasive pull. However, through his practice, he has learned also to see the machinations of his mind which are creating that projection, and therefore no longer mistakes his mental projections for Truth. Moreover, he is now also able to directly touch his sensory experiences, free of the distortions formerly imposed on them by his mind, and experiences them as unfettered wonders. In short, and for lack of a better term, Bob has become "enlightened".
Bob is so inspired and freed by this, his life becomes one of pure seeing, and an even purer sense of compassion for those around him, who he continues to see suffer, as they remain in the hypnotic stranglehold of their own minds' gross misrepresentation of reality. As a result, Bob attempts to, as gently as he can, with as much loving-kindness as he can, help his friends to remove the dark veil shrouding their own consciousness.
With much determination, but still a peaceful, knowing smile, Bob eventually succeeds, and his friends awaken with him:
Now, here's the hard part.
The above picture is not quite correct, in its current form. Understanding why it is incorrect is the single most crucial rotation of consciousness which this entire process is intended to bring about. Above, I spoke of many of the various labels and relative judgments which make up the conceptualized world that the mind projects to our awareness. The true seed of awakening, and the catalyst for the conscious evolution of the planet lies with understanding that the most pervasive, persuasive, and deeply entrenched of those concepts is that of "self" and "other".
From the moment we gain consciousness as a baby, we know that there is a self, and an other, loosely defined as everything that is not the self. I'm me, and you're you, and the rest of it is the world, and this is the plainest, most self-evident (!) truth each of us knows and carries with us for our entire lives.
But with the light of mindfulness shining brightly in our awareness, we come to see that that too, that most cherished, protected, and closely held notion of our lives is just that. A notion. A concept. An idea, existing exclusively and entirely in the network of synapses and electrical charges in our heads. It is just another distorted projection of reality, another well-meaning and evolutionarily effective delusion. This key of keys, this truth of truths, turns out to be a parlor trick.
It is what separates Bob from Jane from George, and you from me. Once we use mindfulness to see the truth behind the truth, and to see that the separation was nothing more than a terribly convincing fib, the separation begins to dissolve away. Bob and Jane and George, you and me, we become as inseparable as waves on the surface of the ocean -- appearing separate, but at the same time, all water, all part of the same system, the same process, all one, never being born, never dying, just changing, intermingling, dancing endlessly together as the tide rises and falls, rises and falls.
Once we reach this realization, we see there is nothing left to separate Bob's awareness from Jane's awareness from George's awareness. The real Truth begins to take shape, and it looks like this:
Then they tell two friends, then they tell two friends, then they tell two friends, and selves and others begin to dissolve the world over. An upswell of clarity begins to spread across the Earth, as people, one by one, learn to free themselves of their torturous delusions, and touch the pure joy and peace that comes with clear vision. The scourge of suffering which has tormented humanity since its first spark of awareness, finally, has met its match:
What's really going on here, though? What are we, if not selves and others?
Materially, what we are at any one moment is, really, little bits of food and water and air clumped together. "You are what you eat," as they say, and you have been ever since they cut the umbilical cord. And before that, you were what your mother ate. We are, at any one moment, just little chunks of Earth, breathing and walking around. We are Vonnegut's "sitting-up mud". We, it turns out, are the world.
And so, freed from the illusion of separation, freed from a self to protect and cling to, freed from an other to be protected from and to beat out, humanity finally becomes what it always has been, if only we are clear-sighted enough to realize it:
We are the Earth's primary method for becoming aware of itself. The awareness doesn't belong to us. It never did, and it never will. There is no "us" for it to belong to. The water does not belong to the waves. The waves are water, and the water is the waves. No separation. The awareness is the world, and the world is the awareness.
When this truth is realized, the struggle to heal ourselves and the world ceases to be a struggle at all.
It is, in fact, the only thing left to do.
Ready? Now or never.
Bob's New Mustang
A couple of years ago, my friend Bob bought a brand spanking new Mustang. Torch-red paintjob with a charcoal interior, she was a real beaut. I remember, Bob was so proud of his new Mustang. Soon as he got it home, he showed it off to all the neighbors. They'd come out, ooh and ahh over it, and Bob let them take turns getting in and taking a spin around the neighborhood with him. It was quite a sight.
