The spiritual path, so called, can be a challenging one at times and full of many convolutions and contradictions. We can find ourselves in frustration asking, “Why can’t someone just tell me the truth? I’m smart enought to understand, so why can’t they just say it in plain (insert language of choice)?”
Let’s call this, Frustration number 1.
Well, okay, here it is then – you don’t exist as a separate and ‘real’ thing. You just imagine/believe you do.
Did that make any difference? No.
Because when you read those words you formed an intellectual understanding of their meaning. That understanding in what you consider to be the mind, is still within the structure of the illusionary self. It’s like being a prisoner in a tower and looking at a picture of the world outside. No matter how hard you look at the picture you’re still really only inside the tower.
The reality of the situation is that for the illusory self, the ‘sense of self’, there is really no tower. That’s part of what makes it difficult to ‘escape’. The very fact that you believe there is something to escape, ultimately reinforces the imagined reality of the thing itself – the ‘self’.
Now, that may need a few readings and a bit of time to sink in and get your head around, but whilst you’re doing that, don’t start to feel like it’s hopeless, because it’s obviously not. There are many who have seen through the illusion of self and ‘awoken’, become liberated, realised truth – the terms applied really don’t matter because they’re all just labels for a direct experience which is far beyond the borders of the map of language.
So how do we approach this then? If striving for truth, if searching for liberation can actually reinforce the illusion that there is something to escape, what should we do?
Stop seeking, striving, yearning – these are still just desires and desire is an aspect or symptom of the ‘sense of self’. You need to start seeing. SEEING.
A ‘structure’ or what we regard as a structure (it’s not really a structure as you’ll see when the illusion is realised) forms as we go through life. It’s beams and walls, windows and doors are made of our thoughts, our beliefs, our habits and our attachments to all these. Examine for yourself:
What do you consider you’re good at? – This reinforces, ‘I’m this kind of person.’
What do you consider you’re bad at? – This reinforces, ‘I’ll never be that kind of person.’
What do you love or really like? – This reinforces that there is something real that loves or likes.
What do you try to avoid or hate? – This reinforces that there is something to hate or avoid that is separate from ‘me’, and this is interchangeable with the answer above.
So with your spiritual path, what are you trying to achieve? – This reinforces that there is something to achieve, something to get or gain and on this path it reinforces, ‘I have to get rid of this habit, that tendency. I’ll never get enlightened so long as I get road-rage.’ etc. etc.
But go back to the start. There is no ‘self’. There is no ‘thing’ inside. There is no real ‘you’. If you can’t let go of that belief then you can’t let go of the illusion and that’s why you don’t see. As Ajahn Chah said, ‘If you let go a little, you’ll have a little freedom. If you let go a lot, you’ll have a lot of freedom. If you let go completely, you’ll have complete freedom.’
Frustration number 2 – I don’t know how to let go!
Here’s how – look. Really look. This ‘path’ that’s not a path at all is all about seeing – seeing things as they really are. Because all that remains and is real is experiencing, not the experience nor the experiencer, just experiencing. So in the moment, in the now, use seeing. By looking and seeing you can realise or see things as they are.
Start with you. If you’ve been on this ‘path’ for any length of time at all you’ll have come across, ‘I’m not my body, I’m not my thoughts’, type of mantra. But it’s just words isn’t it? Because deep inside you ‘know’ you really are this body and these thoughts. That’s not actually the problem, the challenge is the ‘sense of self’ that thinks it knows these things. And to dismantle that and see through this illusion you have to look really clearly and deeply, with courage and honesty at exactly what is.
The degree to which you spend time looking and the degree to which you’re prepared to never assume, only experience will determine the degree to which you succeed and the timescale.
So, what is it that gets road-raged, to use our earlier example? What happened when the situation arose? Look inside the very next time it happens and watch what you see. See the movement. What is it that took offence? Was there a choice, a space there between the perception of the situation and the movement to respond? Look closer. Was there? What is this space? What happens if you stay in this space and don’t focus consciousness on the habituated response, getting carried along with it?
When we do this, when there is just observation, when there is stillness, there is no response is there? No movement. Now look at any example from your life each day and each moment it occurs. What is impinging, what is the cause? When it happens focus on the exact point of stillness between that cause ‘coming in’ and the movement to respond ‘going out’. Be in that space that neither moves in or out.
It’s not easy at first, it takes patience and don’t worry at all about not ‘catching’ every situation. But over time you will see in the stillness that there is…. what? Nothing. Just nothing. Simply nothing. And in this ‘space’, this non-being you might realise that there’s no you looking and nothing to be seen.