Some people describe awakening as the end of suffering. It’s one of the more divisive phrases that gets used in relation to the shift that takes us back from a subject/object experiencing of life to one in which there is no ‘us’, no ‘me’, no subject/object unless we engage in that way, this being replaced by simply experiencing happening. Well, that’s not quite true. Even after awakening we don’t spend all day, every day as ‘experiencing happening’ but it’s there as a potential. In the stopping, in the silence, in the pauses, the duality of life slips back to just beingness.
It’s like discovering your 2D life has a Z axis you never knew existed and it has no limits, no boundaries or edges, no content and nothing relatable. I guess that’s why it doesn’t get talked about or expressed, it’s just not something words could capture, unless perhaps you happen to be a poet.
A person approached me who appeared very interested in awakening. Over a period of time I learned more about her life and the intense suffering that it comprised. She desperately sought awakening as a way out of her troubles. She didn’t know where else to turn so she turned to awakening based on this emotive ideal. If only it worked like that. If only it was a panacea for all our ills. I’m not sure how well I related why it doesn’t work like that to her at the time but I’ll try and do it here in case you know someone who’s in the same boat. Bear with me because this analogy starts off on a seemingly random note.
Picture if you will a horror movie that you’ve watched, perhaps a classic one, one that frightened you at the time. Now freeze frame it at the scary part. The image is frightening, but if you imagine expanding that point of view what do you see? You see the lights and the guys holding them, the cameras, the director, the make-up artist, the sound guy with his boom. You see a whole host of technical staff and the actors in the middle shooting the scene. Not so scary now is it?
The thing is, you know all that already. You always knew they were there. You had to make yourself forget they were there so you could engage with the narrative and enjoy the movie. Why do we do that, I wonder? Well, we all love a good story don’t we? I bet all of us know at least one person who can spin a really good yarn. But if you’ve ever stood next to a good story teller and they’re talking about something you were present to witness yourself, you can’t help but notice how they leave out certain details and add more weight to others. Maybe they even embellish the truth a bit, just to make it more interesting. It’s not that the story is wrong, it’s just not exactly what happened, at least from your perspective.
But what is our perspective? You probably know that ten eye-witnesses to the same event will tell very different versions of it, sometimes even contradicting each other. And yet when it comes to our own memories, we attach to them as if they’re true, don’t we? I know what happened, I was there!
But really that’s just a viewpoint isn’t it? It’s just an opinion, one perspective out of countless perspectives. How many of us are capable of relating to our most painful memories that way, not holding them too tightly, just as a viewpoint that might or might not be accurate?
The challenge is that each and every one of us comes equipped with our own personal built-in story teller. An expert story teller that can take a stream of consciousness, all the information of the senses and how that is received, and create a narrative out of it that then becomes our point of reference for ‘what really happened’. But life isn’t a narrative. This moment is change; constant change, that’s all. When we see beginnings and endings, when we relate this to that, we’re the ones creating it as a story, a narrative that then becomes our truth.
Like all stories it has a central character, a ‘me’, and various supporting cast members. They play their parts in the drama and it might be a comedy, a tragedy, a love story or maybe even an adventure. But we are the authors. We’ve taken this meaningless, changing moment and woven it into something new. We’ve created a world and everyone and everything that makes it up.
So what is the way out of this? If our story is a tragedy, what is the end of suffering? Well it’s not about trying to come up with another, better re-write. When we recognise this is what is happening, when we see that this is thought doing what it does, telling a story of ‘me’ and ‘other’, when we realise that so clearly that the sense of a separate me ‘pops’ or ‘shifts’ or whatever you want to call it, then we pull back from that small screen and see the big picture. We see the contexts and the scaffolding that supports the story telling and we recognise the story as an amazing work of fiction; our creation. Lose the creator, lose the belief in the creation.
The story is still there, we can engage if we choose to but we can also step back and in doing so cease again, cease as ‘us’. It’s a strange capacity and if someone, somewhere calls it the end of suffering, it’s not that they’re entirely wrong, but we have to take this phrase as a clue not as an answer, and begin to look deeply. Begin to see it as it really is, always a fiction, always not true, and therefore not to be believed in as some absolute truth. Yes, you were there, yes, you saw what happened but only from the perspective of a character in a story written by thought. If we can step back from that perspective we find that, well, you can’t be scared of a horror movie when you see the whole cast and crew, can you?