A couple weeks passed, though, and the excitement started to wear off around the neighborhood. Bob's new Mustang wasn't so new anymore, and the attention he was getting was starting to wane. So Bob came up with an idea. He went to the shop, and had the hood of the car replaced. After he had this done, he rolled the car out again for his neighbors, and proudly proclaimed, "Hey, check out my new Mustang!"
As you might have predicted, the neighbors looked at each other with a confused look on their faces, then turned to Bob and said, "C'mon, Bob, that's just your old Mustang with a new hood on it."
Bob was crestfallen, and sulked back into his house, where he kept wondering how to get back the excitement of having that brand new Mustang.
So the next week, he had the rear fenders replaced.
"Hey, check out my new Mustang, everyone!" he said.
The week after, he had the hubcaps replaced. And once again, his plan failed. "Silly Bob, that's just your old Mustang with new hubcaps."
This continued for months, and then years. Every week, Bob would have a piece of his Mustang replaced -- doors, seats, windshield wipers, even the transmission and engine -- then trot it in front of the neighbors, where we would once again meet him with a mixture of pity, amusement, and concern for his sanity. It was never a new Mustang, it was just his old Mustang with a part replaced.
The very last piece of the car that hadn't been replaced was the cigarette lighter. Bob replaced that last week. Sure that this time his plan would succeed, he rolled the car out once again with an eager look on his face, and yelled, "Hey everyone! Check out my new Mustang!"
And naturally, we all rang back, "Bob, that's just your old Mustang with a new lighter." Poor Bob.
But... wait a minute. Every single piece of that car had been replaced. Not a scrap of metal or a speck of dust that was on that car when Bob first brought it home from the dealership was within 100 miles of the automobile sitting in Bob's garage right now. It looks vaguely like the original one, but not exactly, and there is not a single molecule in that car that was on display that first day.
So where, exactly, is Bob's Mustang? Is it in his garage? Or scattered among other cars and scrapheaps all over the country, in a million little pieces? Or both? Or somewhere in between? Where is Bob's Mustang? What is Bob's Mustang?
Current scientific theory holds that every seven years (give or take), every single cell, molecule, atom in your body will have died, fallen off, been otherwise expelled, and been replaced. Find a picture of yourself taken over seven years ago. Nothing there is here. Is that us? Or is this us? Where are we? What are we?
It's the same puzzle. If you can figure out where Bob's Mustang is, you will find where you are too.
If you need a hint, just close your eyes.
Parts of Speech
Who are you?
When responding to that question, we generally deal in nouns and adjectives. "I am a golfer," we say. Or, I am an accountant, a good person, an alcoholic, six feet tall, brown hair, cool, awkward, attractive, creative, subject to fits of despair, etc.
These nouns and adjectives are certainly useful for organizing our lives and making decisions on how to act. They may even have a high degree of truth to them. Ultimately, though, we must realize that they are all just concepts, mental formations which exist only in the maelstrom of synaptic connections firing away between our ears, and are never a true description of reality.
This deeply ingrained disconnect has the potential to cause great friction in our lives, as we hold fast to the truth of the concepts, and get ourselves entangled in the futile attempt to make reality line up with these concepts, which again may have some element of truth to them, but are never reality. We call ourselves smart, or depressed, or generous, and our lives are instantly constricted to fitting into those gross, inflexible notions. The path of mindfulness, awareness, truth and healing begins the moment we come to this realization, and then set about changing our view of our lives from a collection of nouns/adjectives -- our conceptualized self, or who we "think" we are -- to verbs.
For the truth is that, at any moment, verbs make up the entirety of reality.
The raindrop falls. "Raindrop" is the noun, and as such exists only in our minds. We see a little bit of water, and we know it came from a cloud, and it vaguely looks like our internal concept of what a raindrop is, so we can point to it, and say, there, that thing, that's a raindrop. We know it's a raindrop. It's obviously a raindrop.
Or is it? What happens when that raindrop falls into a river? We think the raindrop has gone. Now there is only the river.
