Defiant Happiness, Part 1

Choosing to be happy in the face of tragedy is a kind of defiance of worldly logic. Choosing to be happy for no reason is a kind of revolutionary defiance that positively impacts everyone around you.

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Be defiant; be happy.

If you are looking for reasons to be unhappy, there are plenty. The world is full of stories and situations and events that boggle the mind. There is suffering galore.

I could say that “there are also good things,” but that is not the point.

What does it mean to be happy for no reason, against all odds? It means that when you do this you defy the momentum of the thinking mind and of ego which is a killjoy. Why does the thinking mind want you to be unhappy? Because it believes that if you are unhappy, you are more likely to survive. Why does ego want you to be unhappy? Because if you are unhappy you will remain asleep and you will keep grasping for something to make you happy, forever chasing your tail. When you are happy, you feel satisfied. You don’t think that you need anything. You don’t need to buy anything, to do anything, to drink anything, to smoke anything, to eat anything. You are in a state of contentment, so all needs recede.

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Sometimes when people tell us to be happy, we think: if you knew what I have been through in my life, you wouldn’t say that. Well, dear reader, I want you to know that in my life, I have been to hell and back. My father committed suicide when I was 5 and I found his dead body, I was abused throughout my childhood, and have seen countless relatives die, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, etc etc etc. As the famous Langston Hughes poem puts it, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”  And, of course, like any person I’ve experience the slings and arrows of a variety of social and interpersonal issues and problems. So when I encourage you to be happy it’s not because I’ve lived under a lucky star my whole life. I have suffered and I have struggled. From all of that I have learned that whatever you “traffic” in, is what you get more of. If you participate in violence, you get more violence. If you wallow in sadness, you will get more sadness. So if you want to be happy, you can’t wait for happiness. You have to nurture whatever spark of happiness you have, no matter how small, and cherish it. The more you cherish it, the more it will grow.

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I know there are some people who critique happiness and actually don’t want to be happy. And that is okay too. You are free to be unhappy if you like; you are free to feel unhappy about the idea that maybe happiness is better than unhappiness too. I would only encourage you to truly examine your life and your relationships with others. Is your unhappiness beneficial to  those around you or is it detrimental? Can you contain your unhappiness so that it has no effect on the people you care about and love and come in contact with? If the answer is no, you might want to reconsider your devotion to unhappiness.

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But how? How can we be happy when we have nothing to be happy about?

Throughout this blog I’ve written endlessly about ways we can access contentment and happiness. We think that happiness comes in a big package, wrapped in an ostentatious bow. But actually it comes in the small things.

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If you have ever been on a meditation retreat and enjoyed it, you will notice that a very structured schedule is applied to each day. Though keeping a daily schedule may seem counter-intuitive to what we’ve come to think of as happiness (pleasure), in truth a  rigorous daily routine produces a magically sublime experience. This is of utmost importance to people who must work a job and live “in the world” and who are not on permanent retreat. To maintain the strength of your psyche and to cultivate increased moment-to-moment mindfulness, take away the “guess work” about what you will be doing at any given moment and assign those moments to the necessary tasks of your day. Instead of “floating” through your day, plan it ahead of time and then simply refer to your schedule. This habit works wonders for changing other habits you might want to transform. Learn to stick to a schedule and then, no matter what you put on the schedule, even if it is “Take a 30 minute walk,” it will get done. So you don’t have to berate yourself about taking a walk. If you follow your schedule, you can essentially “trick” your mind into doing whatever you know needs to be done without putting a lot of grinding mental energy into it. In this way, you can eliminate a lot of the low grade stress of daily life. This can transform your days. By keeping a schedule, you begin to take a genuine interest in the details of your daily life. You think less about “later,” and more about “now.” You obsess less about things that aren’t happening and instead focus on what is before you in this moment.

Then a rainfall feels like a gift, dancing to the rhythm of your day.

This is by no means a “cure all.” But it is one way, in my experience, that each day can produce a sensation of accomplishment and satisfaction. You set out on a quest in the morning to accomplish certain tasks (make them necessary and doable tasks; be kind to yourself. Do not write “Scale Mt. Everest before 3pm” on your list) and at the end of the day, you can say that you did, indeed, get some things done. And, you get the experience the satisfaction of an aligned intention and effect. I will take more about this in Part 2 of this post.

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Less important than this simple technique is the sense that you deserve happiness and that it is possible. In the next post, I will talk about happiness as “habit,” and the relationship that the human brain, intention, effect, and habit have to one another and how a thorough understanding of these things can transform our experience of life.

