Last week, I revisited a store in a quaint little town I’ve come to revere.
In hindsight, I call this shop a seeker’s paradise, and three years ago, I would have been convinced that I needed what every little item in it had to offer.
Undoubtedly, I would have walked out with a 35-dollar rose quartz necklace, believing that it would help me to experience more self-love and acceptance, an amethyst stone to aid in connecting to intuition, and a black tourmaline bracelet with the Ahimsa symbol hanging from it to ward off what many people refer to as “psychic attacks.”
Having spent what would have then been nearly a quarter of my life thinking I was somehow and in someway “insufficient,” or perhaps even “hopelessly damaged,” set me on the quest of a lifetime.
If you’d asked me to describe my inner landscape at the age of 26, I would have told you that I was in the middle of a dark desert searching for a river stream. I lived in a perpetual state of thirst, in what Henry David Thoreau called a state of “quiet desperation”—the only caveat being that the song in me seemed as inaudible as the beat of my own heart.
Now, here I was a few years later, back in my seeker’s paradise, curious and mildly amused, but paradoxically, this time in need of nothing.
Suddenly, I turned to look over my shoulder from where I was standing only to catch a glimpse of a scroll with the words, “Free Your Spirit and Dance with Life” inscribed on it. At that point, I realized the unabashed hypocrisy in that message. The spirit, I thought, is already free, and life is dancing in and all around us with or without our permission. It was also in that precise moment that I realized just how much my paradigm had shifted, and felt called to send these words out into the world for other self-proclaimed “seekers” to read, and hopefully resonate with, for they point to the truth.
So, what exactly is this truth they point to, you may ask?
Well, it is so simple that the person you think you are won’t believe it. Yet it is and has always been present throughout your life experience, like the backdrop of a grand stage.
I’ll just say it plainly: you are perfect, right here and right now. You are, in fact, perfection appearing as a separate self, with a myriad of “flaws,” unfinished tasks, unpaid bills, a dirty floor, disheveled hair, a broken ankle, anger, loneliness, and resentment.
Most of us cannot remember our seeming individual experience before the age of two, but prior to the understanding and use of language, there was no experience of being a separate self. There was no concept of “here” or “there.” There was no concept of a “me” or a “you,” an “up” or “down,” nor a “backward” or “forward.” Nevertheless, there was a sense of presence prior to the ability to declare, with any certainty, “I am here.”
Once language came to be understood and utilized, that sense of presence became localized. What soon followed was the idea that this awareness was the product of a mechanical process in the brain and belonged to an idea you called “me.” Proceeding the belief in an “I” came the idea that “I am this” or “I am that” according to conditioning, as well as a sense of object permanence, an array of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs, as well as the creation of space and time, all of which make up parts of the individual’s story. Moreover, depending on the circumstances of our upbringing, our self-concept can vary greatly, setting a unique tone and vibration to the “me” story in question and thus having a direct or indirect affect on what we call our schema, in psychological terms.
Without a self, there is no problem, and with no self and no problem, what could possibly be in need of mending? Of course, the person would vehemently disagree with me, arguing that even if that were true, we still occupy this localized experience and that things seem to happen that feel either good or bad, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant.
But let me ask you this: what are beliefs made of? What are thoughts, themselves, made of? Are your concepts of good or bad, right or wrong, and pleasant or unpleasant your own or were they implanted? Who enforced them? Where did they come from? Can you trace them back to their origin?
Moreover, is a concept or belief inherently true, or are all concepts and beliefs innately empty?
Notice this, if nothing else: it is the “me” that gives meaning to anything at all, and meaning itself gives rise to all kinds of judgments and fabrications, attachments, aversions, and opinions—all of which are shaped by our culture and individual family of origin and are thus mostly relative.
There is a line in a poem written by Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky, which reads:
“If you think that the truth can be known from words,
If you think that the sun and the ocean can pass
through the tiny opening called the mouth,
oh, someone should start laughing,
someone should start wildly laughing now.”
While most of us seldom pause long enough consider it, the entire world and cosmos is nothing but an idea, albeit an idea arising in consciousness. The “self,” too, is made up of a medley words, as well as of space and time. All things appear solid, but solidity itself is only a matter of mere perception. The individual assumes that it exists in a known world, and yet all that is known is ultimately unfamiliar to the one who claims to know.
Our innate human tendency to imbue all experience with meaning is without a doubt, one of the prime root causes of suffering. Suffering is a label we impose whenever there is a feeling of contraction or resistance. But just like everything else we believe is known, can we really claim with unwavering confidence that we really know what is “good” and “bad” for us?
For example, if missing out on an opportunity to board a flight to Cancun causes suffering to the individual who either couldn’t afford a trip or otherwise cancelled or missed their flight and found out the following day that the plane they were supposed to board had crashed, wouldn’t he or she then presume that there was perhaps a higher good that in hindsight made the former internal experience seem, at best, inconsequential?
Or, if you failed your first year of college at a prestigious institution only to pass up four grueling and expensive years, and landed a high-paying job or began a successful business, was your “failure” truly a misfortune?
In the story of “me,” I had many things I labelled “wrong” with me throughout my life, starting with a childhood diagnosis of ADD, a more shy and introverted personality expression, and a more or less consistent experience of being severely anxious or depressed, which spanned a couple decades, and so on.
Sarah always wanted to be someone or something other than who or what she thought she was. For the “me,” the experience of seeking was an indelibly painful one that inevitably led me along a path of constantly, although each time unsuccessfully, attempting to fix the self.
I sought years of psychotherapy, and then, sometime later, spent a fortune on one energy clearing after another, believing that I had to do shadow work, heal early life wounds, and purge all my chakras of all their accumulated garbage on a regular basis.
It wasn’t until two years ago, when I first discovered a wise teacher and mentor, that I realized that everything that had happened up until then was a ripening for awakening to the ultimate truth of existence itself.
Once I truly saw that this was the case, I realized that I didn’t need any healing; instead, I was caught in the ubiquitous trap of mistaking this presence as “me,” the character I’d labelled “deficient” or at worst “defective” for most of my life.
In fact, it is inevitable that when we believe ourselves to be only a person and this identify “self” with body and mind, past and future, and associate these things with all kinds of judgments, aversions, and attachments, suffering never ends.
And how could it? After all, the mind and body are finite and lend themselves to disease, old age, and death. Past and future are imbued with hope, regret, aversion, or anxiety, and all physical states are ultimately fluctuating and impermanent.
Needless to say, our society is more than willing and ready to participate in this dream of separation and perpetuate suffering so that industry, businesses, and corporations can sell quick-fixes and “healing hacks” for their own profit.
In the final analysis, suffering, which arises in the dream of the separate self, is truly what makes the world go round.
However, when the dream of separation finally falls away, all that is revealed is unconditional love—but not the kind of love we humans conceive of. Unconditional love is what the Tao calls the “unnameable” appearing as whatever is happening or whomever you happen to be looking at, both up to and including yourself.
Unconditional love is the All appearing as a “you,” a “me,” and yes, even hunger, war, or famine, which obviously sounds blasphemous to the one who judges. Unconditional love is imbued with freedom, and from that freedom, free will is born, which then gives rise and expression to an apparent duality that then allows for the opportunity to remember what we are in essence.
In the classical text the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna appears to Prince Arjuna and says:
“He who knows me as his own divine Self,
As the Operator in him breaks through
The belief that he is the body, and is
Not born separate again. Such a one
Is united with me, O Arjuna.
Delivered from selfish attachment, fear,
And anger, filled with Me, surrendering
Themselves to me, purified in the fire
Of my Being, many reached the state of
Unity in me.
As people approach me, so I receive them.
All paths lead to me, O Arjuna.”
~ “All Paths Lead to Me,” The Bhagavad Gita, from the book, “God Makes The Rivers to Flow: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry and Prose,” by Eknath Easwaran, pg. 182.
In the inherent ultimate and absolute perfection of what is lies a multitude of forms and appearances, and therefore a myriad of possibilities and potentiality. The one who knows cannot see nor understand this conceptually because the self operates under the assumption that this isn’t it, that something needs to be different than however it presents itself in order for it to fit its own ideal of what perfection is.
It is the greatest secret and most ineffable mystery. Even the concepts or experience of hardship or evil serves as a potential reminder for the light that is. After all, in a world of opposites, how could a shadow even appear without light itself? How could we know what we call love, relatively speaking, without having a concept of what it is not, in our own terms? Moreover, how could we possibly come to know who or what we are not without the experience of ever-fluctuating states of mind and an impermanent physical existence?
To conclude, I will leave you with a chapter from the Tao Te Ching. It reads:
“Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.
Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you came from:
this is the essence of wisdom”.-
Tao Te Ching: A New English Version, by Stephen Mitchell, Ch. 14.