Reality, on the other hand, would have something to say about that. Reality says, the "raindrop" you were pointing at, is still here, in the river. All of the atoms in the raindrop are still here. Not only that, all of the atoms in the raindrop have been here long before it fell from the sky, long before the cloud even formed. They have been here, in fact, since the universe began, 18 billion years ago, or whatever it was.
We say, "There's a cloud, now it's all turned to rain. There's a raindrop, now it's turned into a river. There's the river, now it's flowed out and turned into a lake."
Reality, meanwhile, is laughing at us. Cloud, raindrop, river, lake, these things exist only in our minds. They never went away, because they were never here to begin with. In reality, no matter how hard we attempt to grasp at these things, we will never find them. In our minds, in our concepts, we can say that this came and went, this is better or worse, this is dull or exciting, this is hot or cold. True reality is having none of this. It has none of this to give.
The raindrop falls. We see the raindrop. But looking deeply into it, we come to the realization that there is no raindrop.
There is only the falling.
Just as we are convinced there is a raindrop, so are we convinced that there is a "us". A self, existing in reality, separate from everything else out there, that was created on our birthday, and will be destroyed some undefined moment in the future. We describe ourselves with nouns and adjectives because these are the conceptualizations, the mental formations we are most familiar and comfortable with.
Look deeply again, and the veracity of those nouns dissipates just as the raindrop did. Then we see who we really are:
Who we are is breathing, sitting, speaking, sleeping, feeling anger, feeling joy. We are composed entirely of verbs. Learning to see this way, when we walk, we are not a walker, we are the walking. We may have a conceptualization of a "walker", but we have learned the folly of trying to label reality in these ways, so we begin to let go of it. We know the truth is that we are just the walking. Our desperate stranglehold on our own concept of "what we are" loosens. We begin to trust that verbs comprise the entirety of who we are at any moment. Even the foundations of the concepts of birth and death are shaken. If the raindrop was never really created, because it was always here and will always be here, then the same goes for us. Death is like the raindrop, falling into the river. Where did it go?
In this moment I am the typing, the breathing, the thinking, the digesting, and the feeling of tiredness. There is no "writer" writing this, there is only the writing being done. All else is conceptual, an exaggeration, a traced facsimile of reality, a fantasy.
So what, you say? Even if I was to agree with all of this intellectually, you say, what good does it do me? Well, maybe none. However, if the fantasy which your mind is projecting to you in terms of nouns and adjectives has turned from a comedy into a horror, this realization loosens the chains with which we've been enslaved by these notions, by no longer labeling them Absolute Truth, by realizing that, underneath all of these stories and our feverish belief in them, they really are just in our minds, and needn't be our masters. Finally, we can, with great conviction and confidence, say to our inner torturer, "Yeah, I hear you. But I ain't buying it anymore."
Freedom, peace, and happiness follow.
Nouns represent our mental conceptualization of things, and adjectives are our judgments about those conceptualizations. The whole truth of life lies solely in the verbs that are arising in this very moment. All else is suspect. The practice of mindfulness places us squarely in the realm of verbs, and in that practice, we come to know its truth, to touch it directly with our ongoing experience happening right now, every moment.
Then when we venture out, approaching ourselves and the world with kindness and compassion, we know that we are not kind and compassionate people. We are the kindness and the compassion themselves, the universe's own expression of love. The scars on the face of the Earth, and in our own hearts, begin to heal.
Who are you, now?
What is your true nature?
I dunno. What does that even mean? I'll define it as, your state of being, if you were to be freed of all egoic concerns, all clinging to I, me, mine, all striving to be "better" or make life "better" for yourself.
So, given that definition, how do you find out what your true nature is? Here's a technique I devised, which I haven't verified the efficacy of, and which may actually make no sense, but which you might enjoy playing around with anyhow:
If you're reading this, and you're human (if not, hello from Earth!) then I am guessing you have a "list" somewhere in the back of your mind, of all the stuff you want to do, all the stuff you want to be, and all the stuff you want to have before you die. I wanna get a boat, sail the Caribbean, play in the NFL, get married and have six kids, become a millionaire, live happily ever after, and get this wart removed. Whatever it is. Or a smaller list, just "be happy", whatever that means. Whatever your list is, I know you've got it, even if you're not totally sure about it. Doesn't matter, just let it be for now.