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Realizations

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from a Seeker About Spiritual Doubt

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I recently received a letter from a seeker, who was feeling upset at continued suffering and wondering if the spiritual path is even worth pursuing. Below is my response:

 

Hi XXXXX,
Thank you for writing. Lately, I’ve had a profound shift in my experience and I’ll share what I know with you. I don’t know if I can help you–but I can simply be honest and share what I know.

a. First all, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter if “you” get enlightenment or if anyone does. This is all, indeed, an illusion. The feeling that something critical is at stake is a delusion, and as long as you hold on to it you will suffer. Enlightenment, in fact, doesn’t really exist as it is talked about in most of what you see written. More on that later.  But the main thing to know is that what is going on here is just like when you were in high school (though I don’t know how old you are). In high school, dramas ensue. And people can get really caught up in those dramas. Then, high school ends, years go by, and people look back and laugh at how silly it was that they were all caught up in those dramas–they realize that their sense that whatever was happening in high school was critically important was an illusion, a delusion, of their youthful mind. This mode of consciousness you are in, that most people are in, is a high school mode of consciousness. It thrives on drama and blindness. Because it is full of drama and is blind, it can’t see that none of this matters. You are in a high school mentality right now, thinking that all this matters, when in fact, it doesn’t. (Added to post: Though I emphasize the importance of doing no harm to others below, the reason to do no harm in a situation where nothing matters is that doing harm makes it harder for people to wake up and realize the illusory nature of this consciousness and creates more harm, which creates more forms-thought/feeling form and material form–which creates more unconsciousness, which only delays an inevitable awakening. This, of course, doesn’t matter either. The universe is transmuting part of itself through the fires of suffering, suffering is a tool of transmutation, and it will happen one way or another. )

b. Second of all, no one is guilty of anything. You cannot help what you do (right now) and no one else can help what they do, because they are asleep to the actual situation.(Added to post:  We are, actually, like sleepwalkers. People have even killed other people in their sleep, totally without conscious intention. To a certain extent, everyone is just like that.)  People believe that they are their thoughts and feelings, and so act accordingly. In other words, they believe their dream is real.  So if any part of your suffering is related to blame, of yourself or others, let it go. Nobody can help it; no one is guilty–not even Hitler is guilty because he “knew not what he did,” to quote Jesus.  However, most people are so attached to their anger that they will not want enlightenment if it means letting go of hating whomever they decide are “the bad guys.”  (Added to post: This is not to suggest that Hitler’s actions were not abhorrent. It is only to suggest that they arose, as do all harmful acts, out of deep unconsciousness.)

c. Third of all, you can begin to help what you do by realizing that what you think and feel operates in a separate register from what you actually do. (Added to post: In the same way that if you have a dream of a monster telling you to write “Redrum” on the walls in blood, you will not actually do it. That was just a horrible dream. Likewise, thoughts/feelings are an extension of the dream mind and have no basis in actuality. ) You can think/feel (dream) whatever, but what you do is another matter. Once you realize the bifurcation, the separateness, between thought/feeling and action, you can make sure your actions are never harmful—to yourself or others. But first, you must realize this next thing:

d. Fourth of all, whatever you think/feel doesn’t matter. WHATEVER YOU FEEL OR THINK DOES NOT MATTER. Not one bit. NOTHING YOU THINK OR FEEL MATTERS. That’s right. Your feelings do not matter. They are not important on any level. Therefore, whenever you try to control what you think/feel, you actually “charge” that part of your brain and build it up more, making it harder for those processes (thinking/feeling) to wind down. It is kind of like an addiction (thinking/feeling). Addiction works like this: your brain is soft, like a wax, vinyl record. The more you do something, the deeper you make the groove in the record. The needle will follow that groove and the deeper it is, the harder it is to get the needle out of it. Likewise, the more energy you put into your thoughts/feelings, the deeper you make that groove of consciousness. Observation isn’t the same as energy, isn’t the same as engaging. Being aware that a thought/feeling has arisen is one thing; battling those thoughts and feelings is another. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to change them. Don’t judge them. Just don’t care about them at all. Treat every thought as if it were this one: “Oh look, a blue unicorn driving a car!”  You would not spend any time trying to fight that because you know right away it’s total bollocks. Well every thought/feeling you have is “a blue unicorn driving a car.”

