by Robert Lee Camp
Life these days can be seen as a series of challenges we face, along with some instances of ‘getting what we want.’ So, one might say that their life consists of a mixture of pleasurable experiences and fearful ones. At any given moment we are getting something we wanted, or having something turn out the way we planned, or something is happening that is causing us suffering of one kind or the other. And it really doesn’t matter how successful you are, how beautiful, how powerful, how rich or talented you are.
All of us have this phenomena happening to us every single day. Everyone you know and everyone you don’t know is going through this same ‘up and down’ existence. It is a back and forth between pleasure and suffering. And this is our problem. We are all trying to get life to be only the good stuff and avoid the suffering part and it never really works.
Avoidance of suffering is for many people the main goal of their life. One strategy is to just focus all their attention and energy on getting more pleasurable experiences. This type of person can just become very passionate about achieving goals, getting more money, material possessions, sexual experiences, travel and the other interesting experiences and pleasures of life.
One can become so fixed upon the acquisition of these experiences that the suffering part gets drowned out to an extent. But even these people suffer a lot because life doesn’t work that way. Things in life are never permanent. They are always changing, and thus, always threatening the attainment of these things in one form or the other. Even the most successful ‘go-getter’ is constantly afraid that something is going to turn out wrong and they will fail. And even the best fail. Ultimately we all fail. No one escapes death, which is the ultimate failure.
Even in old age, those that were the best at doing things and achieving goals, only have their stories about their past to live through. Now they are dead to their life, just regurgitating their stories about their past successes. They no longer have any future to work at, and get better at because they are facing their own death in the future. Their past is all they have. But the problem with the past is that it is not real. No one can turn back the clock of time and become what they remember.
The past is just an imprint in our brain. It was meant to help us in the present, part of the learning process. But it has become for many, their complete identity. Neither the past nor the future were ever meant to become our identity. They are mental constructions only. And each time we are daydreaming in the past or the future, we are missing real life. But real life can be so scary sometimes that we go off in our minds to escape. It is often too painful to be present to what is, or at least this seems to be what motivates us to never be in the present.
Others avoid their suffering in more direct methods of escape, such as drugs, alcohol, sex and other addictions. We all do, to some extent. Watching sports, television, movies, surfing the web, Facebook, playing video games, all of these can be ways to avoid just how crappy we are feeling about stuff happening in our lives, or as a way to not feel the suffering that we are enduring on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, addictions can lead to even greater suffering and a loss of life, if allowed to go too far. It is amazing really, how far we will go to avoid the present moment, and how the truth is that the present moment is where our true happiness lies.
If we just go along with what society teaches us, we will be structuring our lives to create good experiences and set up things to minimize unwanted ones. This strategy makes logical sense and seems practical. But it is practical only as long as you believe that you are this voice in your head, which we call the mind. And it is definitely not practical to live as though you are your mind. Why? Because the mind is always afraid and is constantly being threatened by reality.
Any position, belief, point of view or even knowledge that the mind can acquire can be destroyed so easily. For every point of view there are myriads of others, just as valid. For every belief it is the same. Whatever belief or point of view you have adopted will require constant defending. You will make enemies with everyone whose beliefs are different.
They will be a threat to your very existence, because, after all, this is all that you are. And this is the truth of our world today, billions of people with different points of view and beliefs, all fighting with each other over these mental acquisitions that they have become identified with. It happens between religions, governments and other groups. But it happens daily in small ways to everyone.
Everyone is afraid of who they are being threatened by someone else, or by events that just appear in their lives. Most do not realize just how afraid they are. It has become so commonplace that it is considered normal to be defending one’s beliefs and points of view. But it is all insanity and leads to the most insane acts of violence and destruction. It is happening every day in families, schools, jobs, governments, religion…. everywhere.
I notice a lot lately that every time something happens that upsets me, that it is my false persona who is being threatened. I notice that it is my image of myself that is being somehow threatened or belittled by events or people around me. And really, if I look further, I see that it is actually how I am interpreting these events and people that causes me suffering.