Alright, now... See if you can picture yourself at the place you want to be, picture yourself at the end of this long road, having accomplished everything you wanted, leaving nothing left to do, to strive for, to drive for, to fight for. You've done it all. All the to-do list items checked off. You are finally able to rest. You are finally at peace. You're everything you ever wanted to be. You made it.
If this is too hard, then maybe just picture yourself in a situation where you'd feel something like this. For me, I'd pick sitting on a secluded beach, on an island, as the sun set, fiery red, palm trees swaying and seagulls chirping above me in the fresh breeze. I've made it! Nothing more to do. I've hit the finish line and won the race. Perfection.
Now picture how you might respond to different scenarios that might play out in that situation.
A little ways away, you see a child crying. What would you do?
Stuff like that. Whatever you can think of. I think with this sort of questioning, we can start to get a glimpse of our "true" nature -- the way we would behave if our minds weren't clouded by fears and doubts and obsession with what it all might mean to "me".
Whether this information is of any use, I can't tell you.
A cynic (the lot of which I still count myself among) might say, "being wrapped up in egoic concerns is our true nature." This is awfully hard to argue with, given the state of the world and our current state within it. It was, in fact, an inevitability. It is the result of our evolution. We would not be where we are without our egoic concerns.
They served us very well when our survival was at stake. But now that (for most of us, anyway, gratefully) day-to-day survival is not such a problem, they seem to be getting in our way. Darwinian selection isn't in force nearly as much anymore, so it's unrealistic to expect the natural flow of events to "evolve" this tendency out of us. It occurred to me this morning that perhaps the next evolution of the human race needs to be a conscious one. Perhaps what is needed is a groundswell of understanding and clarity, an ever-expanding community that sees without judgment the effects of our actions, as well as the causes of our actions, and commits to this awareness, this mindfulness of ourselves and of our world and the nature of its flux and flow, picking up steam until it becomes an unstoppable force of nature, the Earth itself becoming conscious through us and curing the cancer of suffering which continues to benight its face. And maybe, by doing all this, we can actually change our true nature, to be more like what I suspect most of us really want it to be.
I dunno. Stranger things have happened. Anyone wanna try?
I think we think we have way more control over ourselves than we do.
We think we have control over our bodies, and yet they're constantly giving us problems. Itches, aches, pains, slow (or fast) degeneration, and ultimately, lying in a box. If we had control, would we allow such things? Try this: Sit up straight in a chair, take a few deep breaths, and see how long it takes before you feel the urge to move. To adjust, to scratch something, to stretch something, to swallow. Comes outta nowhere! Over and over! This is control?
We think we have control over our minds, and yet they're constantly giving us problems. Anger, depression, hatred, slow (or fast) degeneration, and ultimately, lying in a box. If we had control, would we allow such things? Try this: Sit up straight in a chair, take a few deep breaths, and see how long it takes before a thought pops up. To plan, to fix something, to judge something, to remember. Comes outta nowhere! Over and over! This is control?
This is control?
Who do we think we are, anyway?
I've heard now from several critics, including myself, that while the message contained in yesterday's article was in fact enlightening, accurate down to the molecule, and the most important thing that anyone's ever said in the history of human language, it sounded like I'd eaten a dictionary for breakfast and nibbled on thesauri all day before I set forth to write it. Alright, so I'll keep it simple here for a while. I'd hate for all my fantastic wisdom to be obscu-- to be covered up by my elaborate word usements. I dunno how long that'll last, though. Anyway...
What do you think of this?
Seems to me that science and spirituality (call it "religion" if you want) are two extremely valuable tools, but we've collectively, over the millenia, confused what they're good at. From my perspective, that being at the very ass-end of history as we know it, it seems that what they're really, really good at, what they absolutely excel at teaching us as a species, is this:
Alright? Now, check this out. I think humanity has got it backwards, and categorizes these two wings of exploration like this:
So today we have more worldwide suffering than ever, and really cool gadgets to distract us from it. We believe ancient metaphors are reality, and have awesome ways of exploding each other if we disagree.
