I’ve spent the better part of my life chasing after certainty. Probably, although I’m no longer certain, because of my early pre-teen years.
But, that might not be why. Really. It might be because of the way I’m wired. Others seem to be wired far less tightly than I am and are able to just accept that life isn’t a series of boxes. Not just boxes but those boxes that fit into each other starting with the huge box all the way down to the very tiny one.
I’ve wanted the boxes to make sense. To speak English to me. To help me be brighter and more acceptable to myself and those around me.
I’ve wanted to make myself a perfect box. A universally recognizable and respected box.
And as my life unfolded, it got less perfect, less recognizable and sadly often too often less respected.
My peers left me as they made their way through life, following a collegiate path while I followed the scene of hash and pot.
Waking up a few years later sorely left behind in the streets of LA. But, being wired for control and boxes I sought certainty and found it for many years within a place called Celebrity Center and later a place called Flag. Two place where I worked believing that I was making the world a better place.
After a family tragedy, I left working as a staff member and just followed the philosophy of scientology but from a pay as you go member, but always looking for answers as to how do these boxes, my life, work?
Only to find that the tighter I looked for certainty the more it alluded me. The boxes actually all collapsed, burying me inside.
I did my utmost to pull everything I could from the outside into my mind and just disappear. So no one would notice.
Which is impossible. Short of blowing up the boxes so that they are particles in the wind, a box is solid and someone will notice.
And try as I might morning always came. Someone – a maid in a motel, a waitress in a restaurant, an old friend, or a roommate. Someone always noticed me. I just could not disappear.
But without certainty, who can live? Without certainty, why bother? Without certainty, it’s just too utterly painful and moreover it screams of the utter absurdity of life.
I wanted certainty that I would, if I followed this or that rule, be happy. I wanted certainty that my family would be safe.
Mostly I guess I wanted the certainty that I would not suffer.
Someone had forgotten to tell me that suffering was the First Noble Truth (if you are a buddhist). That suffering was part of life (if you are simply aware and awake). That suffering is the human condition.
And regardless, we are all human.
For a long time, I really suffered. Bit by bit – because I am growing more and more comfortable with uncertainty, not only do I suffer less. I find that most of my days are filled with the joy of being alive.
Seriously, does anyone have the answer? How is it that our lives seem to be lived in a straight line of decision precedes action when somehow it appears that an action occurs and a decision happens.
And why are those actions not necessarily ones we would chose? Sure, we all like the action of someone falling in love with us but how exactly did that action happen? We definitely don’t like the action of a family member or loved one getting sick and dying. Or worse, ending their own life.
Seriously, how does it really work?
I’ve been pondering life since the moment I realized that I was actually alive. Not necessary an obvious realization. I felt as if I had stepped back of myself and was looking at this person who was breathing and I realized, I’m alive.
Later, many years later I had to really really wonder. If I were to leap from the top of the cathedral tower and come crashing onto the sidewalk, would I still be alive. Oh, I knew my body would be dead but somehow I had the inkling feeling that I wouldn’t disappear as I had hoped.
Moreover, my body would be very visible for all to see. Smashed on the sidewalk. Nonetheless, the thought troubled me for days. If I were to kill myself, would I then disappear? Or would others be able to see me? I finally came to the conclusion that because I knew it when others died, others would know when I had died.
It felt like a trap. A trap I could not get out of ever. I would forever be alive and yet I would forever be dying.
Perhaps the only way it really works if I try to maintain a sense of excitement and caring. A sense of being curious and willing to experience the ups and downs of life. A sense of surprise when I fall in love or perhaps more appropriately recognize that I never stopped loving.
The sense of loss is perhaps for me the absolutely worse emotion. It covers my heart, enveloping it in a heavy shroud and consumes all of my thoughts and all of my hope. It is palpable. It weighs so much.
And nothing seems to make it go away. Years and years after the loss of my father, I can still feel the necklace of tears if I am watching a particularly sad movie.
This isn’t apparently a uniquely human emotion. Elephants apparently mourn their loved ones.
So, how does it really work? Just a wild guess but I think it has to do with karma. Those seeds planted continuously through the millennia that comes to fruition at just the right moment. And perhaps now I’m a bit more awake and am planting more positive seeds and working at asking forgiveness for my negatives.
But, I really don’t know.
Diamonds. That’s what all of us are. Rare, in spite of our increasing numbers. Brilliant, in spite of our insistence on ignorance. Luminous, in spite of most often being obscure.
Now if we could actually see just how brilliant we are, just how clear we are and just how luminous we are, I guess we’d be enlightened.
