At first glance this question might seem to have more to with music that spirituality, but beneath the surface of this seemingly simple enquiry lies a deep area for reflection. The basis for the question has its roots in how we perceive and how we relate to life. Of course we all think we see clearly all of the time; that seems logical. If we didn’t then how we could navigate our way through life successfully? Wouldn’t someone, at some stage point out to us we were off the mark or deceiving ourselves?
But there’s a difference between the level of clarity needed to simply function in everyday life and the level of clarity that leads to awakening. Try as we might, the first of these often leads us to habit and routine. Even when we think our outer lives have little routine, we can develop inner ones; our approach, the way we handle things, the way we present ourselves to others. To borrow a phrase, the second is really a fire sale; everything must go. Every last area of this human experience gets exposed and realised for what it is. Its nature is seen and what is seen is accepted and embraced as part of this wider experience of life. It’s not about perfection, there is no adherence to an ideological conception of how things should be, there is simply the recognition that however it is, it has arisen in this way within the ever changing present. From this non-attached perspective, it is in this sense perfect.
When the present moment is received in this way, openly and with presence, we are free to respond to whatever arises. We are able to act rather than react, and our actions arise from a place of seeing clearly. This presence requires openness and the setting aside of attachment to thoughts of what went before and expectations of how things ‘should be’. Because really, unless we’re aware of it, most of our world is made up of these thought stories.
Unless we understand that ‘the world’ is the response arising within us to the experience of it, then we believe that what we see represents the real, rather than a subjective point of view. That others, on some level might agree with our view may give validation to the simplest aspects of this, but we don’t have to go very far before we find elements of this human experience on which agreement become increasingly divided.
This is never more true than when it comes to people. How many times have we heard a scenario where one person will say, ‘You know I really don’t get on with X’, only for another to say, ‘Really? I’ve always found them to be okay’? It’s almost like they’re not talking about the same person. But in a very real sense they’re not talking about the same person, they’re talking about their internal story of that person based on their own subjective experience of them.
My story of you is my own unique tale, and will never be anyone else’s. It’s a story that can never be you, it’s simply my story of you. Let’s take an example; many of us have had the experience of going back home after living away only to find our parents relate to us in the same way they did when we lived at home with them years before. For them their story of us hasn’t moved on, it was frozen in time, and perhaps our story of them was as well. If the last time we lived together I was a fractious teenager then before long those same feelings and sometimes even those same arguments can start to arise. We can’t wait to leave, to get back to who we ‘really’ are.
An individual once asked a teacher what do about their parents, with whom they had a very challenging relationship. The teacher considered the matter then replied, ‘Don’t create them.’
Once we start to notice how we create others, how we create the story of them, we start to see clearly how limiting those stories can become. Each time we meet them we carry with us our story of them, its expectations and limitations. Instead of greeting them anew in the moment and allowing for what this new experience has to offer we try to fit whatever we find into the pattern of what’s gone before. Then we reflect, ‘People don’t really change, they’re just the same as they always were.’
The way to stop this happening is quite simple, it just requires us, on meeting people, even people we’ve known for years, to be fully present with them in the moment without adding thought, either in regard to them, to ourselves or to anything that might have gone before. Grounding ourselves in the present in this way is a freeing experience and it opens up the possibility for new things to emerge. We might find that we pick up on something through our conversation we haven’t noticed before.
Being fully present is an open and trusting state, and bringing these qualities means we’re meeting them in a very authentic way, not from behind our armour of how we like others to see us. When we take that armour off and just allow ourselves to be present, to trust in the moment and to meet it fully, it creates a different kind of space and contact. There is no ‘self’ to be but there are plenty of imagined selves we can avoid being, and that’s a pleasant burden to set down.
Walking through life, meeting life fully and openly can feel vulnerable at first. We don’t know what might happen next. What if we’re not prepared for it? The world can be a dangerous place, what if someone takes advantage of us?
But we’re not speaking here of abandoning all common sense, we’re not going out of our way to expose ourselves to any risk. We’re simply approaching the moment with open presence, setting aside any expectations. Has life ever been less uncertain than it is now, or did we simply create a story in our head that made it seem that way?
So why not embrace that uncertainty? After all, you’re part of it too; no one knows how you’re going to act either.