I feel compelled to start this post with yet another giant disclaimer: this blog is a confessional not meant to teach anyone anything. As the saying goes, all minds, including the one behind these words, make for wonderful servants but terrible masters. In other words, the mind can’t know anything of real value. Two plus two, great. But knowing a Truth that contains the mind, forget about it.
That’s one of the doozies behind any spiritual search (and how you know whether you’re really on one): recognizing that at some point the mind itself must be left behind. If you’re following a guru, memorizing scripture of any kind, thinking things out, and so on, you are still very much trapped in mind and going nowhere.
What’s left when we leave the mind behind? Grace. In-seeing. Apperception. I don’t know. There’s been occasional glimpses of a knowing that transcend mind, but don’t ask me how or how I know. It’s just so obvious when it happens. But, as David Carse says, it’s a bit like using peripheral vision at night: the moment the mind is unleashed to look deeper into any of these revelations that knowing disappears.
So to proceed with the confessional and my wish for the sufferer, where am ‘I’ these days?
Turbulence. Uncertainty. At times outright anguish interspersed with moments of transcendent joy. What comes to mind is Jesus’s admonition about seeking until you find. Along the way, he cautioned, you’ll be ‘disturbed.’
That sounds about right.
While I’ve never felt that I quite fit into the world around me, that feeling seems to be intensifying. For starters, it’s been very difficult taking anything serious. I happen to live in one of those regions of the country where everyone is Type A going, going, going (and using all that hyperactivity of mind and body to strengthen the story of ‘me’).
All around me people are flitting here and there, constantly on their phones, deal-making and world-shaking – what my father would have labeled (and praised) as the only people who matter, the ‘movers and shakers.’
Anyway, a spiritual quest undertaken in such an environment can leave one feeling terribly isolated. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? You can’t very well take your pals along with you on a spiritual quest anymore than they can accompany you into death. Not for nothing is the spiritual quest said to be an more or less empty road, the mass of humanity blindly following the edicts of their minds.
It’s seen, now, that lessons abound. They’re literally everywhere. I read a teacher once talking about this very thing, that all around us at every moment of every day are the whispered urgings of god, the universe, source, you name it. Jesus and his ilk would tell their followers that all of life’s mysteries could be found in the contemplation of a simple flower or rock or turd. That the secrets of the whole of the universe can be found in anything, if we only take the time and make the effort to really look.
It’s difficult, of course, with mind-manufactured life bursting all around us, particularly in this day of always-on digital connectivity. The mind has never been so well-fed (and miserable) as it is today.
Even for the most ardent seekers the tug-of-war between the spiritual quest and life can be intense, like the little devil and angel popping up on alternating shoulders and urging us this way and that. I’m married to the love of my life and have a similar crush on my children, for example, meaning not only that I’m ‘blessed’ but also pulled into their orbits and away from that inner journey. I’m also starting a new business – the first time in my life that I feel I’m doing something in which I truly believe but also leaving us feeling even more financially precarious than normal. And there is the pull of good food, sex, a lazy day on the sofa watching old movies, not to mention the day-to-day exigencies of life – shopping, cleaning, grooming, repairs….
So I get it, the way life – its lusts and hungers, its dangers and anxieties, its painful memories and hopeful tomorrows – all commingle to keep us rooted in this thing that, again, each of us calls ‘my life.’
Our mental programming is all any of us can know – it IS us. For me, it was a childhood of deep, incessant uncertainty; physical fear; and relentless bullying, ridicule, and indifference. Even today, at 54, this programming surfaces in sometimes-vague, sometimes-intense feelings of anxiety and grayness, mania and melancholy. For others it is a tragedy – the loss of a loved one. For still others, a medical crisis, an addiction, or something altogether unknown.
There are days when life feels so damned heavy, almost unbearable, and there is a wish only to lay one’s head on a pillow and to sleep the sleep of the dead. That we exist at the whim of such thinking can make the burden that much greater – STOP!, we want to scream at the thoughts (and sometimes do). We live in a kind of exhausted holding pattern, wondering when, like a cold sore or headache, the next bout of anxiety or fear or depression will strike, when life will again kick us in the balls or yank the rug from beneath our feet.
But in that statement lies a clue, yes? Who or what is aware of that anxiety and fear? Who or what is it that is made miserable by these thoughts, want to run screaming in another direction? How can ‘I’ be both the miserable and that which seeks escape from the misery?
Which is why I want to shout out to people, don’t gobble down those pills to run interference with your thoughts and feelings, don’t fight them. In that suffering lies the greatest of gifts.
Easy to say, yes. Because the gray still comes for me as well. The anxiety and fear, the thoughts of incompetence and self-loathing, still percolate to the surface and rarely are such thoughts seen as gifts at that time.
Rarely. But sometimes, now, yes, something new. Those terrible thoughts arise and with them another: don’t resist, see these thoughts for what they are. Maybe this is a grace, a gift from god, a reward even, for the quest. Or, maybe it’s just a case of mental reprogramming. Whatever, I’ll take it.
Wei Wu Wei calls it ‘the urge,’ Joel Goldsmith echoed Jesus in calling it the ‘small, quiet voice within.’ Across the ages the mystics and masters and enlightened ones have reminded us that Truth is calling out to us, that the whole of existence including these things called me and you are but one, impressive illusion – a dream from which we eventually must awaken, if not in this lifetime then the next or a thousand lifetimes from now.
For those for whom life has been especially difficult, the idea of living yet another life can seem too painful to imagine, which again might be why we’re told suffering can be the greatest of gifts, the one that at last stirs us toward seeking a Truth.
I think I’ll end things with that: to urge you (and remind myself), that our suffering is there for a reason; that it really is a gift no matter how much our minds may rebel against such a notion (“How can the cancer gnawing away at my flesh be a gift?”)
Again, I can only speak from the experience here. My life has been painted in the hue of suffering. It was not my choice, circumstances led to this particular brand of programming. I am fortunate if a week goes by that thoughts of self-loathing don’t enter the picture. Some days/weeks/months are better than others. But always, I know, fear, anxiety, melancholy await.
Unless, that is, the grace arises to urge me inward, to inquire, to beseech, to seek until I find. And if there is a hopeful message in these words, it is this: that just as often at those shitty thoughts arise, today, after 54 years of life, come unexpected moments of complete acceptance of this fragile little entity known as me; come glimpses of pure knowing; come, even, moments of transcendent joy at the simple act of being.
A simple walk in the woods now can bring tears for nothing more than being alive at that particular moment in time, surrounded and embraced by those magnificent entities known as trees. The dog bounding through the same forest elicits genuine happiness, because in his thought-free exuberance I witness glimpses of what I imagine god is waiting for me also to discover.
I wish for each of us who suffer that continued grace to move onward and to find our Truth.