It is my experience that there is an inextinguishable longing and search to replace something which has been lost in the development of the conditioned self, however conscious or not I am of it at times. Connected to that there is as well a perpetual flurry of ongoing thinking and activity, focused on relieving this sense of loss or separation, none of which ultimately seems to work.
Through an act of grace I have had the good fortune to come to see that this conditioned self that I have come to identify with includes a barrier, whereby the essence of what I am has become hidden. The reason for the existence of all of this I do not know although I have no doubt that it must serve some evolutionary purpose, all be it unclear what that is. I have only now come to realize that through awareness I can move out from the veil of my conditioning to realize a place of whole and authentic being. That seems to be a more desirable place to be in terms of appreciating and the living and loving of life.
I can only truly know what my own experience is although it seems to me that the instant that many of us, in our conditioned way, feel that our conditioned identity is threatened in some way, we enter into a defence-attack mode. The emphasis increasingly becomes that we create and believe in stories that rationalize our own fear; attachment to questionable belief and the related action to minimize that fear. We are so attached to this identity despite the fact that it perpetuates our sense of isolation and lack of interconnection despite what we do; and that it might leave us for the most part without empathy and at times utterly without compassion. We are content to have our heads in the clouds dreaming up ways that we can serve our self fixation however superficial and delusional our stories may be.
We don’t seem to realize that the way that we might find freedom is a way of awareness and self knowing through it. As Albert Einstein has written our way of thinking is one that perpetuates a knot of self contraction. ” The world that we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we can not solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them.” and as Rodney Smith suggests “the way through is to make the knot of our self contraction conscious”. it might be more that the problems are more related to problems of perception and consciousness.
Our collective perception of the human “individual” night also be limited. In general we pursue a world of our individual utopian ideals not aware of the limitations they present in their manifestation. It seems now that we live in a world of individuals all bumping into each other in pursuit of their own ideals. This pursuit of our belief in individuality might be creating problems that we can not resolve with our thinking alone. We just have to take a minute to look, with honesty at the problems arising in the world and what we are doing to others and to the planet and how our reliance on intellectual solutions have been inadequate in addressing them.
There is not much space for our essence to shine through in our conceptualization and manifestation of the individual identity. We might not know what it is to be other than the individual we have created other than having brief glimpses of shining moments of a greater realisation of truth that thrives underneath the parameters of our self-identity. We may discover in going beyond those parameters what we are in a more fulfilling and authentic way and we may rediscover, there, our inter-connectivity , our humanity and ability for compassion and empathy in its fullest experience.
Photograph taken by Gord Clements in Nepal 2009 For it’s always that way with the sacred value of life. We forget it as long as it belongs to us, and give it as little attention during the unconcerned hours of our life as we do the stars in the light of day. Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. It was necessary for this dark hour to fall, perhaps the darkest in history, to make us realize that freedom is as vital to our soul as breathing to our body.*
—From ‘At This Dark Hour’, a speech given by Stefan Zweig to the US PEN Club in New York, May 1941
Our freedom has taken us to a precipice. Scientists predict we may lose half the species on the planet by the end of the century. They believe we have entered the sixth major extinction event in Earth’s history. Number five took out the dinosaurs. This era is called the Anthropocene, or ‘Age of Man’, because the evidence shows that humanity has sparked this catastrophic loss. We are the only ones who can stop it as well. At this point in time on this planet the definition of freedom must come quickly to include all other beings on the planet.
Something must change in human consciousness if there is to be hope for the planet. I know that I must change and that I must remind myself at times not to be so self fixated that I forget. Pope Francis Christmas message is calling for “Mercy” extended to all beings is something to consider as part of a much-needed change in human awareness. http://nyti.ms/1GZUT7p
Most of us have learned to live in hope that we will one day realize our utopian ideals. We live in pursuit of what we want, or at least what we have come to think that we want. This, it seems is perpetuated by the sense of inadequacy inherent in the conditioned identity that has become so conventional and that we have become so attached to. In general humans seem to be compulsively focused not in finding acceptance and satisfaction in what we are but what we might become and there seldom seems to be fulfillment found in the outcome. Rodney Smith writes that “the thought of “I” is entrenched within the conditioning of our species and needs our patience in order to uproot it.” Seeing the false ideas that our life is built upon has led to a dismantling of the self for me and in turn to a sense of loss and nothingness which has lingered for quite some time. Part of this seeing has involved the realization that something of my authentic essence has been blocked in this assumed identity and simultaneously a sense of grief as a result of the falling away of this somewhat superficial, fragmented, however, familiar identity.
Reading Adam Phillips book “Missing Out, In Praise of the Unlived Life” has helped me to conceptualize the collapse of the attachment to a superficial self and the created world that is part of it. In that there is an experience of death of self. The existentialists described the realization of nothingness, as that which is left when the ego dies and refers to this experience as “nihilism”. It is true that, there is at the heart of the structured conceptual reality and sense of self that we have come to be so familiar and attached to, “nothing”. The self provides meaning however shallow it may be and the loss of that meaning requires some adjustment, especially since it is the conventional, most common way of human consciousness. But ultimately there is “something” of what we truly are beyond that, of what we have originated from and are inseparable from and that we are “more of” than the superficial creations of our thoughts. It is something of a wisdom that has existed that has been a guidance before the human ability to know and it is more than the fixed and arbitrary sense of meaning. The concept I use to refer to it is “being” is something that we can realign ourselves with via the direct experience of awareness. Rodney SmiTh suggests that wise view is the reorganization of perception. It allows life to be seen in its natural alignment.
