Readers of this blog know that I’ve been studying Taoism and Zen for quite some time within and without. This time I would like to share the three main practical lessons I learnt from all my studying and observing.
Lesson #1: Life is a roller-coaster
If you observe yourself, your mind and your emotional states for a while you will notice that there never is a “high” that has not been preceded by some sort of “low” some time before (and vice versa). In any cycle, the lower you go, the higher you can get. The explanation for this is very simple: the longer you stay in the dark, the more intense any sort of light will be because our consciousness is very sensitive to contrasts.
If you agree that this rule holds true, then you will easily realise that you cannot always stay “high” (or happy or you name it). When you are bathed in the light, your consciousness will start to get used to it and literarily overlook it. And so the light will eventually be as blinding as the dark.
So the lesson is that there is no use denying or resisting the roller-coaster nature of life. The fools try and thus make the roller-coaster experience dreadful. But the wise develop a flip-flopability, which is the ability to not minding the ups and downs, highs and lows because they know that they constitute life. Without going through the motions, there’s no life! Therefore, they enjoy the ride, like we enjoy the actually roller-coasters.
Lesson #2: Life is two-sided
All actions and decisions have (subjective) pro’s and con’s. There is no such thing as an “ideal” action or decision. Think all your actions and decisions humbly and honestly through to the very end and you will realise the same.
The fools keep looking for the “optimal” or “ideal” life, which only exits because they suppress the con’s of their own actions. Instead they blame others for all miseries in the world and grow hatred in their hearts. They start fights, revolutions and wars.
The wise who know that every coin has two sides, leave others in peace. They kill “the Buddha when they see him” as they know that they themselves create harm too. They focus on the pro’s of other people’s actions and are thus more compassionate with them when dealing with the con’s. Thus they approach problems and frictions with others in a positive rather than a negative way.
Lesson #3: Life is a balancing-act
The world is impermanent. This is plain obvious. Life is the same: it is always changing because of its roller-coaster nature and its two-sidedness. We are forever going up and down, in and out and balance between the pairs of opposites. The way to find peace in this turmoil is simple: full embrace of the “catastrophe” that is life. Nirvana is Samsara fully embraced. The difficulty, though, is that we cannot want to embrace. Embrace is something that happens automatically when we do not resist life anymore. The reason we are not in Nirvana is that we are afraid of letting go into it. Thus we hold on and get dragged along instead of flowing along. So the spiritual discipline is to lose our fears and trust in life as it presents itself in all its glory and all its horrors. Say YES to life unconditionally and it will shout back at you and bestow you with peace of mind.
Encore: Lesson #4: Check your motivation
From time to time check why you are seeking out for and reading stuff like this. Do you want to get “high”? Are you trying to find a solution to your problems? Are you looking for some relief or hope? If that’s the case, something inside of you resists life (that is, what is happening right now). Enquire: what is wrong with “now”? You’ll eventually find out that the only thing that is “wrong” is that you think something is “wrong” because you are afraid of life.
The only reality is the raw experience of life prior to the mind’s involvement.
We are constantly seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching nothing but the Truth.
The mind discriminates, interprets, evaluates and judges our sensory input. Thereby it creates a parallel world that does not exist independent of our minds, a mirage of ideas, beliefs and opinions about reality.
This dream world is the source of us living out imaginary stories of right and wrong, better and worse, me and other. And both, the most exalted as well as the most painful moments of our lives are simply caused by whether reality fits our mind-made stories.
The whole of humanity is a big act. As long as we are convinced that our fictitious stories about reality hold true, we are hopelessly caught up in our roles and ideologies and forever struggle and strive on the spot.
The only way out of the story is to fully see through and acknowledge it. Transcendence is neither being lost in the story nor denying or rejecting it.
The mind is not a mistake and, so, to be human means to put on an act. But at the same time, when we are ignorant about reality and take our role too seriously, our life becomes a drag.
For playing is fun when everybody tries to win without being invested in the outcome. Thus the sages consciously play out their fake acts in a genuine manner and with compassion.
Nothing – not even ourselves – exists the way we think it does.
What is ultimately real is … this, and there is no other Truth, ever.
Shed your illusions,
wake up to reality,
and be one.
This is a song I recorded recently with a friend
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.
Underneath the surface,
deep inside the dugout,
a place of low light,
but sheltered from pain,
lies the hell of commonplaceness,
the wasteland of self-deception and struggle.
Above the surface,
out in the open,
a place of wonder and awe,
where the sun equally shines on joy and pain,
lies the promised land of unknowing,
the kingdom of self-acceptance and peace.
surrender your armor,
drop your mask,
come out into the world,
as you were born,
and every butterfly,
will awaken your inner child.
Trust and re-enter the gate,
of pure consciousness.
Yesterday I heard a song on the radio that for some reason inspired me to write an alternative text for (see video of the original song below). I figured out the chords in case you want to try it on your guitar. Hope you like it.
Next time Q&A Part III.
You only know peace when you let life flow
Only be here wanting nowhere to go
Only know real love when trust is your own
You only seek the high when you reject the low
Only feel bad thinking you need to grow
Only miss life if you won’t let it go
But you can let it go.
You can come home oooooooooome hoooooooooooome
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. To make up for the long wait, I am going to give away everything in this post. All that I know about how to become a peaceful and content person. Luckily, all I know, that is, the gist of all that is said and will be said on this blog (and consequently all that I’ve understood from spiritual teachings) can be summarized in three key insights.