So, you perceive suffering. First, recognize that a perception of suffering has arisen. Secondly, know that IT DOESN’T MATTER. Your suffering matters as much as the suffering of ants you accidentally (and unknowingly) step on as you go to work each morning–which is to say, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, not at all. But if you put your energy into fighting suffering, you will only make it stronger.

Suffering, and all thought/feeling processes, are like hydras. You can fight it all you want. You can cut off as many heads as you want; but fighting it only makes it bigger, makes it grow more heads, makes it more monstrous.

If you give your suffering food (energy) it will only grow. It doesn’t matter if that energy perceives itself to be “fighting” suffering or wallowing in suffering; thinking it is important enough to even be gotten rid of is giving it energy. IT DOES NOT MATTER. So what that you suffer? Who cares. Yes, there is suffering. And so what? You are human? Humans often suffer. You live, you die, sometimes you suffer, the end. Right now, the most you can hope for is that your “suffering” does not cause you to do things in an attempt to transfer and/or share suffering with others (harmful actions). Care less about your suffering and instead think, “I will transfer/share no suffering with others.” Because trust me, everyone else has their fair share of suffering to work through. And remember #2. Whatever people are doing, they can’t help because they don’t know that their thoughts/feelings are not “them.”

All thoughts/feelings are, at their root, insane. “I am suffering” is a thought/feeling. If there is no identifiable pain being caused (by say, a bodily injury or someone abusing you) then, your suffering is suffering without pain and is all smoke and mirrors. How do you fight smoke? You can’t. You can only wait for it to clear. Trying to fight it will only produce fire, which will produce more smoke (i.e. suffering).

e. Fifth of all, the desire for unending bliss is part of the problem. This model of enlightenment, of unending pleasure/bliss, is a dangerous way (in English) to think about enlightenment. In the Pali tradition, enlightenment means to be “blown out,” like a candle, and doesn’t refer to pleasurable mind/body sensations, but instead to stillness. It is like you are moving from being a planet to being dark matter; from a thing to a no-thing; from incessant activity to ultimate peace (stillness). So, the idea that somehow attaining this realization is the eradication of phenomena is incorrect. It is, instead, an experience of existence through the dimension of stillness and formlessness rather than through the dimension of activity and form. It is not that mind-blowing in terms of daily lived experience, XXXX. Most people would call this “boring.” As the old zen koan goes, “Before enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water.”  It is very peaceful. Nothing is happening here.

The fantasy of fireworks and endless pleasure and so on and so forth is just a fantasy. In this state, there is no drama, no fireworks, no-thing. It is a state of thinglessness. It is not a dualistc bliss which requires suffering as its opposite to exist. So if that is what you are thinking enlightenment is, you are right–it doesn’t exist. But the ego-driven thought/feeling process is invested in trying to get a “golden goody” of endless pleasure and so seeks enlightenment. Well I’m here to tell your ego to give up, because it doesn’t happen like that. But if you don’t want to give up, keep going. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU DO OR IF YOU DON’T. But, “A fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” So do what you think you want to do, as long as it is harmless, and see what happens. This is all just high school shit anyway. You’re writing to me because you are obsessing about how to get on the varsity team. Does it really matter? No, XXXXX…it doesn’t.

f. Sixth of all, a metaphor to help. In a. I said that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in high school. Another way to think about it is that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in prison. If you think about it, earth is very prison-like, with a force field (gravity) that makes it very difficult for us to leave this environment, surrounded by an oxygen-less atmosphere where we can’t breath and there is no water or food–both of which are dependencies that makes us bound to this plane. The Gnostics certainly believed this to be a prison. So, as a metaphor it kind of works. It can also be made to line up with the first noble truth, “Life is suffering.” Most people do not know they are in prison, and so they conduct themselves as if there is something to gain “here.”  They seek power, prestige, money, (enlightenment, lol) and so on, thinking that this is the whole shebang, even though they know they will be released (death) at some point. They still think the entire universe amounts to what is happening to them within those prison walls.

Well, look XXXXX, we are all doing time (though time is an illusion of the prison as well). Suffering is part of that “time.”  If you resist suffering, you energize it and extend your “time” (reincarnation). If you do not resist, if you form no beliefs, if you live completely in the now accepting everything as it comes as a needed lesson, then your time winds down, the smoke starts to clear and the “prison” evaporates from around you, until you are transmuted into the other universal realms where arahats and non-returners go. What is that plane, I cannot say. But I do know that the suffering we are experiencing we are meant to experience and must not avoid it. Seeking to awake will not remove suffering, but bring you into closer contact with it. But eventually, you will stop taking the suffering seriously and it will evaporate, like smoke clearing. When it clears, you will laugh hysterically when you see that none of this matters and all you really had to do was eat, sleep, shit, fuck if you want, and then die in peace when the moment comes.  So do not lament the fact that you are suffering. Suffering is not a failure; it’s a tool. Do not fight it. Instead, trust everything that is happening and let it happen. Even death is not a problem. Nothing is a problem; let it unfold.

