As I see it, each of us has but two choices to make in life: to use our existence to explore our own true nature, or to exist as a human. It’s really that simple.
If most mystical traditions are to be believed, the vast majority of us opt for the latter, and live out our days on the roller coaster that is human existence. We love and hate, grow strong and then frail, make love and war, mourn and rejoice, and so on.
Our relationships with other humans are similarly defined by that same humanness, which is to say, we measure ourselves against others. Our marriages or partnerships are predicated on money, sex, kids, retirement, on getting through life as painlessly/easily as possible and maybe leaving something for our heirs. For these individuals, the ‘still, small voice within’ cannot be heard over the din of life.
A tiny minority, for reasons of grace or suffering or perhaps a coconut to the head, opt for the former. They are obsessed with understanding not just the world around them but the world within. They don’t just want to know the who but the what of their existence. To be sure, they suffer the anxieties and torments of human existence – it is all they’ve known – but the ‘still, small voice within’ whispers and they listen – or at least attempt to listen.
For quite some time I imagined that a spiritual path was one dedicated to being ‘the best human I could be.’ But that’s just more mind stuff. Because one man’s ‘best’ or ‘good’ is another man’s ‘not quite good enough.’
In other words, it’s still human, it’s still defined by a ‘me’ needing to become something else, of a me comparing itself to others. It’s still participating in the great illusion, in maya. As was written in The Great Way, “If you wish to know the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.”
The mystic closest to my own heart, Robert Adams, constantly reminded his listeners to “leave the world alone. The world will take care of itself.” Pressed by his followers to understand how they might help another or the world itself, Adams admonished: You cannot save the world, you cannot save yourself or another, you cannot become enlightened or find true happiness. Ultimately, he said, the only goal is so-called human has is to discover his or her true nature, which has absolutely nothing to do with being human (human being).
And Adams wasn’t alone. Every great mystic from the Buddha to Jesus to Meister Eckhart to Ramana counseled more or less the same thing: The kingdom of heaven is within, you and the life around you is a fantastical fiction that this gray mush inside the head has convinced itself is real, true, meaningful.
The other night my wife and I watched an episode of the new “Cosmos” series, and I was struck in particular by one sequence involving the evolution of the eyeball (not just the human eyeball, THE eye upon which every species ultimately came to depend). As I watched I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible complexity involved and about how “I” had nothing to do with the eye watching the program discussing the evolution of the eye.
Which is the perfect metaphor for the whole thing, the two choices available to us all. Without thinking, we speak of our eyes, comfort a parent with talk of a child having his or her eyes, and we wax poetic about eyes being the windows to the soul. Yet we have nothing to do with the things. Not their color, their loss of acuity with age, and certainly not their construction. We supposedly ‘see’ through them and assume they are a part of ‘me.’
So the choice remains, do you persist in the illusion of this humanness, of these eyes and all else being being representative of a you and a world around you? Or do you start “looking within”? Which do you choose?