The path to happiness is the grand illusion.
Leave it and you gain eternal peace.
Any path, wherever it leads must take you astray,
For peace is not looking further than what is going on where you already are.
The illusory path is built on the dragon of fear and its child desire.
And as they dull your senses you set out and wander hurried and lost.
Shedding all ideas about what constitutes the “good life” is discomforting,
but only as long as you have not yet discovered the beauty of the present.
The rich texture of any given moment is the answer to all your existential questions.
As those vanish into oblivion, the true nature of things becomes apparent.
Fixing and attuning your sensory receptors is the most important task of your life.
And so the true path is the uncovering and coming to terms with your fears.
However, we are cowards and distraction is cheap.
Unfortunately, it has been like this always.
All fears are completely ungrounded and based on misunderstandings.
But to see this, the perspective of the universe has to be assumed.
The brave will venture in, realize and have their fears burnt.
The rest will forever keep wondering what existence is really about.
What do you mean by “there is neither good nor bad”?
First of all, there is no “good” without “bad” and no “bad” without “good”. “Good” and “bad” are co-dependent concepts of reality. The “good” creates the “bad” and vice versa because only through their opposite can “good” or “bad” be defined and conceptualized.
Second, what we label “good” or “bad” is subjective, that is, not considered so by everyone. “Good” or “bad” are quite arbitrary concepts.
Third, “good” or “bad” depends on perspective. The universe is a completely interdependent organism that is always in balance (otherwise it would not be stable). Pushing here is like pulling there and pushing there is like pulling here. Hence, every “good” action has “bad” outcomes for something or somebody somewhere (and vice versa). There are no purely “good” or “bad” actions, ever. “No bad actions” does not mean that genocide or things like that are ok. Morals and ethics are “good” from a human perspective. But from the perspective of the rest of nature, it is “bad” news. The more people need to live on the planets resources, the more these finite resources will need to be exploited.
Where does “good” and “bad” come from?
Whenever we turn something unpleasant into a problem, we create the “bad”. So, fundamentally, the “bad” is the expression of our inability to deal with fear. It is something we humans create out of ignore-ance, not something that is inherently present in the universe.
How to get rid of desire?
First of all, realize that the desire to get rid of desire is still a desire. So, in that sense, you are trapped. You can’t do much about it, really.
Nevertheless, I suggest the following: think your desires through to the very end. I mean what if your desires became true? What if you became enlightened, immortal, famous, rich, the world’s savior, etc.? What would you do with it? What would you do when the whole world was saved? What would you do with enlightenment or celebrity status? Would you be happy ever after, “done”? Would you think “mission accomplished” and retire? Ask yourself honestly: how many times have you satisfied a desire and immediately replaced it with another one?
What I am suggesting is this: you are not actually interested in fulfilling or getting rid of your desires, you are interested in keep on looking for something that does not exist: the everlasting “goodie”. You see, even your spiritual seeking is just another facet of this game. The fascination with it arises because you dislike what is. You can’t stand it. You mistrust it. It reminds you of your unresolved issues, wounds and fears. It’s like a shadow hanging over you that you want to run away from. But because your shadow follows you everywhere you must keep going. You must be on the move always. That’s why you are doomed to be restless with no capacity to find rest in the ordinariness of the present moment. Basically, what I am saying is that you are stuck with desires because you are a coward. To try to get rid of desires is the cowards way of hiding from his own fears.
So then, to make the long story short: to get rid of desire, that is, to undermine it, all you need is to find the trust to allow yourself to be a vulnerable human being. It’s that simple. Let your heart be touched and it will provide you with unconditional gratitude for life.
How to get rid of fear?
By thinking you fears through to the very end you’ll notice they are irrational and based on separation. For example, the fear of death is the fear of going unconscious without ever regaining consciousness, like going to sleep without ever waking up. Would that be so horrible? As long as we are unconscious there is nobody to worry and nothing to worry about. And the first experience after being unconscious must be becoming conscious again. So, where’s the problem with death?
You see, (psychological) problems are mind-constructs. To get rid of them, opposition will not do. It will only reinforce the problematic nature of the problem. To get rid of a problem, you need to convince yourself that your problem has never been a problem in the first place, because it was illusory.