I have seen it put this way. “The universe uses time and pressure to transform a caterpillar into a butterfly and sand into a diamond. Whose to say it is not using those same things to transform you?”  If the caterpillar fights the pressure and gestation of its cocoon phase, not only will it fail to become a butterfly, it will die an early death. So, go with the flow. Relax. So what you’re in pain? So what you’re suffering? It is an illusion anyway, like a fun-house mirror, and you will be dead in no time. Don’t make it harder for other people to walk through this smoke, do not harm. It doesn’t matter if you are happy or sad; because these too, are illusions. The question is, can you find peace? That is all there is to know.

I do not know if it will help you. I do hope that something here strikes a cord in your mind and opens a door of insight for you so can see this.

YYYYY

Story of a circle

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Life is a walk in the forest, but the walk is a large circle. When we are not mindful, we circle again and again without realizing it. When we are unconscious, when we are asleep, we walk that circle repeatedly–lifetime after lifetime–without realizing we are walking that circle. But we are tired, we are stressed, we think we are getting somewhere at moments, and at other moments, feel as if we are getting nowhere. We suffer.

When we awake, we see that we are walking in a circle and we sit down and our suffering disappears. We are rested, we are mindful, we are awake to all that is unfolding around us. We realize that we never needed to go anywhere in the first place, that we could relax exactly where we are. When we sit down, our suffering abates. We come to stillness, we come to peace.

The Physics of Forgiveness

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A major impediment to awakening, that I have observed in myself and others, is guilt and shame. As an opening caveat, it is necessary to point out that both are egoic devices used to maintain a feeling of separate “me-ness.” Both enable one to feel that one is solely “responsible” for actions, that actions belong not to the collective–but to the individual.  This is a false understanding of human behavior, for another human’s actions “belong” to all of humanity–whether those actions are good or bad. We are must more willing to claim “good” actions as part of the collective. We say, for example, “We landed on the moon.”  We don’t say, “Armstrong landed on the moon, that is HIS achievement.”  But just as one man landing on the moon is the product of humanity, so too are egregious acts the product of humanity. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I will directly address the ideas of forgiveness and lack thereof as it relates to the idea of the “individual.”  Many narratives of awakened and enlightened ones suggest that they were perfect from birth, so many people in the West often feel too “taunted” to live up to the image they have of an awakened one. According to legend, Jesus preached in the temple as a child; the Buddha entered samadhi at the age of 3, when he just happened to begin meditating. In both instances, we understand these figures to be without sin from the time of their birth. Instead of understanding those histories metaphorically–as a way to understand that within each human being lies the potential for insight and awakening, we particularize it. In this particularizing, we stall forgiveness of ourselves (meaning, all of us–both “you” and “me”) and continue to create the conditions for harm.

Most of us do not understand ourselves to be “without” sin and furthermore, we live in a culture that does not cherish true forgiveness. We perceive people’s mistakes to be tragic, indelible flaws. We equate people’s behaviors with their “identity,” and we don’t believe identity to be mutable. Mutable identity is an aberration in our society; fixed identity is the stable norm from which our sense of sanity and rightness arise. Just consider, if you will, the difficulty we have understanding what it means to be multi or biracial or to be poly-or bi-sexual. These categories exist for us intellectually, but we don’t truly understand the person who doesn’t “fit” into any identity comfortably. This inability to see identity as mutable, as changeable–and, in fact, as not actually existing–connects to our inability to forgive ourselves and others for transgression against the norm, unskillful acts, or “sin.”

When a person is a murderer in our society, we lock them away and throw away the key. Even progressives, who may be against the death penalty, think that a lifetime of imprisonment is a fitting response to one who has killed others. We have given up, it seems, on the possibility of forgiveness and rehabilitation; we have, even if we don’t kill the person, exiled them to the ghost land of human existence. This is the case with any action or crime we consider to be heinous. Many of us are strongly invested in a discourse of “unforgiveness,” meaning that there are just some people we cannot imagine forgiving.

