There are many apparent contradictions in life, not the least of which is the very basis for our consumerist society – if you have more, you’ll want less and you’ll be happy. But you have to ask yourself, if that’s the case why do so many of rich and successful people we come across seem to either be unhappy or at the more extreme end downright self-destructive?
Surely if the adverts were true, if we have the perfect car, house, postcode, career, partner, phone, accessories, not forgetting perfectly white teeth, we’d be as contented and smiling as the people in the billboards. But we’re not, are we? Most of us are struggling to get by and many of us only feel we can do so thanks to all of our little props be those medicinal or recreational.
I guess we’re scared of falling apart and our lives do seem so very fragile, don’t they? Especially when someone we know or care about dies. It’s a shock and it makes us question things. You reach a certain age when you don’t get through a year without this happening at least once, or at least it seems that way. That’s a lot of funerals; a lot of questions. It’s cold comfort when someone points out that it’s in the nature of life to end; no one wants to hear that.
But really what lives and what dies? If we can get to the heart of this question then we stand a chance of leading a less troubled life when these things inevitably happen. You’ll only see the answer to this by inquiring, or looking as I call it, you won’t get it from this post but you might get a few pointers.
Start with change. Start there. See how nothing is fixed and everything changes. Some change we can see because of the rate at which it happens, we see the second hand move don’t we? We don’t see the minute or hour hands move but of course they do. They change but we just don’t see it. In the place in which you’re sitting EVERYTHING around you is in a constant process of change. It wasn’t here, now it is, at some point it won’t be. All things arise and pass away. All apparent ‘things’ aren’t things at all just a coming together of processes that at some point separate or change again.
Okay, so what’s the point? The point is your mind doesn’t like to work that way. What you do instead is you take fixed snapshots: a tree, a car, my shiny new phone. These snapshots, these mental images you create don’t change but the thing itself does. So when it ages, breaks, dies your mental image breaks and there’s a gap between how you see it: the snapshot, and how it is. Suffering is no more and no less than that gap – the gap between the way you expect or want it to be and the way it is.
So what’s the cure, how do we fix this? Well for a start spend less time in your head and more time in the real world. When you’re being mindfully present with this living human experience you see the constant change, the fluidity of life and attachments don’t form so easily. You see arising and passing away, you let go without thinking about it because you see the changing nature of this. Fewer attachments equals less suffering.
But there’s an obstacle to overcome first. Your whole life you’ve been conditioned to believe thought is important. It’s not. Very simply it’s not. You don’t see the clouds, smell the flowers, appreciate the cute doggy, wallow in the smell of freshly cut grass, smile at the sunshine on your skin because somehow, in some twisted version of life you believe your unresolved insurance issue is more important and you can’t get it out of your head. Maybe you can’t get it out, but you can get out. Spend more time just being with this. What needs to get done generally gets done.
Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘If I don’t worry about all of this stuff my life will go to pot.’ You might be surprised. You’ll find very little outward change in your life but one of the big changes that will take place is a change of focus. You may have to give up on your dream of comfort and security, but really that was only ever a dream. Life is too uncertain to accommodate your individual dream. Work and grind for it all you like you’ll never get there and you’ll probably get sick trying.
Remember what we said at the start? It’s just consumerism doin’ it’s thing. The dream isn’t real. All the stuff in the world won’t make you happy. You know why? Because you don’t live out there. You live in here (you can’t see me right now but I’m pointing at my heart). Heart is where the home is. Look after that, nourish and cultivate a good heart and you’ll be happy without riches. A double bonus because you have nothing to lose and no one can take it away. This is what it means to live an awakened life. If you think it’s more complicated than that, that’s just head stuff again. It’s really not complicated, it’s very simple. Don’t avoid simple, keep it simple and see.
Beautiful writing Andrew – a wonderful mix of kindness and directness. I found your post very helpful, and reassuring – thank you. Reassuring in that the awakened life can be that simple.
For a while now I have been trying to come to terms with how shocking this notion actually is – the notion that I actually don’t need thought and that living from actual direct experience is enough – big enough, rich enough, satisfying enough. Can this be? For someone like myself with a rich inner life, this can look like giving up the pearl for the wrapping. Can one dive deeply enough in to actual experience for this to actually become the true pearl?
Hi Veda, thank you for your kind words. If I may suggest, try to look at it this way; there is awareness, and awareness is always present. Awareness gets pulled into thought, into its content and then our wide, open free perspective becomes narrowed down to one small context. This is the ‘unawakened’ state (so called anyway but it’s just a label and as meaningless as all labels). Mindful awareness allows. It allows thought to arise without being drawn in, sensation to arise without getting lost in that, feelings and emotions to come and go without judgement. So this is about noticing where attention or awareness gets drawn to, where it gets attached, where it gets stuck and trying to see that clearly. When we do, we come back in that moment to mindful presence, to being the knower of. It is in every sense a practice, a living practice in the moment, this real waking moment. And yes, you very much can do it!! No thought is required for realisation, mindful attention to this human experience will reveal the processes that flow together, flow apart, come and go, arise and cease – then you see it! No self. Nothing separate. Just a movement, an expression, a living dance of beingness. So you have a rich inner life? That’s great, there’s a rich ‘outer’ life as well and really wehen you see it you’ll find that the distinction ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ don’t really mean anything. Take care, Andrew