I imagine we all have certain challenges in life. We may choose to call these challenges, ‘lessons’, obstacles, karma, whatever. They exist no matter what name we give them, sometimes obviously, more often subtly, a part of our being that has been with us for so long we simply accept it as who we are.
Depending, to a degree, upon your cultural heritage, you may see these challenges as gifts, or burdens, something unavoidable, that for whatever reason, you are having to face and deal with (or not). There are people who seem to fight against what life presents, those who appear to rise above it and those who succumb to it. Perhaps if we understood where ‘it’ came from, we may be in a better position to do something about ‘it’. Maybe if we took ourselves less seriously, there would be no ‘it’ in the first place.
I think there are many ways to approach life’s challenges, perhaps as many ways as there are people. Yet if we were to take all of the different ways people have of dealing with issues that arise, for the most part, we would see people working within the structure out of which the issue arose. Many people are trying to fix things around them so the issue either goes away or is sufficiently buried, out of sight, out of mind.
It was Einstein who said “ Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them”.
Yet still we persist.
It is easy, in hindsight, to comment upon the path and the decisions taken both by individuals and humanity as a whole as it moves forward, and to come up with a multitude of reasons and justifications why we are where we are now. To learn from one’s mistakes is something I often heard in childhood. That is indeed one way of looking at life. Yet perhaps there are no mistakes, perhaps the biggest mistake we make is to think that there are lessons to learn here, and that the lessons are all about doing something so that we feel satisfied, safe, as though we have accomplished something of importance.
What if the real ‘lesson’ is all about acceptance. Acceptance of what is. How much easier, and more simple would that make our lives. I don’t mean to say here that we just accept our fate, roll over and wait to be walked over, or die, whichever comes first.
More, More, More…
I see a lot of problems in the world arising out of humankind’s perception of lack, always wanting more. More money, more power, more safety, more clothes, happiness, excitement and gratification, more, more, more. It can be never ending. I think this need arises from a very strong association we have with the physical body as being who we are, rather than the possibility that this is simply a vehicle, a suit that we wear in order to experience life on this planet. Imagine taking your physical body to the moon without life support… You would not last very long; the same applies here on planet earth, without the bio-suit of the body your experience here would not be quite the same.
Whilst the body is the foundation of the experience, it has certain basic needs, among them: shelter, food, clothing, to love and be loved, fun, excitement, a deep desire to feel safe and happy. Born out of these needs a person looks around and wonders how best to manipulate the environment so these needs are met. The needs are very personal, limited to the self, the immediate members of their family, ethnicity, tribe, political party, religious association, culture, country. When the needs are focused on the self, family or social grouping, then rest assured, other selves, other families, other social groups will suffer. Nothing new in this. History, as told by the ‘winners’, repeatedly tells us that the stronger, the more cunning, the more violent will always come out on top. (And the meek shall inherit the earth… they have been waiting a long time!). Seems the meek are always open, by their very nature, to exploitation. Yet perhaps this is not the meaning of meek; more in a moment.
So, rather than learning from history, and seeing that where we are unavoidably heading, which is down the same path that has been trodden a multitude of times in the past, we just make the same decisions as we have in the past and create more of the same for ourselves and those who follow.
Have you never stopped to consider the decisions you make now, on what are they based- some fairy story told so many times you believe it to be real?
Is there another way?
Have you never paused to wonder if there is not another way. Many of you have of course, you would not be reading this if those thoughts had not arisen at some time in your life.
The million dollar question is still the same one it has always been – yes there has to be another way, but what is it? And how will one person make any difference to a collective that seems bent on imposing greater limitations upon itself and ultimately the destruction of its environment?
When we look for answers to the big issues, we almost always revert to looking for those answers within the box of our current world view. How can we even imagine anything outside of the box? Most people are not even aware that they are in a box in the first place, so naturally they seek resolution from within the framework of their imagination, perceptions and memory. Do you seriously believe that, coming from your personal history, the decisions you make now can create a more loving, safe tomorrow?
A definition of the box could be your association and deeply held belief that you are: your genetic memory, your soul memory (?), your experiences and your environment, your parents’ values and beliefs. This is both your physical body and your personality. So, simply by being a product of your past, personal and genetic, any decisions you make are based on your history, both personal and genetic.
It is similar to the concept of ‘tunnel vision’ or blinkers (blinders) on a horse. We can only see that which is directly in front of us. Or, in this case, what we have been conditioned to see, to expect. Our conditioning has been based on judgments, which of themselves become entrenched ways of being and consequently develop as reactive ways of being in the world rather than responsive.
The box then dictates our decisions. Freedom of choice only exists within the limitations, or confines of the box of our personal history.
It would be naive, or even delusional, to assume that any decisions made from a ‘personality’ that is conditioned to want more will be able to truly change the world for the better. This hasn’t seemed to have worked in the past, why would the future be any different?
While we continue to judge according to our personal likes and dislikes, we, unconsciously, create conflict. This happens primarily because our values are often in direct opposition to another’s. Because of this, there can never be a satisfactory resolution (a win-win situation). The main way used by most societies to maintain order has been to pass more and more legislation.
And why would anyone want a win-win situation? If you are on the winning team, then your goal is surely to stay on top, whatever the cost. If you are down the ladder a ways, then your goal would be to climb to the top, no matter who you step on along the way. This whole mentality, born out of a few basic needs, has led us to yet more conflict, and will continue to do so well into the future unless something is done to change it.
