Encountering Loneliness

There are no authentic cures or pop wisdom methods for freeing us from loneliness. It is not pathological that we experience loneliness but it in fact reflects something essential that is missing in our experience of being in life. If we take the time to explore beyond the barriers of learned convention into the depths from where these feelings emerge,  we may discover something more real about life than we have known since a shift to relating to the world through more superficial resources occurred.There are consequences for moving away from a more intimate way of relating to life that human conditioning requires.

From the description from Amazon, in “Zen Encounters with Loneliness” Terrance Keenan weaves together poetry, memoir, and raw insight to give voice to the lonely “nobody” in everyone. From his memories of early childhood to his struggles with addiction, writer’s block, and human relationship, Keenan delivers a heart-rending portrayal of the human hunger for selfhood and connection. Through his beautifully crafted literary reflections, he finds that Zen does not comfort our dream of being somebody, rather, it reveals connection only when we face who we really are—nobody. Zen Encounters intimately calls us to recognize that the well of emptiness is also a well of potential—to grow, learn, and overcome adversity.

I am enjoying this book. I find that Keenan explores some subtleties of existence and his relation to others and to life and how that has changed and allowed for a more authentic relating. There is much about our conditioned lives that prevents us from intimately knowing ourselves and Terrence Keenan looks to uncover some of  what is hidden and how we hide it in authentic heartfelt reflection. He touches a depth that many do not recognize, that our conditioning hides from us in our conventional lives. He probes even deeper into these depths with his poetry that captures what words can not.

Undermining False Premises

Most of us are conditioned early in life to live under false premises of what we think ourselves to be. There is an illusive sense of feeling that we know and in being in control in this way. The energy that is involved in maintaining this delusion serves as well to numb us to what we authentically are. There is an aspect of not being able to cope with the vulnerability that is somehow connected to realizing our true essence. Although I am not a Buddhist, I can find wisdom in much of what is discovered from individuals who have walked this path such as this little bit from David Patt.

For the mind that is ripe and self-reflective, affluence undermines its own false promises, and many Westerners have come to Buddhism from disillusionment in the successful pursuit of worldly gratification. That disillusionment is the first phase of renunciation.

– David Patt, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? The Commodification of Buddhism in the American Marketplace”

Is My Singular Experience Real

It is J.G. Herders definition of loneliness, to be among people who do not know what you mean. However much I meditate and practice mindfulness here in Germany my experience remains my own. It does not include that of others. The ways that I have come to identify myself to be,  seem to have minimal meaning for me here at times. Terence Keenan says that “where we hold to the singularity of our own experience of the world it denies a deeper relativity that we all sense, that gives the lie to any single moral and intellectual universe”.

There is a part of me that is opening to a new experience realizing that my own development of consciousness may not be the only relevant one. It might not even be real but there is something of me that I have been that does not want to let go of how I have come to be defined. It is something that might be out of a fear of its own death.

Recently here in Dresden, Germany there have been public protests against the Islamization of Europe. I suspect that it has partly to do with a similar desire,  however more arrogant it might be than mine, to manifest a “singularity of experience”. Something of that fear that I have experienced may not be something that many are conscious of. I am grateful that it is a part of my meditative and contemplative practice to reflect in such ways.

In the west we can be particularly prone to this fear of the death of what we have come to know to be true and with it a strong desire to impose our ways on the world. I watched a movie the other night titled “The Good Lie” about Sudanese refugees coming to live in an alien world of Kansas in the midwest of the USA. The way that locals originally responded to the refugees was fueled by a sense of “my world is the real world” questioning where it is that you come from that makes you so unusual. The American policy of the melting pot declares that individuals settling into the USA, must become Americans,  is a reflection of this desire to retain a singularity of experience manifested at a more collective level. It seems to me to be the substance of which, many a conflict is fueled. A more open Canadian way of implementing immigration and developing Canadian culture has been the “cultural mosaic” where the policy has been to welcome others from other lands in a patch work of acceptance of a diverse Canadian definition of living is at least a deeper recognition of something less singular.