But the inability to forgive others not only means suffering for them, but suffering for ourselves. For if we invest in a logic of unforgiveness, then that means we will internally damn ourselves for “things we have done wrong,” allowing those mistakes to perpetuate our perception of ourselves, and worse to maintain a perception of ourselves over an awareness of who we really are. In other words, lack of forgiveness reinforces the ego.  Abnegation does not undermine the ego; it strengthens it. We often understand the “egotistical” person to be one who thinks too highly of himself; but the ego need not feed only on honeyed fantasies; it can also live on self-hatred. Self-hatred, guilt, and shame all reinforce a sense of “me-ness,” strengthening one’s symbolic relationship to one’s self. How is this so? This is so because instead of experiencing being alive, in the moment, now, as simply a flesh and blood body, one understands one’s self, one has thoughts about one’s self–one relates to one’s self as if one is bifurcated, as if there is a “one” to relate to “one’s self.”  There is only one you,  the real you is the experience of being alive as a human being. That is all you are. You are not a race, you are not a gender, you are not the sum of your previous acts. Overcoming one’s “karma,” or the accumulation of memory within one’s self, occurs when one realizes this fully. This is what the Buddhist story of Angulimala is all about. This is why the ancient Tibetan Buddha Milarepa said (more or less), “I have overcome my dark acts and my light acts, and am awakened.”

So why do we do unskillful things? Why do we harm others? Why does “sin” arise?

It arises out of deep unconsciousness. The word “Sin” has been widely misunderstood in the West. The original translation of the word “Sin” means, literally, to “miss the mark.” Sin, then, = unskillfulness. And when and how is one unskilled? Because one does not know; one has not developed the skill to “hit the mark.” Ignorance is the root of all harmful acts and ignorance is not an identity; it is a state that can be alleviated. When we look back upon our own actions and judge them, we must understand the causes and conditions which produced the action. And when we do so, we will see that intense psychological myopia–which can be caused by trauma of known and unknown origin–is the root cause of all harmful acts.  Can we hold people responsible at the discursive level of “essence” for crimes they commit when they are fully unconscious of what it truly means to commit such crimes? Can we hold ourselves responsible for our lesser, unactionable violations when they arose out of our psychological myopia? A child who, for example, plays with fire because he perceives it to be interesting and burns down a hospital, killing everyone inside–is not at all responsible for that act. And though we assume that adults are more conscious than children, they have only internalized a set of rules but are rarely operating from a place of pure consciousness enough to understand the intimate and far-reaching effects of their harmful behaviors, big or small.

In short, unless a person is fully awakened, we cannot hold “them” responsible for whatever they do. This is a difficult pill to swallow in a society that is interested in retribution, punishment, and placing blame. But the law of man does not follow the law of the universe, which operates on what I’m going to call here a “physics of forgiveness.”

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The universe forgets everything you, or anyone else, does one second after it is done. How can we see the Universe operating in our lives directly? It is the Universe that is responsible for how your eyes process light and hence see; it is the universe that is responsible for your involuntary breathing; it is the universe that grows your hair; it is the universe that grows you up, from a baby to an adult to an old person. All of these things happen without your effort or intention. You may kill someone and yet, life goes on. You continue to breath. You continue to see. You continue to grow your hair. The moment of your murderous impulse arose and then passed away. Nature does not answer in response to your crime. It is largely human society that is affected by your crime and it is human society that will answer, with condemnation and possibly, imprisonment. The effects of your action are felt not in nature, but in the illusory creation of human society.

Let me pause and say that I am not condoning murder or suggesting that the universe condones murder. Instead, I am attempting to point out that each moment of existence is a new moment and the incidents of the previous moment exist after the fact, only as memory. And memory is not a real thing; it is, rather, a psychological imprint produced in the brain of human beings. This situation I am attempting to describe relates to why people are so fascinated by the riddle about if a falling tree makes a sound in the woods if there is no one there to hear it. In the absence of memory of an event, how does the event exist after the fact? It quite simply doesn’t.

We have responded to the occurrence of harmful actions not in the way the universe responds, which is to understand the act as occurring in the past and the current moment (and hence, the person involved) as something else entirely. The current moment is full of potential for the murderer–to either turn away from past actions or decide, in the now, to repeat them. In fact, the failure to release the actions which occurred before is the method by which repeating the thing is accomplished. For the murderer, who suffers from the same inability to be “in the now” as everyone else, the murder is always happening, is always being relived–so he repeats the same murder, again and again, in the now. The murderer never releases the initial murder to the past, seeing it as a thing gone and irretrievable. Instead, the murder lives in his imagination as part of his essence now, and so, more killing occurs.