How to transcend thoughts? Controlling or observing them?
First of all, maybe you can ask yourself the question: what’s wrong with thoughts? As you will see if you try, doing something (e.g. managing/ controlling) or not doing something about thoughts (e.g. observing) gives them a separate and unique identity. It creates an illusory duality between “you” and the thoughts. So, whatever you do or not do to transcend thoughts, prevents thought-transcendence!
There is a solution, though. The solution is exactly the realization that there is no solution. If you want to not be bothered by thoughts, that is, if you want to transcend them, don’t mind them! You’ll see that your mind will become very quiet because most mental noise is a feedback-loop of judgmental thoughts about thoughts about thoughts, etc.
Trust the perfection of the universe which certainly has not created thoughts to torture or challenge us. Look around: has the universe ever made a mistake?
What’s the “meaning” of life?
The universe is inherently playful. It perpetually creates “the ten thousand things” as it joyfully vibrates (goes “on” and “off” continuously). It has no specific purpose other than to dance this dance.
We are the universe in ecstatic motion. So, our lives inherently serve no specific purpose either. And neither does the life of any other living organism. That doesn’t mean that life is meaningless per se. Flowers are meaningful to bees, for example. Everything plays its part in the great song.
Ask yourself: what would you do if you did not have any external or internal expectations to fulfill? You would get together with your friends and sing and dance and play. So, the meaning of life is to live, to vibrate and dance according to the beat of our heart, the universe. What could be more simple to understand?
To seek “meaning” is non other than an expression of (an imaginary) disconnection from one’s own being. It’s the old, old search for the elusive one “thing” that will makes us forever happy so that we will never be sad again. Can you see how this immature fantasy is nothing but an escape from the “down” parts of one’s existence? Can you see that this is the stuff Samsara is made of? Nirvana is not getting this “one” thing; it’s losing the itch to escape from oneself.
Why do you say life should be approached as play?
Life makes most sense when we play, that is, when we do something that does not need to serve a particular purpose. Playing is always a goal-unoriented activity.
However, because of our unconscious fear and mistrust in all things natural (especially our inner), our main motivation, our goal, in life is to (im-)prove, better or enhance ourselves (or any other variation of one-upmanship). This is obviously serious business and has nothing to do with play anymore. In that state of consciousness, the state of lack, we miss life completely because we are so focused on our goals that we won’t allow ourselves to “play” anymore. Goal-orientation suffocates creativity. This is what Jesus meant when he said “unless you become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. And this unplayful seriousness will bug us our entire life since we can never ever reach our goal of happiness and peace as long as we are not deeply convinced that everything is fundamentally ok the way it is, which, obviously, includes first and foremost ourselves.
What is love?
Love is that which comes from a place beyond “right” and “wrong”. Hence, it is unconditional/ non-judgmental acceptance.
How to open the heart of compassion?
One thing about humans is that whenever we are afraid or even slightly suspicious of another person we are retreating far into our persona, our mask and fail to see a connection. This place inside our shells is a desperate and lonely place.
We usually need to see vulnerability in others to lose our fears, trust, come “out”, connect and start to care (that’s why looking at a baby or at cute animals is a big ego-slayer!). Compassion flows as we know that deep down, behind our masks everybody is as vulnerable a human being as we are. Thus, the key to our heart is acknowledging our own vulnerability.
End of part 4 (of 5)
One of the first things that people notice when they embark on the spiritual journey is that there are many seekers and only a few “enlightened” beings. To me, the only possible explanation for this mismatch, is not that “enlightenment” is so hard to find but that we tend to look in the wrong places for it. And I think the reason for this is that the Eastern cultural context makes it sound much more exotic than it actually is. In this post I would like to look at the question of enlightenment from a more Western perspective and thereby de-mystify and clarify it a bit.
Let’s start very basic.
The French philosopher Albert Camus once said that the most important philosophical question is to whether to commit suicide or not. Or in other words: what is it that keeps us going? Why not just quit life? I would posit that the answer to this question is “meaning”. The surest way to get a suicidal depression is by convincing ourselves that life is meaningless. An the best way to spark enthusiasm is to find a reason to live for.