Is it possible that a part of us that urgently identifies with the singularity of experience is something that has been conditioned in us and in that in that we resist the experience of vulnerability, of opening to the others experience, from truly listening to and embracing what the others experience is. We define, identify and attach to certain ways of being in a rigid and static way and seem to surround ourselves, in our groups and activities with individuals who share like-minded perceptions not really giving ourselves the opportunity to look beyond them. Keenan writes about Tolstoy, that in his book “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” the question is raised “What if my entire life, my entire consciousness was not the real thing”. How can we be so sure that our consciousness is as real as we would like to believe? Have our efforts to protect and guard it from others and outside influences however subtle it may have been, in an ongoing way compromised the truth of seeing, and if this is true can we forgive ourselves for the lie that we have lived? In our search for something more authentic how is it that we should commit to truly opening to a way that we feel so vulnerable in our experience of no boundary.
Most of the boundaries that are a part of our identification with self that have been erected with our conditioning, however conscious of them, or not, we are have contributed to this singularity of experience. In some situations the experience of moving beyond them is referred to as awakening, enlightenment or being reborn.

Seeing in a More Direct Way

As long as we grasp onto boundaries in our efforts to know ourselves and as long as we rely on words and concepts for our understanding of life and our connection to it the truth will allude us. As Terence Keenan suggests it is seeing the “truth” of every stone, every tree, every wind without concepts of truth or words to define it. Concerning a more direct attention uninhibited by intellectual effort the late Iris Murdoch suggests that this concerned attention “effects a removal from the usual egotistic fuzz of self protective anxiety.”
Its not such an easy step for most to move beyond our adopted boundaries and our conventional notion of self as they have been conditioned to be. There is a sense of illusive security in what is familiar in this way of seeing and as well the perceptions in turn affirm our conventional understanding about who we are and what life is but they are limiting and not as comfortable as we seem to think they are. As Iris Murdoch suggests they are the source of neurosis and anxiety because in our static way of acting and relating as if our self and the perceptions that are projected from that are something that is permanent we are in error with the truth being that nothing is so.

Embracing the Uncertainty of Faith

I noticed at the recent retreat that I attended at Plum Village that so many are eager to embrace the comfort of certainty and security despite the fact that there is no such thing. Even in Buddhism where there is a strong emphasis on letting go and awareness of our attachments there exist something habitual in human conditioning that people seem to still crave this. There are so many youths that seem to be searching for a formula so that they might come to understand and deal with the sense of alienation that has arisen from being force-fed conventional norms. It is by virtue of their conditioning that they look for something concrete to grasp onto or perhaps it is that they are drawn to the prospect of bettering themselves. It is the dilemma of our human conditioning.
A more authentic connection with a deeper truth and with our own being can be realized in the embracing of uncertainty. I have included Karen Armstrong’s recent New York Times review of the book “The Norton Anthology of World Religions, Vol. 2″‘ titled the same as my title of this post. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/books/review/the-norton-anthology-of-world-religions-volume-ii.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad
We often look for certainty and security in intellectual explanations taking comfort in feeling that we understand and that there is truth of knowing to be obtained, not realizing that this process often takes us away from the direct experience where the real understanding is to be discovered. There is no growth in this way, only a false and temporary sense of comfort and a fragmented and relative knowing of limited and controversial worth. Intellectual understanding can be a useful tool but it is relative and limited in its scope of use. A fixation at this level can actually prevent us from deeper realisation and from being more fully in this life. Intellectual understanding realised as a tool of a more vast awareness can be a more practical and powerful experience.

Knowing Ourself is Knowing the World

Some say that you must change yourself to change the world. Others say that it is narcissistic to engage in your personal journey while the world is on fire. Where do you draw the line between external impact and inner transformation?
In my observation most individuals are stuck in habitual ways to find security, comfort and certainty, the consequences of this being neurotic and narcissistic fixation to one degree or another. I am not immune from these consequences of my individual and social conditioning. To be able to move beyond this limited focus on self we must come to see how it afflicts us and fragments our  perception and understanding.
When we begin to see what blinds and limits us we are more free to see what changes are necessary and what leads to greater self knowing and in turn a more universal understanding.