So what happens we we refuse to let something which arose pass away–or rather, when we refuse to become aware that what happened once has now passed away, we are attempting to defy impermanence, the impermanence of the universe. We create an illusion of permanence through the repetition of acts, literally attempting to recreate the original moment over and over again. All identity works this way–gender theorists have pointed out that gender identity is a performance that needs constant maintenance and must be perpetually enacted in order to create a sense of cohesive identity. If the identity one has internalized is that of “murderer,” this same impulse towards permanence of identity will assert itself through the constant maintenance of that image, through the repetition of the act which creates the identity.

But acts, and the illusory identities we build upon them, no matter how repeated and how entrenched are capable of disappearing each moment and are certainly going to disappear upon death.  Imagine if Charles Manson had an accident and developed amnesia, so that he no longer remembered anything of who he was. For him, his heinous acts would no longer exist. He would only come to know about them through talking to other people, where his heinous acts live as memory or by reading texts, where his heinous acts are recorded. But when those records are gone and when all the people who remember Charles Manson’s heinous acts are dead, from the perspective of the universe, so too are the acts. This is the physics of forgiveness.

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Human actions reverberate and alter human society and probably, ultimately, humanity itself. This is not an argument for ignoring or relishing unskillfulness of action. Avoiding harmful acts is beneficial for human society and for human beings (these two things not being the same, though related). But if we want to bring people out of unconsciousness, then we must employ this universal physics of forgiveness and bring people into conscious awareness of the now. This abolishes in one stroke the self and the illusion of time, which is responsible for unconsciousness, which is, in turn, responsible for harmful acts.  This is why Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  This lamentation to God was not only about that particular situation, but about all of humanity and referenced the state of intense unconsciousness from which arises all violation, unskillfulness, and human suffering.

Just as the ocean can wash away any sand sculpture, no matter how heinous and no matter how intricate, no matter how tall, no matter how solidified–so too can conscious awareness abolish the dangers of unconsciousness and produce human beings who are happy and harmless.  But first, we must acknowledge that unconsciousness in ourselves that believes that there are differences among us based upon how we behave (we are all the same, no matter if we are saints or sinners) and that some acts cannot be forgiven. All acts are forgivable and all human beings can be brought to consciousness. Our human bodies, the memory of our acts, our societies, our histories, our data, our texts, are all impermanent. It will all pass away. This is the beauty of anicca, of impermanence–it is, to use a Christian term, the redemption of humanity. It is the ultimate forgiveness; that is what impermanence is. If we align ourselves with the universal logic of the physics of forgiveness, we can bring ourselves and others into conscious awareness and begin to see a network of human interaction not characterized by harm.

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No matter what you have done, you do not have to do it again. What you have done is not who you are. You are an experience not a stable, solid, essential “self.” That is an illusion. The idea that you are a particular gender, a particular race, a particular body size, a particular class–these are all filters of illusion, which only obscure the obvious fact of your existence as the universe manifesting as a human being. When you are unconscious, all of your acts are akin to that of a sleepwalker. You are literally unaware of the broad implications of your acts. You may know, intellectually, that what you are doing is “wrong.” But you do not know why on an experiential level, because you do not know who you are. You are not conscious of who you are, are not aware of where you are–are living, instead, in time–either the past, in traumas, violation, and guilt–or, in the future, in fantasy, passion, in the need to attain a state or a particular feeling or thing. These are states of intense unconsciousness, from which only more violation–to yourself and others–can occur. Let the past–whatever happened to you or whatever you have done–wash away like a sculpture on the beach. The demon sand statue above will take many high and low tides to wash away, but with patience, and if it isn’t reinforced, it will wash away. Do not feed, or build, the demon by giving it food. Starve it out and wait. Just notice where you are: you are here, now. The conditions of the past are gone, and if you allow it, it will recede from memory just like the sand sculpture. It will cease to shape you and define the way you act in the world.

