Not written anything for a while so I’m probably rusty. There’s been something on my mind, something we don’t hear talked about that often when people discuss a ‘spiritual inquiry’ or ‘seeking truth’. I suppose the simplest way to say it is that it has to be about more than that. It has to be about how we live; the quality of this life, not just Truth in some abstract sense. Whether or not we’ve seen through the illusion of the self as being a real thing, whether or not we’ve broken any of the Fetters, we still have to live and interact as part of the conditioned, as part of this apparent reality. And pulling free from all appearances is a slow process, it doesn’t happen overnight. So you can get rid of the sense of self, you can see through it and then it’s like, ‘So what!?’ You still suffer when jealousy arises, you still get angry when things don’t go your way, you can still feel bored or impatient and this can lead to a lot of confusion.
At this point most people, emerging from the first few glorious months of centreless awakening go straight into denial, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. But that’s a false refuge isn’t it? Sooner or later we have to face facts. We might have glimpsed the Unconditioned, might still have access to it (as it – excuse clumsy writing), but we still have work to do. Decades of conditioning are still right where we left them. Decades of creating and reinforcing patterns of behaviour, thought and preference lie like dried up water courses just waiting for the rain of attention to fill them and flow along them as it always has. Changing the direction of a water course is not easy. It is after all the path of least resistance, and without a lot of – yes, I’m going to say it, buckle up and suspend your prejudice – without a lot of mindfulness you won’t succeed. Or maybe you will but at a glacial pace.
So where does this take us? Well, we have to learn to come to terms with all of those half hidden aspects of this life, this human experience we’ve been avoiding and don’t much like. Our laziness, our fear, our narcissism; they make any ugly reflection when we look in the mirror of self but we have to come to accept them. In fact, we have to come to love them. Don’t want to skip to the last page, but as you’ll find love is the only thing that steals their power to condition out reality.
So yes, like the image that accompanies this post, your inner self might wear a face that only a mother could love but you have to be that mother. You have to love all of it. This part of our journey will take us back to every painful experience that forged our responses and reactions. It takes honesty, courage and a lot of love to accept whatever we find. But it’s not impossible. Look at it this way: I have a small dog (not the one pictured). He’s a cutie pie, very sweet natured as long as he’s well fed and loved. But if he sees a cat he goes crazy, he wants to rip it to pieces. It’s his nature; as far as he’s concerned the only good cat is a dead cat, preferably by his paw. Now, that doesn’t stop me loving him. I still love him but sometimes I have to keep a firm hand on the lead.
We’re just the same. When conditions press my buttons, I react. Emotions flare, thoughts arise. That’s because of my conditioning. So I keep a firm hand on the lead. Mindful awareness lets me see these reactions. Judgement-free clarity helps me to understand the cause and effect of this. Wisdom, what little I have, lets me realise: this is just a thought; this is just a feeling. It’s natural. It’s okay. Just see it. Watch it. It arises and it passes away. When it does, let it go, don’t hang on, don’t keep it on repeat. Bring attention back to just this, this breath, this sound, this fading emotion, whatever works. Just don’t believe it. And definitely don’t identify with it: ‘I’m an angry person’, ‘I’m a this or that sort of person’. You’re not. This is just a passing cloud, it happens. The sun is still right there.
Now this all takes practice. It might take years of practice and the basis of this practice is mindful awareness. Being fully present with just this and seeing clearly and without judgement the nature of experiencing as it’s happening. But when we do this, when we become fluent with it we gain the precious gift of freedom. Instead of reacting when our buttons get pushed we see this process, we see the choices and possibilities. We can choose which option seems best in the circumstances from a place of clarity. Without that, if you do this to me then I do this to you – that isn’t freedom. That’s my dog barking at a cat. He’ll never not bark at a cat. But we have a choice. We have the capacity to choose, and having a choice, we have freedom. That’s what this is really all about, isn’t it?