These diamond like qualities are the nature of our mind. That nature is always there, but it’s clouded over. Just like the clouds block the sun. And yet, the sun is always there.
It’s so simple really and yet for countless ages we’ve been burying our heads in the sand unable to see. We’ve been caught up in the endless and non forgiving ranting of our own minds that simply spin and spin like a hamster wheel.
My problems seem so real and so vast. But bit by bit they’ve been fading into the distance as I learn that mostly it’s the spinning of my mind that keeps these problems alive and well. That if I am able to rest quietly and not get all attached to the stories, attached to my pain and suffering, the pain and suffering does dissipate.
Even the most virulent of emotions, my two favorites being jealousy and anger, tend to wear themselves out as long as I don’t repeat over and over or add to the stories of how I’ve been wronged or deceived.
Sometimes it just seems so easy. I see it all so clearly. I feel I’m just next door to enlightenment.
And then I go shopping. And the clerk gives me that teen-aged smirk and as I get righteously indignant and snap at her and embarrass myself at my own behavior, I realize that enlightenment isn’t yet next door.
Life seems so certain. So permanent. So here and yet everyday we learn that someone has died, had an accident or become terminally ill.
Somehow my own death is way way off in some unknown tomorrow and while I know in my head I too shall die, in my heart it’s not something I can touch.
I live my life as if there are endless tomorrows. Plenty of time to set the world on fire or at least do something more meaningful that remembering when the next X Factor is airing.
Plenty of time to meet to right my wrongs, to make amends to my friends who I’ve slighted. There is always time.
This must be the intrinsic part of ego that says, death? Won’t be happening to me.
Is this the ignorance that is the basis of our human suffering. That is like the coating of a stealth bomber that renders it virtually invisible?
What would my life become IF I believed to my core that this year would be my last?
Would I rise up and step proudly out to grab my dreams or use the knowing of a finite life, over too soon, to prove how really there is no tome left?
I confess. No, nothing deep and dark but something rather odd for me. I watch Oprah.
NOT everyday mind you and definitely not when there are gruesome exposes or stuff that just is way off the radar for me.
I got interested in watching her a couple years ago when she featured Eckhart Tolle and his book A New Earth. She promoted his book on her show, made it a best seller (of course) AND had a 10 week online class.
Having read his book years ago as well as The Power of Now, before becoming a buddhist, I was curious to see how Oprah would work with Eckhart.
Anyway — that’s not the point of this blog entry.
The point is — well, as my sister has said teasing me — “If I ever want you to do something, I’ll just get Oprah to talk about it.” My sister had been hounding me for about a year NOT to drive while talking on my cell phone, regardless if I was hands free. She cited studies and accident reports.
Watching Oprah’s show about this completely made me a believer. I now plan my phone calls differently and stop taking the lazy way and catching up with friends when I’m bored driving into town. A 25 minute trip each way.
But NOW — the best shift for me. I’ve decided to stop truly once and for all – eating meat, fish, eggs and dairy. I’ve been a quasi-vegetarian for years. Almost never eat red meat. Occasional fish.
But, since I’m not a cook at all — I simply graze at the kitchen counter and eat a ton of cheese.
Which has made those 20 pounds I gained when I quit smoking 5 years ago — almost impossible to lose.
So — this is day 4. So far so good. I feel good. Not down to my fighting weight yet but I’m betting I will be.
AND perhaps the best part, no lives were lost so that I could eat.
Oprah had Alicia Silverstone on – pitching her new book – The Kind Diet. I bought it and a few other vegan books.
(and I’m hoping that Oprah at some point DOES do the expose so many of us wonder about — Oprah is a genius with regard to timing – I think she’s just waiting for the exact right moment or former member who will tip this completely over the edge).
I like to dream big.
Everyone does it. Daydreaming. Letting our minds wander. Sometimes thinking of something pleasant as a way to fall asleep.
What’s wrong with it?
Nothing. Thoughts do come and go all the time in a 24 hour period.
Except when certain thoughts overpower us. Take us away. Cloud our ability to see the world in front of us.
Like the time, when I was living in Houston Texas in 1998 about 5 years after my divorce (if you are counting it would be divorce number 3) and I was consumed with mean and nasty thoughts. Full of hate and lots of conversation of what I would say, given the chance to see my ex again.
These were full blown scenarios, with conversations going both ways. Of course, that is in reality IMPOSSIBLE as it was just me, just my mind. How could I really know what he might say?
But boy, could I get worked up.
And so one day, while driving to my favorite grocery store, rather than take a left hand turn and go beyond the medium, I made a hard left into 4 lanes of fast moving on-coming traffic.
