Thursday, April 20, 2017

What do you really have?

What does it mean to be happy?

It means that for just a moment, you are not longing for something else. You are not craving or searching or yearning for things to be different in any way. What you have is truly enough.

That's it. That's a simple but complete description of the condition we spend lifetimes struggling and fighting and killing for. Of the one and only thing everybody fundamentally wants.

This may surprise you. It couldn't be that simple, could it? After all, most of the time you're not longing for something else, and yet you're not perfectly happy, right?

You may not have noticed that for the vast majority of your life, your mind is indeed preoccupied with scheming up ways for things to be different. It can take some practice to detect.

Or perhaps you are aware of this, but consider it perfectly reasonable. If you didn't seek ways for things to be different, you wouldn't accomplish very much, right? It's lazy to be content with what you have.

But have you noticed what you really have?

Suppose you say "I have a sports car!"

Concretely speaking, what you have then is not a sports car, but the thought "I have a sports car!"

Suppose you go to your garage and point at it, to prove it to me. Now what you have is a visual field that looks something like this:
(Yeah, right, you only wish you had a Lambo)

You can get it in and vroooom off into the distance, and you may have super-sweet vroooom sounds and wind in your hair, but you'll never have a Lamborghini.

What you will only, always, and ever have is this one moment and whatever it contains. Just one frame. You can save all you like, but you'll never have more.

Wouldn't it be a damn shame if you didn't want the one and only thing you had?

Wouldn't it be an incredible tragedy to discover at the end of your life that all you ever really had to do was appreciate the one thing you had?

Wouldn't it be unfortunate if the reason you failed to appreciate it was fear? Fear that if you enjoyed what you had, that you would turn into a lump of complacency?

Wouldn't it be amazing if the opposite turned out to be the case? That when you started enjoying what you had -- not what you thought you had, but what you actually had -- that things got better, not worse?

Wouldn't it be funny if teachers have come before to tell us of this, and we are just refusing to listen?

“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.This will miraculously transform your whole life.” -- Eckhart Tolle

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Abstractions, gratitude, and god

Consider how life goes.

You are presented with a bewildering array of colors, sounds, and textures. From their behavior, you infer the existence of abstractions called matter, time, space, etc. to explain them. Next, you take these abstractions to be the (only) "real things," and the experiences from which you inferred them to be secondary. The things you have merely inferred become certainties, and the things you can actually be certain of (experiences) become curiosities at best.

It's a marvelous sleight of hand that is remarkably hard to detect, but the payoff is worth it. It is possible (indeed overwhelmingly common) to spend a whole lifetime missing out on connecting with the Sure Thing in favor of abstractions.

One remarkable place we do this is in expressing gratitude. We suspect there's something profoundly amazing about just being alive. To objectify this sense, we have to make use of abstractions. What is life? A combination of amino acids. How did they come about? From fusion and other processes. So we become grateful for amino acids, fusion, evolution, etc. Those are all fascinating things to be grateful for, but again there's a sleight of hand: the realization that sparked the gratitude was the sense of being alive, not any of the abstractions that we suspect caused that miracle.

It is actually possible (and incredibly worthwhile) to allow the gratitude to remain precisely on the alive-ness itself, and not on any of the abstractions (such as our calculation of the remarkably low odds that we should be alive). I hesitate to proffer my own take, but here goes: if you manage to be genuinely grateful for the Real Thing for even a moment, you may catch a glimpse of what sages across time have been calling Enlightenment or God. (Yes, those too are abstractions, so don't chase them either.)

How do you get to the Real Thing?

One possibility is to deepen your felt sense of gratitude, but don't be grateful for anything in particular, or because of any particular reason. Don't let your gratitude "land" anywhere. Be grateful for "what is," without in any way identifying what it is or why it is.

Another technique commonly offered is meditation. It certainly can work, but there's a common trap you can fall into: abandoning some of the abstractions, but solidifying deeper ones. For example, it's easy to sit and meditate with a clear mind, while maintaining (and even deepening) the sense that you are an individual meditating within a real world. You will know you are making progress when your gut-felt certainty about your abstractions called time, space, self, objective reality, etc. begin to loosen. What arises in their stead? I will leave that for you to discover.