The question that now arises is: what is “meaning”? Meaning is where our bliss is, and bliss is when we feel most genuinely alive. To feel alive our senses need to be attuned to the immediacy of what is going on (“now”), they need to be receptive. The more we are stimulated sensually, the more our being is enlivened and the more gratitude we feel for being alive. When the “doors of perception” open, life reveals itself as the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” that it is. The senses are the gates to the kingdom of heaven.
What competes with the immediate reality of “now”, is the symbolic, representational reality of the mind. The mind is where we abstract the world, where we leave what actually “is” and enter what we think about what “is”. This ability is of vital importance for the survival of our species but it does not provide “meaning”. A reality of ideas has no “juice” in it. It is an empty shell that cannot touch our being.
So, then, how do we “get out” of our minds? The short answer is: by not getting “into” it. We get into our minds whenever we do not accept what “is”, that is, when we try to exercise (conscious) control, when we judge or when we think about the past or the future. All “enlightening” practices, therefore, in some way or other have something to do with the relinquishing of control, the suspension of judgement or discrediting the belief in a better past or future.
As I have written in this blog a few times before, we cannot accept what “is”. We cannot enlighten ourselves. Trying to accept is like trying to let go by grasping. The only way to accept what “is” is to trust and to fall in love with what “is”. So, the only reason we cannot be “here, now”, cannot find “meaning” in life, is because we don’t trust and love it unconditionally. Solitude, silence, meditation, chanting, rituals, psychedelics, etc. have been used for millennia to develop this trust and fall more and more in love with what “is”.
So, to be enlightened is to be a lover of life (or to be “intimate with all things”, as the great Zen Master Dogen put it). Such a person lives for life’s sake and not for any particular purpose. Life becomes its own purpose, just as the lover’s sole purpose of life is to be in the presence of the Beloved. When life is loved unconditionally there is no point in changing it, and so, all striving ceases. This marks a new beginning.
In the same spirit, Albert Camus’ answer to his own philosophical question was: “live to the point of tears”.
“The on-going WOW is happening, right now.”
Transcript of a fantastic video clip (click here) from the movie “Waking Life” featuring Speed Levitch:
On this bridge, Lorca warns: life is not a dream. Beware, and beware, and beware!
And so many think because then happened, now isn’t. But didn’t I mention, the on-going WOW is happening, right now!
We are all co-authors of this dancing exuberance, where even our inabilities are having a roast! We are the authors of ourselves, co-authoring a gigantic Dostoevsky novel starring clowns!
This entire thing we’re involved with called the world, is an opportunity to exhibit how exciting alienation can be.
Life is a matter of a miracle, that is collected over time by moments flabbergasted to be in each others’ presence.
The world is an exam, to see if we can rise into the direct experiences. Our eyesight is here as a test to see if we can see beyond it, matter is here as a test for our curiosity, doubt is here as an exam for our vitality.
Thomas Mann wrote that he would rather participate in life than write a hundred stories. Giacometti was once run down by a car, and he recalled falling in to a lucid faint, a sudden exhilaration, as he realized at last, something was happening to him.
An assumption develops that you can not understand life and live life simultaneously. I do not agree entirely, which is to say I do not exactly disagree. I would say, that life understood is life lived. But the paradoxes bug me. And I can learn to love, and make love to the paradoxes that bug me. And on really romantic evenings of Self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.
Before you drift off, don’t forget, which is to say remember. Because remembering is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting. Lorca, in that same poem, said that the iguana will bite those who do not dream. And, as one realizes, that one is a dream-figure in another person’s dream: that is self-awareness!
I would like to further expand a bit on the ideas from my post on The Holy Grail.
If we look around we can’t deny that most of us, people of the West, live in a paradise of affluence and security. We have food and shelter, friends and loved ones, time for leisure and pleasure and even the freedom to realize ourselves. Nevertheless, most of us don’t live a very fulfilling life. Somehow, it seems, that we are not truly grateful for what we have. And when see pictures of starving children in Africa and when we are truly honest to ourselves, deep down somewhere, we are a bit ashamed about it. There are those rather uncomfortable quiet moments, for example on a lazy day, when we know something is not quiet right or ‘missing’. If we allow to listen with our ears turned inside, existential questions are waiting to be answered, like:
What the heck this all about?