What if we turned it around? What if we thanked science for giving us all the actual information about the nature of the universe, and then turned to our spiritual leaders to teach us how to find peace, joy, and contentment within it? Huh? What if that?
Anyone with me? C'mon, it'll be fun.
A lot of people hear the word "acceptance" and immediately associate it with "resignation", and assume that to be enveloped in acceptance naturally results in a dulling of the heart, a withdrawal from emotion, a giving up on life, on experience, and ultimately a sulking avoidance of the ubiquitous challenges of human existence.
One of the true paradoxical miracles of compassionate acceptance is that the results are in fact diametrically opposite to these intellectually derived conclusions, in proportion to the level of practice. Acceptance, in fact, is the willing jumping into of life, seeking to extrude ourselves from the very avoidance patterns which lie at the root of our suffering. It is the intentional turning towards life's vagaries, the facing of latent fears and anxieties, the kind embrace of those parts of our shadow lives which have haunted us the most. It requires no less than all of the courage in the world, this active experiencing of our emotional captors, and is the most freeing, noble gesture available to each human spirit.
It is the antithesis of resignation, and the true gateway to salvation, to a life made rich with the bounty that was there the whole time but never noticed, like treasure chests strewn before a sleeping pauper.
Meeting emotions with compassion and equanimity does not dull their impact or make us indifferent to them. It in fact purifies and cleanses their true nature, magnifying their poignancy and wiping clean the dust which had built up to cloud them from our heart. I was depressed, but never truly felt sadness, remorse, fear, until I learned to lean into them fully. Freed from judgment and fear, these become as wondrous and valuable a thing to be treasured as any joy. In this moment the value of the practice shines like a diamond in the sun. Life is free, finally, to be lived, without reservation, without drawing back, without cowering from any experience. The banquet is uncovered. The doors to the Kingdom swing wide.
The keys are available to everyone. There is only one prerequisite for being entrusted with them:
You have to know what's going on, right now.
Ready? Wake up!
The Next Sunset
Won't it be nice
I moved to Valencia in mid-October. Before that, I lived in Playa Del Rey, which featured (at worst) a half-hour commute every morning and evening. Contrast this with Valencia, where I knew I was in store for a one hour commute each way... at best. In reality, it's generally averaged about an hour and 15 minutes.
When I told people I was moving to Valencia, the responses I got were almost eerily uniform, regardless of who was doing the responding: This gnarled little sneer, accompanied by the head snapping back in disgust, and with their face all screwed up, a nearly exasperated "Why?!"
I didn't know how to answer that. Why? Why not?
"Well, the commute! God! It'll take hours!"
And yes, it turns out, it does take hours. Two a day, minimum. Two and a half, average. One hell of a commute. And here's what I get now, from some of my closest buddies: "Bleah, I'd hate to have to waste all that time."
Waste all that time. Yeah, I know what they're talking about. 3 hours out of 24, shot to hell. That's 1/8 of your life, blown away in one little scribble with a Bic pen when you signed the lease. And you're realistically only awake for, what, 16 of those hours, so it's really more like a fifth of your days, gone. Wasted!
Hmm. I wonder if there's anything we can do about that. Well, one thing we can do is, while we're sitting there, stuck in interminable traffic on the 405, fists clenched on the steering wheel in aggravation, the palpable sense of wasted time washing over us, as we frantically flip through radio stations to try to find something, anything to amuse our brutally anxious boredom, to make us forget for a second about all this, fill the time up with something, at least, so it's not such a total waste-- One thing we can do, while we're doing that, is to look at the situation and figure out why it feels like such a waste.
Primarily, it's because we wanna be doing something else. Something more fun. We wanna get there, so we can get started on whatever it is we're going there for. Because sitting in this stupid car, on this stupid freeway, with all these other stupid drivers, is just so goddamn boring that it's enough to make you wanna drive right off an overpass...
Yeah. That was my experience. And if it hasn't been yours, it's likely been something remotely like it. I just wonder, I wonder if we're not fooling ourselves here, and causing ourselves a lot more trouble than we have to.