Any country that has colonised other countries in the past is paying the price now, with social systems put through massive change as the colonised colonise.
We may believe that we have just one life, and the goal of that life is to get as much as possible regardless of the cost to future generations. But there would have to be a whole new way of thinking if we were those future generations. “As you sow, so shall ye reap”. If you knew that your decisions would come back to haunt you into an unending future, perhaps you would think twice before making decisions that only benefitted you or your social group.
But this is not a moral tale, this is not to judge the decisions that are made, more to see where they come from and why.
Is there an alternative, another base from which to make decisions? I think there is, but this is not something that I know. In fact, I really do not have any answers; all I can do is share my journey. 35 years ago I shared my understanding of the Dharma. I still do, but looking back I think I must have made a complete fool of myself then, though those who listened were kind enough not to say so. For what did I know, what did I presume to know?
Will I look back on this time, in 10 years and say, ‘wow, what a fool I have been’? Probably. I have discovered something at least on my journey, and that is that I do not know. Any ‘knowing’ that I may have associated with is transitory. It comes and it goes, and for a moment, I may have thought that I knew. But I have discovered that that is just the mind playing tricks. If the truth is out there, then I have not found it. As I listen to those who claim to have found it, or a representative of it, then I am aware that they also are just on a journey, a journey of discovery and they no more have the truth than I or anyone else.
My current choice, or way of making decisions is a process that is ongoing, and ever changing. But still I am limited by association / identification with my past.
As long as we feel safe, we can share in an open-hearted way. This feeling of safety is a reflection of our personal comfort zone. Areas that we do not feel safe in are a product of our shadow, or as we say in the workshops, our back-pack, information that we carry around, albeit unconsciously, that in part dictates how we deal with life and its challenges.
Held back by the past
I think it is difficult for many people to take the step required that would enable them to make decisions that are totally win-win, because the association with the past is so deeply entrenched into the psyche of the human race.
“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and open-ness to all situations and emotions. And to all people – experiencing everything totally without reservations and blockages so that one never withdraws or centralises on oneself.”
These words, attributed to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, give a Buddhist perspective. Try not to close your ears because they come from a tradition that is different to the one you are used to. Any steps along the path that lead us to a greater understanding of the self should, like any tool, be used, and when finished with, passed on so another may benefit from them.
Acceptance is the key word. While we judge, we either try to fix, or condemn. This creates greater polarity and we, inadvertently, become a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. The ‘us’ and the ‘them’ approach. Acceptance is too easily misunderstood, for those lost in the us and them. It implies accepting anti-social behaviour, agreeing with abuse etc.
True acceptance, to me, requires a lot of training, a lot of personal experience and understanding of the nature of the world. It requires that we see just how our future is made up of our past. It sees the law of cause and effect in operation. This is not limited to any Buddhist or Hindu concept. Refer to the words of Jesus once more, “… As you sow, so shall ye reap.’’ True acceptance requires we see a bigger picture than the viewpoint of our personal likes and dislikes.
If we can come to terms with the possibility that we are a product of our past, and our future is built on our past, then why should it be any different for every other person alive? If we concede that each and everyone of us is a product of our past, then the situations we find ourselves in makes a whole lot more sense. And coming to terms with this idea is a big step towards being free from those ‘challenges’.
Outside the box
When we begin to look outside of the box for answers, then, shaky though those first steps may be, we are on a journey of self discovery, one that knows no limitations, one that is free from the charge of the past. I do not think we can, or even should be free completely from our past, for we are little without our past. But I do think it is time to leave the past where it belongs, in the past. If every person’s current reality, or the challenges that they are faced with is a product of their past, surely the only way to change anything is to change one’s perception of the self. This does not require that we do anything, or fix anything.
Acceptance is one way of doing that. I don’t think we need go off into the ‘what-if’ land. The ‘what-ifs’, unless you are currently in that particular situation, are projections based upon current understandings and past, reactive, conditioning. If you change from reactive to responsive, then whatever ‘what-if’ situation were to arise, would be dealt with very differently. This is assuming it ever arose in the first place, which is unlikely as you have, by changing your attitude, decreased the likelihood of that event happening, to you at least.
I sometimes picture the energy of who we believe ourselves to be to similar to an electrical charge. The more power there is, the bigger the charge, the bigger the charge the more likely we are to immediately fall into a reactive condition. Acceptance is simply about, through awareness and compassion, reducing the charge, enabling us to be more responsive than reactive in any given situation.
When we can respond, based not upon our personal likes and dislikes, there is a greater opportunity for the charge held in any situation to be released. And it only takes a short leap of imagination for us to become a part of a solution, instead of continuing to be a part of the problem. It is only by our continuing association with a limiting personality that we feed charge, or energy back into any situation. As we put energy in, so we create, so the law of cause and effect is maintained, so we must, at some point on our journey, reap what we have sown. Better to reap the rewards of loving thoughts than those of fear or anger. So, is there an answer? I am not sure, though there is a way, one which may lead to an answer. Change your mind and your reality will follow. Don’t know how to do it? Want to? Then come to a workshop and join like minds and like hearts, surround yourself with those practicing this way of being and the possibilities will be endless