Why am I here?
Am I an accident in paradise?
Most of you may already be familiar with Abraham Maslow, the famous discoverer of the hierarchy of needs. In his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” he introduced the idea that once our basic needs for food, shelter and community are met we strive for intimacy with other people in the form of family and close relationships. Once this is accomplished, we are driven to gain esteem and recognition within our community. Finally, there will naturally appear an urge to realize one’s potential, which Maslow called ‘self-actualization’. Shortly before his death, though, Maslow expanded this hierarchy by another step: ‘self-transcendence’. Thus, the ultimate goal and motivation in life, according to Maslow, is to reach a trans-personal level where life is lived for the sake of the embodiment of ethics, compassion, creativity and spirituality. Self-actualization is ultimately not ‘enough’ to satisfy our deepest yearnings.
(Much to Maslows surprise he found in his research that self-actualization was not a necessary step preceding self-transcendence. Because of this ‘disorder’ in an otherwise structurally concise and elegant theory and because Maslow died before he could reach a final conclusion about his findings, ‘self-transcendence’ as the ultimate goal is somehow hardly ever included when we are taught about his hierarchy of needs.)
I find it extremely interesting that across all cultures and across all ages, humans have developed and cultivated means to induce a (self-) trance(-ndence) through enactments of rituals, studying ‘holy’ scriptures, performing and beholding forms of art or through the intake of psychedelic substances (see also my post on the Way of Bodhisattva). This confirms to me Maslows final analysis of the ultimate motivation in life.
Echoing Maslow and our cultural heritage, famous psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, founder of Logotherapy, posited that meaning is ultimately found in being involved in something that points away from, that is, transcends one’s self. Accordingly, meaning can be found in one of three activities or attitudes: in the service of others (similar to the idea of ‘karma yoga’), in loving somebody (similar to ‘bhakti yoga’), or, in the bearing of unavoidable suffering (similar to Nietzsches ‘amor fati’).
If you read my blog you know that I would argue that there is a fourth way. Meaning can be found in the realization that all is ‘One’ (and the same). This insight is the gateway to the preciousness of ‘this’ moment as it is. We realize that this moment is the culmination and purpose of our lives, because life lives simply for its own sake and for no other particular reason than to rejoice in itself. In this intimacy with life as it ‘is’ a sense of mystery and gratefulness brings a natural joy of being alive. In it, the very drive to seek meaning becomes irrelevant and collapses.
Having said that, let’s backtrack a bit. So, are we accidents in paradise? I would say paradise is evolving. As a species we seem to be moving along the hierarchy of needs. Since we have managed to create civilizations of peace and material abundance, we suddenly find ourselves confronted with an innate need for self-actualization and, ultimately, self-transcendence.
But what exactly is this ‘self’ that we are in need to transcend to find meaning? I see the egoic self as arising out of the reptilian parts of our brains and minds. Our ego/ self is a bundle of reactive patterns which serve the purpose to keep our organism alive. It is fueled by fear which, ultimately, leaves us in an unsatisfactory state of existential dis-ease. Because of that, we can’t ‘get no satisfaction’. We can never rest in ordinariness. We are always pushed and pulled to crave security and assurance at any cost and at any time. As long as there is fear, there is an ego/ self and there will always be a next thing to improve, control, change, get etc.
In our times of prosperity and peace, though, the services of the ego/ self are no longer of much use. It has become an impediment to our well-being because it can’t address the higher ranking human needs. It is not to blame, though, it simply wasn’t set up for this task. It indeed served its evolutionary purpose very well. After all, we are still here after all those millennia of human history, which is quite amazing if we think about it. But its about time now to go beyond our ego’s/ selves to bring some real satisfaction and fulfillment into our lives. How? By cultivating ego/ self-transcending activities and attitudes or by realizing that the fears of the ego/ self are completely unfounded since all is ‘One’. Therein lie the answers to all our nagging questions about the meaning of life.
May you understand and be free.
“To practice the Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.”
~Zen Master Dogen