Some angel must have been watching. No one crashed into me. Traffic stopped, allowing me to back up and try the left hand turn again. This time going beyond the medium.
THAT was a defining moment for me. I knew then that thoughts were extremely powerful and could ruin or end my life.
I set about, that day, with a plan. Rather than say, I would NEVER think about him again, I would change what I was thinking WHEN I realized I was lost in thought.
I would consciously put my attention on something else. It took me 3 months before a day would go by that I wasn’t lost in thought and obsessing about my ex. My thoughts were no longer dangerously running my life.
Shortly after the traffic experience, I discovered one of my favorite books:
The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
Believe me I had no idea my mind had become fractured. Not then. I had inklings at various points in my life when serious anger would erupt.
Or when I completely collapsed during my Parisian Junior Year abroad.
And most surprisingly for me, for many months after completing the highest level within an organization I had joined at 24.
I would lie in bed, tears would roll down my checks and no thoughts would accompany them.
I knew I was losing my mind. It took a few years for the complete break to occur.
And many more years to piece it back together.
It’s a difficult story. But then, honestly every person’s story is a difficult one.
Scratch beneath almost everyone’s social face and there lies a story, one after the other, of all pervasive suffering.
Sadly, in millions of lives the suffering is so all encompassing that the opportunity to be able to step back, outside of their own stories cannot ever occur. Abject poverty, tribal wars, inhuman social morales preclude self-reflection.
I actually consider myself fortunate.
To have lived, as they say, to tell the tale.
As I continue on my chosen path of Buddhism, I’m learning that compassion isn’t a one time shot nor is it something anyone expects a practitioner to have from the get-go. In other words, it’s a quality that one develops and one that everyone CAN develop.
It’s a practice. Just like becoming a world class tennis player, you must practice.
How? When it’s seemingly so ethereal. And not something you can feel for someone who has been cruel to you or even just mildly rude.
It’s difficult. For me at this point impossible to actually feel compassion towards people who I feel act in a horrible fashion, not to mention those who attack and harm others.
So – how DOES one develop a heart and mind of compassion?
Buddhists are famous for saying that all sentient beings at one time have been our mother. All sentient beings? And for Buddhists this isn’t just human beings, it’s all beings. Ants, mice, snakes – any being that experiences feelings. Even if those feelings are instinctive.
As I continue to work with this concept of compassion, I realized that my own mother – who I had plenty of issues with in my day – never stopped loving me. She loved me unconditionally, although not with idiot compassion.
Idiot compassion deserves it’s own entry. So more on that later.
Without a mother, none of us would have survived a day after birth. Human beings need to be cared for and cannot grow on their own. (A mother, need not be the birth mother or even a woman, but someone who nurtures and feeds the child).
It dawned on me in the early hours this morning, that IF I were able to see all sentient beings as ONCE having been my mother, it would be impossible for me to hate anyone. Impossible for me to slander anyone. Absolutely impossible for me to physically harm anyone.
I would be able to see that my very life, depended on this sentient being at one time.
You might say that this concept means you have to believe in reincarnation, rebirth. Well, definitely Buddhists do believe in the constant ongoing circle of samsara – birth and death, birth and death – endlessly. Until enlightenment, or as its called – nirvana.
But to me that isn’t the point.
My point is HOW do I develop compassion for every human being? I’ll tackle snakes, mosquitoes and bobcats later.
Compassion isn’t easy. It’s really hard and more often comes across as theety-wheaty-new-age-love-everyone goo.
The point is, IF I could imagine that everyone was at one point someone to whom I owed a deep depth of gratitude for having cared for me, I would have to be kinder.
And at the end of the day – that is what I wish to be. A kinder human being.
ENLIGHTENMENT: You can get there from here
And just where is here? Good question. I’ve thought that question, most of my life.
Until only recently, here was anyplace other than where I was. In other words, I was mostly uncomfortable and felt that, tomorrow would be better.
Or there would be happier. It was usually always in the future, that things were better.
Some remember the glory days of high school and for them here is then.
High school was mainly hell for me, so I never confuse here with there.
And college? The wonders of being away from home, of dorm life or fraternal life. Also hell.
How about marriage? Many I know relive and weep over their lost marriage or partner. Not me. Get me out of here was my refrain. Something I did with not much planning, three times.
Logically one should start near the beginning, weaving through ones life, pointing out how important in retrospect this was or that was. Yet, does a life really work that way?
It seems to me instead you find yourself wherever you are and you hurl yourself into some pretended future or some embellished past.