It is not the event itself, or what someone did or said, it is what I ‘thought about’ what they did or said, or what happened. And I can see others having the same experiences as me but not reacting like I do. This tells me that the fault lies not in the event or person outside of me but in my own interpretation or point of view in the matter.
Then I often ask myself, ‘is losing my sense of well being worth it over this particular point of view or belief?’ More and more the answer is no. I would rather have my sense of well being than be right about anything. My need to be right has lessened a lot lately. It still there, I suppose. But not nearly as strong or important as it was. I remember one of my teachers saying, “Would you rather be right, or get exactly what you want?” Lately I choose getting what I want, which really means staying in a state of being that is appreciative of all that the world is for me now.
If you pay attention every time you get upset about something, I think you will see that your upsetness is derived from something or someone who has apparently threatened or lessened your sense of who you think you are. Whatever you ‘stand for’ has been threatened, or you fear that others will not like you or that you will not get what you want or need. You are basically afraid and now you have a problem or an enemy, or both.
You have something or someone to fight against, to regain your dignity, or really to regain your false sense of safety in a world that is constantly threatening. This is your false self in a fight with reality. And I can tell you now that reality always wins. Reality is ‘what is.’ It is natural and obvious. It is truth. Our resistance to it is not truth. No matter what story we attach to it. Our resistance to it is our suffering. End of story.
For each of us, the particular stories that elicit our resistance and the particular areas where we feel threatened can vary. But the dynamic is the same for us all and the nature of the mind/ego is the same. True freedom from suffering, which is the ultimate goal of all spiritual paths, only results when we are living in truth and without resistance to the ever-changing world in which we exist. There is a lot we can say about the nature of reality, like the fact that all forms arise and then later pass away, and that nothing is permanent.
But it goes even much deeper than that once we start to question ourselves and our habits of resistance and fighting. To many aspirants on the spiritual path, the word ‘enlightenment’ conjures up many visions of spiritual experiences on higher realms of reality and things like Samadhi, etc. But true enlightenment can be summed up as the absence of resistance to what is. It is so simple that it is overlooked by many. And the beauty of this truth is that this is something we can practice each and every moment of our lives, and in every area of our lives.
Right at this very moment, you and I can bring awareness to what we are doing and ask the question, ‘am I allowing this moment and everything in it to be as it is, or am I resisting something?’ Many spiritual paths are false paths in that the seeker is still trying to achieve new and better experiences, to add to their life story. The truth is that any experience, spiritual or otherwise, is something that passes away. The real truth is eternal and abiding. It always was, always is and always will be. It is the now. Any story we add to that is just another ego trap and something we will have to relinquish someday.
As many spiritual teachers say, the path to the truth is always one of letting go, not one of gaining anything. And what we must let go of the most is our false identity with this story-making mind/ego. It is just a question, really. “Who am I?” and following that question to the deepest truth possible. There is nothing wrong with anything we may do in our lives. What profession we choose, where we live, what we eat, watch, attend to, what hobbies or interests we have. None of these are significant and are completely innocent.
The only real question is where do we place our identity? If our identity is placed on our story-making mind/ego, whatever choices we make in all departments of life will only create more suffering. And when we are free of this false self, every choice is natural, easy and life-enhancing. To get so concerned with what to do, where to live, who to be in relationship with, etc. before clearing out this false identity is generally just going to prolong our suffering and entangle ourselves karmically with others.
But regardless of what is your life situation, the nature of spiritual grace is that your particular situation is perfect for your spiritual work. Each relationship, and event will give you the opportunity to let go of your false identities. These are called problems by most people but they are really opportunities to let go of falseness. And if we see through the illusion of our lives we start living freer and clearer and life unfolds naturally without the fighting and resisting.
And underneath all of our desires and actions, this is what we all really want. We want to experience ourselves as being whole, and as being an integral part of the reality in which we exist. This is the life truly worth living.