I spend a lot of my time sitting in traffic. I don’t mind, it gives me time to refect on things and I thought I might share some of those reflections with you. The idea I want to consider in this post is to give some perspective on what is of value and what is important to us in life. And starting a post like this can be tricky because I guess most people feel at the outset we have a reasonably clear perspective on what is and isn’t important.
So back to the traffic – when you get right down to it, what is a car? It’s a mode of transport first and foremost. It’s a means of getting us from one place to another. But if you’re the boss of a large company you don’t want to be seen pulling into the car park in a budget priced car. It wouldn’t convey the correct image and you might get judged for that. You’ll proabably want to make sure your car is either the best of at least of a highly rated brand to act as a symbol of your success.
Strange isn’t it that a mode of transport should become a symbol of status in our culture? In other social circles it’s the brand of our clothes or even on our reading glasses. It might also be the area you live in, size of you house or some other material asset.
I’m not intending this to be in any way political but it’s worth reflecting on how we view each of these things as they tie in closely with our sense of self, and our sense of self is what leads to our suffering. Why are we prepared to pay more to have a better badge on the front of our car or our handbag or our clothes or shoes or glasses, when the same item without that badge would do the same job just as well? Why do we care what other people think? Are we really just seeking to acquire social status within the ‘group’?
This isn’t freedom is it? This kind of attachment can never lead to freedom. And then there’s the thrill of the acquisition. That long desired object that we’ve had our eye on for so long. In our society it’s likely to be some new gadget, a piece of personal equipment or communication device that can do so much more than just let you talk to friends, and it can do it faster and better than the previous model.
Everyone in the advert who has one seems so happy and content and everyone thinks they’ve really achieved something by owning this gadget, they’re right up to date; in vogue with the latest fashion. But it’s still just a communication device isn’t it? And what do we communicate with it? The same old stuff, because we’re not new, neither are our friends and neither is anything we have to say to them.
But that’s the basis of a consumer society. To sow the seeds of discontent or perhaps to use the existing seeds of discontent and promise contentment with the acquisition of some new material possession. It’s great at first and we can feel thrilled and happy to have our new possession. But after several weeks do we still feel that thrill of happiness or is it now just another thing we own? Our friends and colleagues have long since lost interest in it and we hardly notice we have it anymore. I see it every day in the faces of the people in their new and expensive cars, unhappy because they still can’t get where they’re going and because they haven’t learned to be content with where they are.
So what really is important? What is enough? Because if you don’t know what you need and when it’s enough how can you ever hope to find contentment? It’s back to the sofa test. If you find yourself reading this and you’re not hungry, thirsty or in discomfort then look inside and take a moment to check how you feel on the inside.
If the feeling inside isn’t of peace and contentment then why not? What’s wrong when there’s apparently nothing wrong?
Well it’s this: the personal self, perceiving itself as separate, exists in a permanent state of insecurity.
This gives rise to our suffering and our discontent. At a fundamental level, often below the surface of our thoughts, our sense of separateness leads us to want to construct and navigate a path through our lives in such a way as to ensure we avoid anything which is a threat. Or as an alternative, in some individuals this insecurity can motivate them to seek out threats so in conquering them they feel in control of the threat and their fear of it.
We often seek security through money, power, position, association and try to strategise our way round every obstacle. We spend our days analysing the past for our mistakes and examining all possible futures to discover the ideal path, the best choices we can make, so we never have to suffer.
And we’ll fail. There is no perfect path through life, no perfect abiding in life where we can find permanent happiness and freedom from suffering. So the restless sense of self keeps moving on, looking for new things that will bring happiness, new things to get into hoping the next thing will be the one but it never can be. We look at others – apparently happy, and try to emulate them: ‘If only I had her success’, ‘If only I had his life’. But look at her success and his life. Look more closely. How many such people really find contentment even though they are idolised? In reality how many of their life stories are littered with sadness, tragedy and lonliness. Why? Because what they’ve gained and everything they’ve achieved still won’t bring the self a sense of peace and contentment. The self can’t find these things because it’s nature, in feeling itslef to be separate simply can’t. The fragile self in a threatening and uncertain world can never feel peace and contentment for long.
So what’s the answer? How do we solve this riddle? Is it simply hopleless? Actually the truth is simple. The truth is there is no permanent separate self, whether you call it a personality, soul, spirit or something else. The appearance of a personal self is just a mode of consciousness. It has arisen and it will pass away. If you knew, if you dwelt in the realisation that all is one then there would be no fear and no delusion. But as long as there is attachment and seeking happiness through the exteranl world with all of it’s uncertainties, there can be no lasting permanent peace.
And when we get tired of seeking it and not finding it then we try to escape from feeling discontent in other ways. We all have our little escapes and it’s important not to be too critical of these, but also to recognise that’s what they are – ways of escaping awareness in the present moment, which is actually the opposite of awakening or spiritual freedom.
So where do you go when you fully realise that there is no permanent happy abiding in this manifest universe?
Well I suggest that this very realisation can be a powerful trigger to the process of letting go. And in letting go there is freedom