I have been away for awhile–as the amount of things I have to say/need to say waxes and wanes.
It seems to me that the process of enlightenment is not a straightforward journey, proceeding forward evenly and predictably in a straight line.
Instead, it sputters like a car engine coming to life. Crank, sputter, dead. Crank, sputter, dead. Crank, sputter, roar to life!
It meanders, like a river that travels through lush country and rough country and down hills and through waterfalls; it trickles through rocks and rushes over sand.
Sometimes the river arrives in a place of perfect tranquility and one thinks that this state is permanent…one thinks “I have arrived.”
But then, with rivers, there is no arriving. There is only endless flow. This never changes. There is nowhere to go. There is just the experience of flowing.
I realized of late that just because one *knows* something, doesn’t mean one has to stay it. I have been a “sayer,” out of some lingering sense of justice. But now I realize that being a “sayer” in relation to injustice (or even just the shortcomings or blindspots of others or even myself) is just like interrupting a play to point something out to the actors. Unless some action needs to be taken to protect someone’s physical body, there is little point in “saying.”
Or, unless one is asked to share one’s observations and insight, there is no point in “saying.”
And, if you “say” something about someone that they aren’t ready to hear and hence to grapple with openly, it does more harm than good. I realized lately that only when I know for sure that my words will be helpful should they be wielded. It is not enough that what I say is true. What I say must also be necessary.
By saying the unnecessary truth, I have unwittingly alienated many people. I don’t share this with one hint of regret or pain. But I recognize its unskillfulness, its lack of helpfulness.
Sometimes we can get into this thinking that we are fucked up and everyone else is okay. Well, everyone else is not okay. Everyone is fucked up, in one way or another. But It isn’t their fault. Humans, as a species, are fucked up.
Eckhart Tolle put it this way:
“Humans are a dangerously insane and very sick species.”
No mincing of words there.
I was walking back from teaching my class the other day and I passed a woman that I’ve seen around the University for years, but I don’t know her enough to tell you her name. I saw her and I smiled. She immediately, instinctively, smiled back. But then, realizing she didn’t know me, frowned.
I saw all this play out on her face.
I wondered what kind of person places contingency on a smile. Then I realized, all humans are caught up in some psychological drama which dictates silly things like who they can smile at as they walk to and fro. That is really insane. Smiles, like air, are free and should be freely given. But if the mind is cramped with ideology, belief, and emotion–then, smiles are reserved only for those the ego deems worthy. Strange, no?
Our condition as humans makes us “rotten to the core.” Can we get out of it?
Surely we can.
Yesterday, I viewed the film “The Giver” with a friend of mine. The film is sort of like a Zen version of “Divergent,” which is all about futuristic societies that have gone to extreme measures of conformity to avoid the human conflict which so characterizes our lives. In “The Giver,” society is controlled by giving people drugs, which dampens emotions and even makes people see in black and white. The emphasis in society is on “sameness,” so that even racial and religious diversity is stamped out.
There is, of course, one boy who is able to access reality and becomes the community repository of memory. He decides that this lack of emotion and drugged up submission to blandness is ultimately bad for humans and sets himself on a course to bring memory back to everyone.
My friend really hated the movie, feeling that it was the kind of Messianic narrative so ubiquitous in the West. I saw a different kind of thing at work, though. Having seen all the recent Young Adult films and read many of the books (“The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” “The Maze Runner,” for which a film premieres in a few weeks), I thought that “The Giver” had something slightly different to offer the viewer. Filmed to show two realities–one based on sameness and the other, the historical experience of humanity–it emphasized the poignancy of the human experience in both suffering and joy. The reality of the protagonist’s life is filmed in black and white. When he begins to have memories, they are in color. As his consciousness awakes to see things as they really are, he begins to see his current life in color as well.
There are two ways that the film operates as an enlightenment metaphor. In the first sense, enlightenment is not a special faculty that some people have and others don’t. It exists as a spark within every single human being. In the film, everyone–if unimpeded–is capable of experiencing memory, color, and emotion in the same way that the protagonist, Jonas, is. Likewise, enlightenment is not something set out for a favored few. If unimpeded, every human being can experience it.
The second, and more difficult, aspect of enlightenment the film suggests is that idea that all of human experience–the good and the bad–is worth embracing.
It reminded of a Zen Koan.
A monk is walking through the market one day and he overhears a customer ask the butcher for his best cut of meat.
“Every cut,” the butcher says, “is the best cut of meat.”
Upon hearing this, the monk became enlightened.
This koan suggests, and enlightenment itself suggests, that enlightenment means accepting and coming to terms with the way life is, exactly as it is. This means that everything “bad” that happens in the world ceases to bother one. This is a radical aspect of enlightenment that is rarely talked about, rarely discussed. Every human being, it seems, is fighting against something. Fighting against Republicans or fighting against terrorists, or fighting against pro-choice people, or fighting against religion, or fighting for religion, or fighting for choice…fighting and struggling for whatever we think is necessary or right is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.