To live fully is to be filled with moments of being passionately touched by life. When I feel most alive I am moved to tears. It seems to be so connected to the ultimate realization that there is no expertise outside of my own direct experience of being that can guide me in my life. To disentangle being from a world of appearances where I exist as an embodied being I must inevitably live, make mistakes and discover for myself. How we have come to perceive mistake making is questionable anyway. Making mistakes is inseparable from the discovery and searching that are the mystery of life. There is no perfection to strive for. That is a concept that has been a creation of culture and convention.
I experience such a sense of gratitude at those moments that I am able to lift my head from out under the covers. It is so easy to linger there, underneath. Masses of we humans seem to have come to prefer it there spending much of our time searching for the comfort and warmth of what we have found there. The end result is often that we don’t recognize or that we can not cope with the reality of living in a more authentic way. It can in fact be quite frightening for us to experience it.
It’s not easy to remain in the place of embracing life fully. It first involves being able to come to distinguish the difference between authentic being and appearance, because we have been misinformed of that. Much of what life for humans has been turned into misses the deep truth of life. There are so many influences that pull one back under, too many to think that we can easily separate from them easily. Some of them arise from what we have become as a product of habitually attending to the knowledge of others, which we incorporate into our self perception.
So my life has increasingly become a search to capture these moments of being most alive. What other reason can it be that we are here to do. it must be that this arises from something authentic that we are. Somehow we have been deluded and anesthetized to this quality of living and it is inevitably projected onto how we treat other beings, humans and the planet.
The world is a mystery and it is constantly changing and unfolding. Life is creation and it is inseparable from this same ever-changing world unfolding. We can’t possibly know what we desire to know about it with our fixed formulas for knowing if it is constantly changing and transforming. But we seem to be infinitely involved in trying to find some security in knowing it through our conventional means. This seems to be at the heart of our suffering. We want the world “to be” according to our fixed perceptions but it is not. So we try to change the world according to our ideas and in doing so we perpetuate an unnatural order.
As the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska wrote, I was born into the world “ill-prepared for the privilege of living.” These days my experience is coming to be, more and more, to live life from this place of awareness of the mystery. The understanding that we end up with affects the reality that we create and because our understanding of knowing is limited, so is the reality that we create and in turn project on to life. A big step in coming to a deeper understanding for me has been to come to increasingly become aware of the limitations of language and thought and to be able to differentiate my state of consciousness. I have possessed an imaginative curiosity about most everything, as most of do, and I am involved in conventional ways of understanding but at the same time I am aware of the inherent limitations of these. We have devised many different ways of seeing life and things in it and how we see things depends on the ways that we are utilizing to see with and there is no ultimate way of seeing or reducing existence into one meaningful equation or formula. The mystery is continually unfolding.
I don’t think that we can ever come to an ultimate knowing of our existence because that would be fixed and it would not include the changes that are occurring in each moments.
If we are to awaken from our dream it must come from doing so in our own way. There are many ways to go about that, and for each individual it is most helpful if it is in a way that it is a unique journey and discovery. It seems that most must inevitably encounter what has been relevant in their own conditioning, in terms of blocking them from seeing in a deeper more authentic way. It might be that it becomes about unlearning. It’s not enough to follow another or an ideal or utopian way, however, much we might identify with and value that. It is often inevitable that we are such followers in the beginning and there may be a tendency to want to replace that because everything of ourselves has become what we have learned from others. What is most beneficial is that our habitual tendencies are replaced with an openness to what we experience more directly.
From my own experience there comes a point where we are enabled to distinguish what is of our own experience and what is of another’s. That is not to suggest that we should be closed to others ideas. There is great benefit in being open, however in a critical and questioning way, that can help us sort through that which turns us away from what is authentic of ourselves. As well, there is the power of language to illuminate ideas and experiences that one encounters or might encounter that are helpful in pointing us back to our awakened being. But we must inevitably come to abandon the attachment and literal belief in the word and to see it more as a symbolic, and metaphoric expression.
Looking in a more authentic way can be a very subtle endeavour. My own learning was partly the product of demagogues and authoritarian teachers who had no sense of what it meant to be authentic and to open to a deeper intelligence that is not obtained via the process of external systems and learning. I don’t remember having had encountered an individual who talked about this kind of more vast experience outside of a belief in God. My experience of priests in the Catholic church,that I attended, was that they were as conditioned as I was in their beliefs about God and the church, to be servants of the church. I do remember being so very drawn to the newly arisen idea of the folk mass that seemed to have a more rebellious, spontaneous and expressive dimension.
Ultimately I had no idea that there was such another away as I have now discovered. There was most certainly something of me that was doubtful and unsure about life but it was always suggested to me that it was a flaw of my own making, or more accurately a lack of my own making. And I suspect that there was a point early in my life where, through the diligence and convention of others, I abandoned any sense of awareness of how life and light might come from within my own direct experience and how I might further discover it although here was something of me that was not extinguished in that it recognized brief moments of wonder, mystery and beauty about life. I had not been taught to attend to that and perhaps it was something that could not be taught and maybe it was something that was inherent to my being and that could not be conditioned out of me. It was that realization that I eventually came to attend to in a much greater force.