Let's look at our concept that where we're going -- whatever it is -- is gonna be a lot more fun than this. Forget for a minute the too-easy example of rushing and straining to get to work in the morning, to a job at which many of us will just slump down in our chairs and sigh, thinking, "Well, this blows." We can always say we needed to rush to work so we could get done with work so we could get back in the car so we could get home and then, and then we'd have some real fun! Let's just take the commute home, where we know (or at least think) that we really wanna get home as fast as possible, because then we can relax, and enjoy life. So the trip home turns intolerable.
There is some mental Newtonian physics at work here. The second we say "I wanna get there, so I can have fun," we have instantly and intractibly devalued any experience we are going to have along the way. Equal and opposite reaction. Even the most pleasant surprise, or even the best song on the radio, is just going to be perceived as a welcome salve for the continual pain which defines the entire world inside that car, on that freeway, in that traffic jam. Like a cool breeze in Hell. Let's save for another article the actual reality that once we get to the "fun place", it's often not nearly as fun as we'd thought, and find ourselves instantly wishing there was something else, something more fun to do. That's a whole other thing (but in fact, is really the same thing.)
Once that decision is made, to devalue everything that comes before the destination, we are trapped, and have not only assured ourselves an unpleasant ride home, fraught with stress (sure to linger during the rest of your evening), but have done something even more insidious, which is to rob us of the ability to live vibrantly in the experience we do have on the roadways.
We are a sensual species. Billboards and TV ads bombard us continually with products guaranteed to give us more sensual pleasure. Those very ads are often sensual assaults in themselves. But think about this: In both the "fun destination", and the miserable commute, you are seeing just as much. Your eyes do not dim because you're doing something you've decided isn't as valuable as what you are looking forward to. Nor do your ears lower their volume, or your nose shut out smells, or your nerve endings desensitize to touch. You are sensing -- living, and as open to experience -- just as much stuck behind the Winnebago as you are plopped in front of the TV once you get home... and in fact, as you may find, much, much more. All it takes to realize this is the intention to wake up behind the wheel, to put your full capacity for experience on the line, with every turn of the wheel, and every press of the gas pedal.
If you went back a hundred and fifty years, and plucked someone out of their horse-drawn carriage, and bring them to a packed LA freeway at the height of rush hour, one word they would not use to describe the experience is "boring". Rather, they would likely not describe it as anything, as they would be far too busy staring out the windows, eyes, ears, nerve endings agog at the indescribably vast array of sights, sounds, feelings available to them. A torrent, a Niagara falls of experience, right there for them. It would all be so new, and fresh, and electric. The river of lights blinking on and off, the smell of the rubber and exhaust fumes, the rumbling of their posteriors as the car hit a particularly rough patch. Almost too much to take in all at once, but still coming together in an entirely exhilarating thrill-ride experience for the ages. And this is all going 15 miles an hour in the fast lane.
And this is all, all of it, available to us too, any time we choose to wipe away our mentally-fabricated judgements of what's fun, what isn't, what's boring, what we'd rather be doing, all of this fiction, all of these insidious little stories we tell ourselves and believe all too quickly. If for one moment you can hear those stories, acknowledge them without buying into them, drop them, and simply be awake for the trip, for each mile, for each inch of the trip, your fists will unclench, your anxiety will subside, your destination will fade from your mind, and you will be left just right there, just right now, experiencing everything life has to offer in that moment, alive, fully content in the buffet of experience laid before you.
Not a minute regretted. Not one single second wasted.
If you'd like to practice this and see its truth for yourself, I highly recommend you move to LA and find a job 35 miles away from where you work. But your commute will do, even if it's five minutes. Even if you just have to walk down the street.
Why Valencia? Why not?
Before I tell you about today, I should tell you about lately. This is not a narcissistic self-indulgent porridge of "look at me", just a scaffolding of understanding and context for what will come hence.
Lately has been: Moved into a house with my girlfriend, starting a completely foreign, exciting, confusing, and wondrous segment of life, as if I'd been ripped (willingly and happily) from everything I'd known before and thrown into a completely new world, hyperspaced to some alien planet, full of unknown thrills, spills, and treasure. And poop bags for her dog.