Becoming enlightened means the end of all such struggles. This, I suggested to my friend, may be the thing about the film that is most disturbing and is also the reason most people, on a deep level, do not want enlightenment. The ego believes that it must “fight for what is right” in order to be good and in order that the world be a better place. Giving up that fighting, and the belief that without it, the world would be an awful place, is something most human beings are not willing to do. And hence, we are perpetually stuck with suffering.
The craziest thing about it all is that if EVERYONE became enlightened at the same time, and stopped fighting for all the things they were fighting for, the world would naturally settle into complete peace.
No one would be trying to get rich, or secure their position, or secure the position of their nation–so resource grabs would stop. Logic and pragmatism would prevail. If someone in India is starving, in need of water, and there is a lot of it in, say, Manchester or Vermont, a simple request would solve the problem immediately.
No one is willing to “end” the fight. If person X punches me, and I punch back, now we are fighting. If person X punches and I refuse to punch back, there is no fight. And perhaps, person X will punch me until I die…but what is the point of living if all you can do with your time is fight?
Human suffering, struggle, and fighting are all the products of our evolving consciousness. We assume the evolutionary process is over but it is not. If the earth can support human life long enough, all human consciousness will evolve into an enlightened state. The cut of meat that is our war, our oppression, our inequality is the growing pains of humanity. We are deadly children, evolving our way into adulthood. The more resistance we give, individually and collectively, to what is…the more we suffer during this evolutionary process.
By refusing to create an enemy of any situation, by refusing to “fight” the nature of things as they are, we flower into awareness.
At the current moment, however, most humans prefer to fight. They continue to believe that in fighting lies peace, that in war (ideological and otherwise) lies the road to Utopia. Only when everyone puts down their weapons will humanity begin to see that there is no enemy but for the ones we create.
Some reading this might say: “But I am totally against war!”
But war is not just the thing waged by nations. It’s what we wage against everything we dislike. When we diet, we are at war. When we march against (blank), we are at war. When we complain, we are at war.
This is an idea the ego hates. Because it says, “What about injustice…what about slavery…shouldn’t we be at war against such things?”
To refuse to be at war against something doesn’t mean that change never happens. When it is time for something to change, it will be obvious what to do. No emotion or anger will be required. It will be clear what there is to do. In the same way that if a floor was suddenly flooded with water, we would know the thing to do would be to remove the water and dry the floor. And, hopefully, we would proceed to do so without anger or by making water the enemy. We would clean the floor and be at peace, not at war with flooding.
If a hungry person approaches me for food, and I have food to give, I will give the person food. I will do so without hating hunger or hating poverty. This is a fine distinction the ego has a hard time handling.
If a child sets fire to the curtains, you remove the child and put out the fire. You instruct the child about the dangers of fire. Do you declare war upon fire, upon the child?
If you observe a child setting fire to curtains, and the house where this is happening is across a large, impassable ravine, and you notice that surely the child will burn up, and that you cannot, no matter what you do, help the child–you may mourn the child and the powerlessness of your situation. Do you hate life? Do you hate the ravine? Do you hate fire? Do you hate the child? Do you make enemies of these things? Do outlaw fire, curtains, and children? Do you spend years filling up all ravines?
The ridiculousness of going to war against anything is evident in the film “Footloose.” After a town tragedy, music and dancing is banned. Because of a tragic event, music and dancing are made the enemy. This is ridiculous and silly. Yet humans do exactly this when we create enemies out of situations, out of human experiences, rather than simply taking the necessary action when such action is possible. When such action is not possible, we must accept this and again refuse to make an enemy of any aspect involved in the unavoidable situation.
But few of us really want to move into a place of total acceptance of life; few of us want to eat every cut of meat.
My friend said she disliked the movie mostly because it suggested that there was “somewhere to get to,” that there was a way we could get better. I told her the film was more complicated than that–because the “place” it suggested we could get to already existed right where we were. It isn’t so much about “getting” somewhere else, as much as it is about realizing you are already there. If that realization is a journey, then okay. I said this realization is more like looking endlessly for your spectacles only to discover that they have been on your head all along.
The full acceptance of everything as it is, probably sometimes makes the enlightened person appear like an asshole to others. I have seen this phenomenon many times among my enlightened friends. Other people expect that enlightenment confers a Godly quality of soft, compassionate kindness, a parental fuzziness that most enlightened people do not have. The enlightened person might actually even appear to be mean, because they care not to mince words or to coddle delusion. The enlightened person may also never be unhappy about unwanted circumstances and this could be perceived as callousness. Failure to perform suffering will make most people think that enlightened people are psychopathic, sociopathic, or just unempathetic individuals who willfully ignore the suffering of others.
But if enlightenment means to be unperturbed by everything, how could an enlightened person be perturbed by anything–including the suffering of others? Herein lies the hesitance, the rub, the part of enlightenment people don’t like to talk about and perhaps, some people would rather suffer the vicissitudes of the ego than to appear not to care about the suffering of others.
But the blowing out of the ego is the greatest activism possible, because it means you do not fight with anyone, ever. You have no enemies. Hence, you fight no wars. This is an amazing gift to the human and earthly planet.