Insight 1: our fears create our suffering
When our ordinary consciousness is nurtured by unconscious fears and general mistrust, we live in a state of subtle anxiety and dis-ease with life.
Some aspects of existence change our consciousness by relieving our fears and foster trust. These aspects we usually call “good”. We hold them high and feel compelled to strive for them (“follow your bliss”). Other aspects strengthen our fears and foster mistrust. These we call “bad”. We reject, dismiss or fight against them.
So, fundamental to the concepts of “good” and “bad” is fear and mistrust.
Concepts create a duality between what is (happening) and what ought (to be happening), that is, between plain reality and conceptual reality. This duality creates a tension in our organism, the subtle anxiety and dis-ease with life I spoke about in the beginning. So, because we hold unconscious fears, we create concepts and because of the concepts we live in duality and dis-ease. To release the dis-comfort we keep struggling for the “good” and avoiding the “bad”, thus perpetuating our dual state and dis-ease. It’s a classic vicious cycle.
The way we usually try to cope with the dis-ease is by trying to change what is into what ought, that is we either fight with or flight from reality. We may try to “cover the world in leather”, that is, struggle to change the whole world according to our ideas, or, renounce the world altogether and seek refuge into a cocoon-like ideal utopian world where everything always goes the way we want it. The important insight is that these strategies will never, ever deliver their ultimate promise because they are completely unrealistic. So, as long as there are unconscious fears, there will be duality and dis-ease. Following these coping strategies only leads to continuous frustration, the sort of rat race many of us feel ourselves participating in.
“The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.
Do not seek for the truth. Only cease to cherish opinions.”
“Men are disturbed not by things but by the view which they take of them.”
“All ideologies are idiotic, whether religious or political, for it is conceptual thinking, the conceptual word, which has so unfortunately divided man.”
The question “what makes me content and peaceful?” does not lead you anywhere because you are peaceful and content by nature. Ask instead “what keeps me from being peaceful and content?”. You’ll find the answer is fear and mistrust in oneself and the universe.
Insight 2: we cannot overcome our fears (by an act of will)
So, how to overcome our fears and mistrust? How to accept and embrace what is? The truth is, we can’t. As we are trying to overcome fear or trying to accept, we are working under the assumption that there is something wrong with fear or that there is something that is not accepted yet. By doing so, we basically label our fears problematic and reject our non-acceptance, respectively. Instead of embracing what is, we are just deepening the illusion that what is, is a problem. We create more concepts of “good” vs. “bad” and, hence, all we do is strengthening duality and dis-ease.
Acceptance and trust is the absence of the urge to do something about an aspect of reality. It is never something we “do”, but the non-objection to what always already “is”.
We are basically “double-bound”: we can’t get rid of our dis-ease, neither by doing nor by abstaining from doing something about it. We can never relieve our dis-ease, we can only keep it going. In fact, as I have tried to point out, “we” are an integral part of our problem.
So, what we need to learn is to let things be and surrender. Again, as long as we are afraid we will have the itch to “do” (or to not do) something to make our dis-ease go away.
“Stop trying to leave and you will arrive.”
“Your ordinary consciousness is the Tao. By intending to accord with it you immediately deviate.”
“Unless you make tremendous efforts, you will not be convinced that effort will take you nowhere. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up. Mere verbal conviction is not enough.”
We can’t rationally talk ourselves out of our “hang-ups” because they are induced by irrational fears.
Insight 3: fear is based on the ignore-ance that we are one with the universe
Since we can’t do anything about our dis-ease, how can we ever find peace and contentment? By replacing our fears and mistrust with love and trust.
One way of getting somebody into a consciousness of love and trust is by exaggerating the “double-bind” situation. In this scenario, the spiritual seeker is faced with ever more complex (and absurd) spiritual practices and exercises until (s)he gives up, surrenders, and has a mystical experience (aka a spiritual awakening). The message that this experience powerfully delivers is manyfold: it is now known that the universe is endless, inherently flawless and lacking a specific purpose. More importantly, though, one realizes one’s unity with everything. One sees the universe as it is: one perpetual organism. Thus, the spiritually awakened have a strong sense of feeling at home in the world. And as they do, they will have their irrational (and illusory) fears crumble one by one.
Obviously, this undermines the fundamental problem of discomfort, anxiety and dis-ease. As we start to trust the universe (ourselves!) we automatically drop our judgmental concepts and (re-)align ourselves with our innate being and what(ever) is. We flow at-one-ed with life instead of trying to reject or to push it. We finally become free to be completely ourselves in any situation, which ultimately means that we become free to feel everything, to be vulnerable and open. That way, we find the compassion, peace and contentment we have always been running after.
“Nirvana means extinction of all notions and ideas. If we can become free from them we can touch the peace of our true nature.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
“It is false to speak of realization. What is there to realize? The real is as it is always. When all sanskaras have been given up, the Self will shine alone.”
“The real calm of sages comes from the fact that they are ready and willing to do whatever comes naturally in all circumstances.”
When there is no more concept of “problem”, then there is no more problem! The reason for the problems in the world is that people, because of their irrational fears, create imaginary problems in whose pursuit of solving they mess up an otherwise perfectly balanced world.
Clip from the brilliant movie “A Single Man”: