September 14, 2017

Optimism & Pessimism Both get it Wrong—this is the Truth.

I have been practicing non-attachment.

Life is too transient to encapsulate. It is fluid, ephemeral, and the more we try to grasp at it, the more it seems to slip through our fingers.

When we attempt to control things, we only end up suffering. This seems to be the case because we lose touch with the present moment when we try to control the outcome, and it is only in the present moment that the universe actually unfolds. To be detached from the present moment (what is happening outside of our thoughts) is to resist the flow of existence—and resistance to what is creates our inward suffering.

I wonder if anything is really good or bad, or if it’s simply the nature of our thoughts to define the world in such a dualistic way. Many “negative” experiences I’ve had resulted in seemingly positive change, and many “positive” experiences have led to seemingly negative outcomes. Bad can turn good and good can turn bad, so I don’t see much of a purpose in constantly defining our experiences in such black and white terms.

It doesn’t make sense to be either an optimist or a pessimist.

Both imply an attachment to the outcome of our experiences. We have all met people who were either unbearably cynical or intolerably cheerful—and both are a son of a bitch to deal with. It’s annoying when someone is overwhelmingly positive and it is a bummer when somebody puts a negative spin on every single thing that happens.

As someone interested in the fundamental ideas of Daoism, I am a believer in balance. As far as I can see, the meaning of one’s life is found on the boundary between yin and yang, order and chaos, black and white, and there is no need to identify with one extreme or the other.

For example, if we force ourselves into a state of constant optimism, denying the existence of anything that might be perceived as negative, we are removing ourselves from the natural order of life. We resist the present moment—the only place where anything real happens.

The same goes for the opposite: someone who has decided (unconsciously, that is), that life is simply too difficult to manage and the only way to get by is through succumbing to bitterness and negativity. This is another way of attempting to control the flow of life. It is yet another way of disassociating from the present moment in a desperate and ill-fated pursuit of comfort. It is another trick by the ego to protect itself.

I don’t see much of a difference between being pathologically optimistic and exceedingly pessimistic because I know quite well that if we are out of accordance with the present moment it will come back to bite us one way or the other. There must be something deeper that grounds us and maintains our integrity, despite our changing moods. There must be something more fundamental to us than merely the whims of our own temperament, otherwise we have no freedom as human beings.

When we live in Dao—connected with the present moment, walking the fine line between what was and what will be, having one foot in order and one foot in chaos—we have the most freedom that we could possibly have and feel the most ourselves that we could possibly feel. This is when we meet our potential. This is where love is allowed to flourish. This is where our power is felt.

This is what balance means to me: having direct contact with the present moment without naming our experience. To identify with our experience, making it either a positive or a negative thing and viewing it as something we own, is to lose touch with our deepest nature. When we are constantly naming, judging, or classifying what happens in our lives, we become isolated from our most heartfelt desires and our greatest potential to feel the fullness of life.

Balance is found when our awareness rests fully upon the present moment. Here, one is able to listen to silence, to be aware of the space between things, and pause in the gap between breaths. We are not clinging to the past or the future, not attempting to define our experience, not trying to control or change anything, and this brings about a profound sense of aliveness in the depths of our spirit.

This feels so good because we are connected with the flow of things, in tune with the transient nature of space and time, aligned with the movement of the universe. There is no longer a need to be a “positive” or “negative” person, for when we live in this way all that feels so irrelevant, so petty, so small. The understanding arises that we are as we are—and it is always more than enough.

We can play, find a lover, make mistakes, struggle, and triumph—but there is a deeper knowledge that lies beneath this. A complete and utter acceptance of life as it is, not as we wish it to be.

The liberated heart is awakened.



Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Lucahennig/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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