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This is how you experience redemption; by experiencing impermanence. By releasing the ego’s desire to hold on to the events of the past, you stop repeating your harmful acts–first, in your mind and then, in the physical world. Remove the past from your mind, and your physical body will cease to repeat the acts of the past. Be here now. Spend your time watching your breath, as if each breath has something to tell you. Each breath does have something to tell you. If you watch the breath, every single second of “down time” you have each day, the flowering of the present moment will occur within you and consciousness will bloom. You will then see your previous actions as those done in a dream, by a shadow version of yourself. You will be, the more you do this, beyond the grip of the kind of unconsciousness that makes harm possible. The ones you have harmed, who may never forgive you, are as trapped in unconsciousness as you are. Given your troubled connection with them, you may not be able to offer them comfort or help. As you become more conscious, broad awareness of their suffering will become apparent to you. You will begin to understand and see how they experienced your actions; the play of unconsciousness on your part will reveal itself to you.  As the self diminishes, all need to act out will recede. You will see the futility of your previous acts, the unskilfulness of them, the harm of them, and they will have no grip or allure. So set your intention on consciousness and cultivation of mindfulness; at all times, be the watcher, the guard, who notices every thought, every feeling, every action no matter how innocuous–eating, walking, talking, using the bathroom, working–be aware, at all times of what you are doing, thinking, and feeling. Do not judge or try to control or change thoughts and feelings. Look at them as you would a character in a film; observing without judgement, without reaction. Do not get caught up in the mind’s drama. You are not your mind; you are not your thoughts; you are not your feelings. You are the universe experiencing itself as a human being, and you exist not in the past or in the future–you exist now. Observe this experience watchfully, quietly, calmly. Therefore,  Resolve to 1)Observe the experience of being human (which you will do by watching yourself) and 2)to do nothing but that which is absolutely necessary for survival.Try, for just 30 days, to avoid idle chatter, idle entertainments (you can sit quietly, with your eyes closed, and watch the breath when you have nothing to do), but eat your food, wash yourself, do your work. Avoid all other things, and simply observe the impulse to do more than what is necessary.   If you do these things, you will see a transformation in your life and your life experience.

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For those who cannot forgive a person whose harmful actions affected you profoundly and negatively, be present with yourself. If you watch the breath, every single second of “down time” you have each day, the flowering of the present moment will occur within you and consciousness will bloom. You will then see that all humans, no matter where they are in a dichotomy of harm, are living in a dream, in a shadow world characterized by myopia, tunnel vision–and no one really understands what they are doing. You will be beyond the grip of hatred, anger, and resentment–and in conscious awareness, experience the safety of the universe which is always available to you. But set your intention on consciousness and cultivation of mindfulness; at all times, be the watcher, the guard, who notices every thought, every feeling, every action no matter how innocuous–eating, walking, talking, using the bathroom, working–be aware, at all times of what you are doing, thinking, and feeling. Do not judge or try to control or change thoughts and feelings. Resolve to 1)Observe the experience of being human (which you will do by observing yourself) and 2)to do nothing but that which is absolutely necessary for survival. Try, for just 30 days, to avoid idle chatter, idle entertainments (you can sit quietly, with your eyes closed, and watch the breath when you have nothing to do), but eat your food, wash yourself, do your work. Avoid all other things, and simply observe the impulse to do more than what is necessary.  If you do these things, you will see a transformation in your life and your life experience.

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And like the waves which endlessly wash the beach clean of all marks, the universal physics of forgiveness will be revealed to you and you will be free.

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On the Illusory Nature of Human Existence

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Much suffering occurs because we are convinced that everything that happens to us matters and matters intensely. The problem with this is that, firstly, we are not aware of what “really happens” to us and, secondly, we are not aware of “who” we are. Misunderstanding, or ignorance, in these two areas accounts for our illusory existence as human creatures, which is characterized by suffering.

Human beings, in various walks of life, in various epochs, are always saying it:

 

“This is not the real reality. The real reality is behind the curtain. In truth, we are not here. This is our shadow.” ~Rumi

“All the world’s a stage.” –William Shakespeare

“Know that this universe is nothing but a dream bluff of nature to test your consciousness of immortality.” –Paramahansa Yogananda

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”Albert Einstein

 

But often our minds resist the idea that our existence, as we experience it, is an illusion because we feel so real, so existent. So how is it possible that this human existence is an illusion? To explain, I offer the metaphor of film. Traditional film operates through a very ingenuous illusion. Still pictures, imprinted on celluloid film, are run at a certain speed over a light source. A soundtrack is encoded along the side of the film.  When you combine the still images, the lights, and the movement of the projector, you experience the illusion of a “scene” unfolding fluidly in front of you. Film is a very bewitching optical illusion, which itself is not real, is an illusion, but refers to something that actually exists. But in itself, it is an illusion. The only “truth” of that illusion is that it is a reference to something that actually exists, but what actually exists isn’t the story we are watching–what exists are actors, writers, camera people–plus, all the materials that go into making a film–light bulbs, film, the minerals which encode images upon film, sound technicians and devices, and so on and so on. What we see on the screen is a very small aspect of what actually exists to produce what we see. Our human experience is very much like this–a very boiled down version of the universe, experiencing itself as human.

