The most fundamental question of life is “Is there joy and peace in my life?”
It’s the essential question, and yet most of us run away from it. We’re pretty good at not facing up to ourselves. I suppose most of us believe that life has to be the way it is. We buy into the popular definitions of success and we believe when we’re successful we’re happy–when we have money, when we have approval, when someone is bringing us flowers–we’re happy then, and when there is grief, we say, well, this is just the way it is, this is the human condition, we have to buck up and deal with.
I suppose we feel that if we do everything right, at some point life will open up and reward us. Or death will.
I certainly looked at life in this way for forty five years.
It was only because of suffering, an exhaustion from a two decades of depression and anxiety and confusion, and in circumstances where I was not getting what I thought I wanted, that I was able to face this basic question head on, and with this openness, a reading of Tolle’s Power of Now suddenly made complete sense.
We might ignore this basic question, but it will not ignore us–it constantly nags at us. Especially in times of grief, we look up at the heavens in search for big concepts, the big secret, God or spirituality or the law of attraction, or the ideas of right and wrong, or the idea of control and reward, something, anything, which is bigger and more powerful than us.
We look outside. Or we look to new beliefs.
We don’t look inside because we have a fundamental mistrust of our inner nature.
Somewhere in the Bible, it says “God shall not be mocked.” This pretty much sums what many of us who tend towards religion and spirituality believe. We reflect our sadness and fear in the systems of beliefs we choose–the beliefs in God, or karma, or success, or whatever it is we are inclined to believe for now. God becomes something outside of us, someone who is judgmental and someone to be feared. We better not mock God, we better not fool around with our karma, we better not stray.
But from an awakened perspective, the meaning is very different. “God shall not be mocked” simply means that God is not capable of being ashamed of us. It’s a blessing, not a warning.
The concept of karma is pretty popular these days, and we’ve made it some sort of universal debit-credit system, where you can make up for your bad deeds by doing good in the future. The concept is bastardized to reflect what we truly believe life to be–we think life is a trial, a fearful journey of right steps and wrong steps. Having taken wrong steps in the past, all we now have to do is to tread carefully and take the right steps, so we can make up for it, and be ahead of the pack.
We fall to systems of beliefs and concepts because we have a fundamental distrust of our true nature. It’s not surprising that we fall to concepts which make judicial sense, which have some justice to them. From a place of fear and distrust, we crave a sense of control, and from a place of fear and sadness, what appeals to us most are concepts which explain life as a trial which punishes and rewards.
When Arjuna fell down at Krishna’s dusty feet at the epic Mahabharata battle of Kurukshetra, he could not see how he could slay his own relatives. This was too much.
Krishna showed him his universal form and told him he must fight.
I always wondered how it is that the divine or awakened Krishna was promoting violence, and not just violence, but the most despicable kind of violence–the violence of killing your own brethren.
Of course, what he was really telling Arjuna is that he must slay his attachments.
That beliefs are one of our strongest attachments may not be an easy thing for some to accept. It can take Krishna’s kind of violence to give up the love of our beliefs and concepts and ideas. Our attachment to ideas which explain the world to us is pretty strong, starting with the concept of an imagined and separate self, and all the subsequent beliefs of success and spirituality and love and rightness and goodness and compassion. We constantly take on and churn these ideas and concepts; they give the mind meaning and sense of control and sense of justice. And we wait for the rewards.
That the attachment to these beliefs are the very thing we must kill–well, that’s not an easy thing to see.
It’s not that we need to take on and polish new ideas and beliefs and concepts to see this. It’s not about spirituality or religion or psychological figuring out or intellectual analysis or the next new big secret. It’s not about ideas or viewpoints at all.
It’s simpler than that. It’s a letting go.
We can let go naturally through observation and honesty.
As you observe thoughts, without the effort to judge or analyze or change, you might notice that thoughts slow down. The gaps in-between expand.
You notice also that many of our thoughts are of self-judgment. This may not be obvious at first–well the obviously self-judgmental thoughts are clearly self-judgmental–but you begin to notice that almost all of your thoughts are in some way about judgment and about self. And then you start noticing what judgment is. And what self is. And whether it points to anything real.
Observance and honesty–in abiding in this quiet awareness, watching, watching thoughts without interfering or participating is a pretty good way to start.