Lately has been: A renaissance, a re-dedication, a re-discovery of the healing path I had started a year ago, continuing with full force something of a (and oh, please, forgive me for using these words) spiritual transformation. No, there's no way I said that. But let's call it that anyway.
At the core of this transformation has been a commitment to the practice and study (though these two can be seen as synonymous and redundant) of mindfulness, the psychotherapeutic rearrangement of consciousness, taught for millenia the world over, and just now in the past couple decades being embraced in modern psychiatric practice. The heart of the Buddha's original teaching, it's lead me to do such strange things as sitting on a meditation cushion every morning (well, almost every morning), reading books with names like "Emotional Alchemy" and "Peace Is Every Step", and keeping a little bronze Buddha statue on my desk at work.
Never one with any sort of religious bent, I was amused and suprised to find myself reading Buddhist literature on a daily basis. Less taken with such mystical gobbledygook like reincarnation and nirvana, I was (and am) nonetheless fascinated that this man, 2500 years ago, had such insight into the human mind, human suffering, and the nature of reality, that his teachings have held up, even been validated and reinforced empirically, through all these years, all of our scientific discovery, all of the progress and experience of our mental health professionals. It is as if the mental health system is just now coming around to reaching the same conclusions that Prince Siddhartha arrived at under the Bodhi tree. Pretty impressive. Even if it is all a made-up story.
It's all quite enough to make you want to be a monk.
This approach, this mindfulness, this constant awakening to the present moment, has proven invaluable for me. But, as with nearly everything I happen upon which strikes my fancy, I went overboard. Seeking to practice the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, and renunciation of the so-called defilements, the practices of Right Action and all of that, I decided to royally clean up my act. Stopped eating meat (except for our Christmas ham), stopped drinking (well, most days), watched my behavior closely to rid myself of ill-will, attachments to the self, everything prescribed by the Middle Way, the cessation of ego-clinging, purification of mind and body, the total embrace of emptiness, impermanence, and the end of suffering once and for all, for the betterment of myself, and by extension, the entire world.
Granted, not a bad idea. It did, however, end up creating a certain internal tension. The difference between what I was and what I should be.
Last night, what I was reared its head in a big way, and I slipped in my vow to "keep my body free of intoxicants", if you catch my drift.
This morning, I didn't even want to get on the meditation cushion. What the hell's the point. I'd spent a month pretending I was Thich Nhat Hahn, and what did it all come around to? Another night sucking on a vodka bottle. Great. What's more pitiful than a self failing to rid himself of the concept of self, and then being pissed off that the self's still there. My mind was unravelling. Inside my head, a hurricane of thought, clinging, judging, lost.
But I'd been in the game long enough to realize that that's the exact time you need to be on the cushion. So I said, fine, I'll just do 15 minutes.
The first ten minutes were not easy. Besides the fact that the dog kept bringing me toys to throw for him to go fetch, the body fidgeted along with the mind, sounds and sensations all annoyed, all distracted, all cooperating in a continual upheaval, a garden tiller set on overdrive and left to run.
Then, one moment, one present moment I was awake for, I recalled the one part of the practice I had forgotten in my striving to become something I wasn't. That that's the whole point. To stop striving and to just be, just for a moment, rest in what is, and, liked or disliked, welcome it all in, and say YES. Say yes to it. To all of it. Yes, this is what is. Yes, I accept this as it is. Yes, I can experience this without judgement. Yes, come on in and rest in me, all of you sights, sounds, all of you thoughts, you fears, you worries, you judgements. Yes, even the judgements. Because in awareness, even the judgements are not judged. In awareness, all is allowed to be, all is perfect just as it is, yes, yes, yes.
A soft smile spread across my face without me even knowing it. If you find a statue of Siddhartha meditating, you will see this same smile.
Since then, there has been such an effortless joy to the day -- a day spent like many others, working at my computer, going to meetings, eating lunch. But remembering to keep coming back to the moment and saying, most emphatically, yes, with a gentle touch and open lovingkindness, has kept every step a light one, kept every moment a treasure, and kept that smile on my face all day.
So that was today.
But tomorrow will be different. It always is.
|MoltoBenny / Kat Harter / DharmaPets / CounterFlux Films / Jolt Country|
In the seen there will be just the seen,