Our existence is illusory in this way; if we identify with the film and forget that it is merely a projection created from a vast constituent of elements, then we become mired in the illusion. And our actions, all of our actions, all of our thoughts and feelings, arise out of an illusion. Imagine if Brad Pitt thought, perpetually, that he was his character in “Burn After Reading” and couldn’t, cognitively, step out of the role. A bit tragic and hilarious, it would be.

Being stuck in this illusion has resulted in our human societies and civilizations, which represent layers upon layers of delusion and illusion. The more involved with society we are, the more entrenched in thought and feeling we are, the deeper we are into the narrative of illusion. The more ambitious we are, the more we want, the more we strive, the more we attempt to shape society, human life, civilization, to make an impact, to change something–the more we are claimed by the illusion. This is why being in nature feels so good; it isn’t because nature–and being intoxicated by it–can’t be it’s own kind of illusion. But when we are simply “out in nature,” it feels good because it is as close to original existence that we can get; it is earth experience as it is, rather than as we made it.  What we have made arises from the illusion that this realm, this paradigm of the universe, is the “real” thing and not just a shadow.

Our existence is an illusory projection of the Universe and what we experience, through the filters of the ego and the soul–which are ideas we have created out of our experience of the illusion–is not things as they are, but the incomplete derivative of the infinite Universe unfolding. Is it possible to experience the Universe some other way? No–we cannot, we are limited by our humanity, by the very way we gather information as organisms. But, we can know that our perception is limited and derivative and therefore, cultivate the detachment–or exit altogether–the network of illusions we call “reality.” By exiting I speak not of death; rather, exiting means that we experience human existence at its most fundamental level, at the level of the flesh and blood body, with the awareness that even this is a finite tool designed to have a particular universal experience. We cannot even experience reality as say, a bee or a cat experiences it; we are meant to experience existence as humans because we were born as such.

Then the whole life is revealed for what it is–shadow play, finger puppets upon the wall. The rabbit appears from the joining of light and hands and the impetus to pretend at being a rabbit.

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When we see this, a sane relationship to existence naturally arises. Without effort, we find ourselves uninvolved in the psychological, emotional, and social dramas of the world. When we regard the “moral” behavior of Buddhas or enlightened ones, it is not because through force of will they are able to abstain from lying, sexual misconduct, imbibing in intoxicants, killing and theft. It is not even because they have internalized an idea that such things are “wrong.” It is simply because they are uninvolved; it is because they have perceived human existence as shadow play and not as the center of existence, and have realized the futility of involvement, in either “good” or “bad” ways–though, of course, “good” and “bad” are human, illusory concepts. The enlightened one is not “good,” she is just not present as an agent in the context of human affairs because the illusion of a “self” vanishes the moment human existence, as we know it, is revealed to be an illusion.

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The presence of a self, of a feeling and concept of an “I,” is the mirror upon which the distortion of reality occurs. It is the same mistake humans have made for much of their history in other contexts. We once believed that the sun rotated around the earth; believing that “you” exist is much the same kind of thinking, applied to the body. It is the belief that experience happens “to” you, rather than seeing that being alive is just an experience. As long as “I” feel like “me,” “I” will have a distorted view of reality and of existence, “I” will be living an illusion.

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The illusion of existence occurs because the mechanism of reflection, the “I,” is itself flawed. The “I” can only reflect a distorted vision of what really is, in much the same way a fun house mirror can never accurately reflect the reality of that which it reflects. As soon as one realizes that what one took to be “real” is actually a distorted reflection, one invests less and less energy in the management of that reflection or even in the drive to change it. One is not swayed by other people’s issues or events because one is aware that almost everyone one meets is talking about their distorted reflection, not who they actually are. Imagine if the woman above came to you and said, “I’m going on a diet to make my head smaller; look at how big it is!” It would be silly to even entertain such conversation because you’d know her efforts were directed at something completely illusory.

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When we fully realize this, peace dawns without effort. Soon, the remnants of the habit pattern of the mind to create the thought “I” fades and finally disappears. We are released into actuality, into the pure experience of being alive; we are relieved of the burdens of the ego, of the soul and set free into pure “being.” We are and that is all.