In conversations with students over the years, I’ve noticed the ways they describe their self-exploration: long hard roads, barriers, hurdles, walls, deep canyons, dense fog, and all kinds of struggles. Something always seems to be blocking the way between here and there.
But where is there?
There is no there! It is all right here!
If we picture our goal as elsewhere and the road is rough, steep, treacherous, difficult, arduous, and full of danger, then that is our experience. Now. And in the next ‘now’. And the next.
Because we only have now. Right here. This moment. Just as it is.
So, pause, close your eyes, and notice what is arising in your current experience of physical sensations meeting all the elements in and around you.
This is the sensory landscape of our lives. Not the imagined treacherous imaginings we conjure up to make our lives so difficult.
We are already here. There is no place to get to, so there are no barriers, no hurdles. That’s all just a way to distract ourselves from being fully present.
Why would we want to distract ourselves? According to the Buddha, our relationship with all that arises is poisoned with craving, aversion, and delusion. If we can recognize these three poisons, see them for what they are, and practice becoming more skillful in how we relate to them, using compassion rather than yet more aversion, then we can be comfortable being fully present in this moment. We don’t have to go on a delusional chase through difficult terrains to get to someplace that doesn’t exist.
This right here? This is Shangri-la! I know it doesn’t look like it, but that’s just aversion, craving, and delusion putting up blinders.
If here and now is not acceptable to you, wherever you go will also be unacceptable. Patterns of craving will arise. Patterns of aversion will arise. And you will delude yourself into believing that what you thought would be so wonderful has, yet again, failed you.
That is the nature of dukkha. Unsatisfactoriness. Suffering. That’s what Siddhartha Gautama was experiencing 2500 years ago. And he saw that others were suffering also. He abandoned his family and his worldly goods to seek out the causes of suffering and the way to end suffering. His methodical investigation, using himself as a guinea pig and nearly dying in the process, led to an answer that shocked his ascetic companions, who had been traversing treacherous inner landscapes with him for six years. They thought Siddhartha wimped out when he accepted a simple meal instead of a single grain of rice per day! What a lightweight! They turned their backs on him. And when he appeared some weeks later, telling them he’d found the answer, they scoffed.
But they could see that he was transformed, awakened, a buddha. So they listened, even as they thought his new-found method was too easy, too kind, and too sensible. In a nutshell, the Buddha identified the cause of suffering, how it stemmed from our discomfort with the nature of impermanence, and our view of ourselves as separate from all life, alone and isolated. Further, he explained that because of these paired discomforts, we are in the habit of turning away and swallowing the three poisons of craving, aversion, and delusion. Thus poisoned, we become blind to this moment just as it is. And we suffer.
Having found what he was looking for, the Buddha spent the rest of his life sharing his discovery with everyone he met, and they shared it with everyone they met. Buddhism grew from a little grove in India to a worldwide diverse set of traditions that have that core insight into the nature of suffering, the causes of suffering, and the way to end suffering and live a joyful life of integrity.
Those fellow ascetics assumed that awakening required self-deprivation and even self-torture. Aren’t we making the same assumption when we imagine ourselves on an inner journey along a narrow crumbling mountain road, crossing a barren desert, forging through a treacherous canyon, or perched on a plateau with steep cliffs in every direction? When we meditate, we have the opportunity to see through all the mental formations and we can cease production on dramatic delusion.
So, save all that creative imagination for your novel. Let your life be simple. Slow down. Be present. Be here to greet what arises with compassion. Be here to make wise choices, knowing that this moment is always your pivotal point of power. Be here to recognize the interbeing of all life in an infinite dance, and let your steps be true, heartfelt, and joyful!