A great New Year’s resolution
Ready? Here is it: Stop. Stop trying to find easy tricks. Especially online. I’m serious. The 5 ways to success, or the 10 ways to get a better orgasm, or the 20 ways to not get fired, get a better job, have more happiness, more pleasure, less suffering, a million dollars, the lot. Just don’t. That’s it.
The pith of the above statement, ideally, is enough to drive the point home without necessarily having to explain its rationale. Pithy wisdom has the power to shake us into wakefulness, intuitively, directly, BANG! You’re there sort of thing.
The Zen story where the Master walks out to give instruction and instead just sits there, in silence, with a flower and a smile in his hand is reflective of this. Noticing the beauty of the flower and experiencing it completely, directly, was the best lesson there was to give. Connecting with the whole picture requires going beyond chasing what we like, rejecting what we don’t or not caring about the rest.
Awareness is not an affectation. It’s actually able to take the whole picture in. We’re just usually highly selective of what kind of information we let in. How conscious we are about our own filters is partly the issue here. Confronting the comfortable cocoon we’ve at times created for ourselves can be quite painful. And humans don’t like pain (generally speaking). Particularly the existential kind. The good news is that noticing the whole picture is something we can train ourselves to do.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, an important figure in the inception of Buddhism in America, noted on this that:
“Everybody possesses that unconditioned possibility of cheerfulness, which is not connected purely with either pain or pleasure. You have an inclination: in the flash of one second, you feel what needs to be done. It is not a product of your education; it is not scientific or logical; you simply pick up on the message. And then you act: you just do it. That basic human quality of suddenly opening up is the best part of human instinct”.
Notice that the point here is that the action is a succession event. It’s not the primary condition, i.e., it comes after the fact. Trungpa is pointing out that “suddenly opening” is what produces actionable insight. It’s not the other way around. The act of courage, of vulnerability, of taking the leap so to speak, that part comes first. And not only that, but he is also suggesting that once the “opening” has happened there is (at least the possibility) of in fact experiencing direct insight on what needs to be done. In other words, the anxiety of not knowing ‘what to do’, is instantly solved by jumping right thru the mystery of the dread that was paralyzing to being with. Another Zen proverb formalizes this as “jump and net will appear”.
Quick fixes, soundbites, the 3, 5 or 10 easy techniques that you can employ to benefit your situation are all trying to somehow suggest that it might be possible to deal with the dread associated with the jumping. Or manage flight conditions, or properly prepare yourself. And that’s questionable.
Now, let me be clear. Some preparation is needed, but concluding the situation is manageable prior to jumping is questionable. As is selling guarantees. Because no one knows what will happen to you when you jump. Not even you do. And generalizing that into ontologies that will produce happiness is actually endorsing distrust in the power of the human spirit I would say. You get to have your own jump, without anyone telling you how you have to prepare or charging you a fee to do it. You’re strong enough, and when the time is right, you’ll naturally take the leap. And how do you know when the time is right? You’ll know.
In practical terms, the ‘jump’ part might simply look being able to tolerate ambiguity, anxiety, even dread, without necessarily doing anything about it. We constantly want to do away with existential pain, and when we succeed at this we also rob ourselves of the capacity to experience our own strength and growth. And Growth can be painful.
I’m not trying to make a case for some sort of physical or existential masochism here either. The ultimate aim is the middle way, a balanced approach. Distraction has its place. Constant distraction as the norm — which I posit is the case for most of us, is unbalanced. In fact we’re training ourselves to be distracted given the way our attention is divided in the information age. The mind behaves accordingly.
Take a head ache for instance. Tylenol has its uses for the occasional head ache. The symptom goes away, but if the cause was dehydration there’s really only one solution to the problem. Does that mean taking the Tylenol is wrong? No, why would it?
Likewise, one can extended the analogy to human beings. We are parched for contact, affection, love, validation and meaning. Meaning and purpose seem particularly important in a utilitarian society. Note even that these models of “tricks, tactics, 1 thru 5, type solutions”, and so on, are framed precisely as utilities. Things you can do to deal with your situation.
The counter point is this however: what if in fact there absolutely nothing you can do. What if in fact, the issue is being? Learning how to completely and thoroughly just be. What we ultimately want is joy, satisfaction, and love. None of which are perennial final states awaiting us at the end of the proverbial rainbow. All of these are states of experience, just like avoiding pain is another.
I know quoting Einstein can be a cliché or chic or both in way, nevertheless, I do think that this was what he was talking about when he said “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift”.
And herein lies the crux: we’ve habituated the mind to soundbites, to productivity measure, to always taking the fix it pill. This distracted mind will here ask “ok, what do I have to do to just be? I’m ready, let’s do it”. And there’s no doing to be done.
In other words, one can posit that we suffer from a form of cosmic agoraphobia — it’s all too much. Fear of too much space (freedom anxiety, existentially speaking). So let’s just break it into parts and focus on our little territory. This is fine, particularly developmentally speaking; however, when we become too invested and over identified with this (subjectively demarcated) territory we can react with tremendous aggression towards one another in order to ascertain psychological property rights. Taken to an extreme this psychological progression places us at war (hot war) with each other.
So, just as Lennon said “…singing words of wisdom, Let it Be…” There’s something to that. In conclusion, take the Tylenol, ameliorate the headache, but don’t forget that being parched can only be cured by hydrating yourself. And particularly don’t forget that the point of being hydrated was associated with the capacity to sustain enjoying your life to begin with. And enjoyment requires being in it, front and center.
Happy holidays all.
Originally published at medium.com