It’s said (and has been said for millennia) that it’s possible for a person not to suffer, not to be subject to fear and desire. It’s said that the essential nature of a human being is spaciousness, unconditional love without attachment or dissatisfaction. Those who know have said this condition is inherent to all people, however unrealized it may be, however unaware of this nature they may be, however disguised and buried it is beneath all that occupies their awareness all their lives, until the heart lets out its last beat.
Most people hearing this idea discount it. A few sit down with it, some in a devoted way, some of them for decades. Seldom is the longed-for condition realized. Seldom does even the most devoted seeker after truth come to live in it, throughout each ordinary day, to experience life’s ups and downs in equanimity that is without strain, or vigilance, or effort.
Why is this? Why, if it is our very nature, do we not live there? Why does what becomes so obvious to one — vivid as the colors of maples in the fall — remain hidden to the greater part of humankind, even to those who long for it?
The apparent value of the ordinary self is why the deeper truth is so rarely assumed as one’s day-to-day reality.
Some version of this question has been occupying me for a long time. This must be the difference between the person who retreats into anonymity and the one who remains engaged in the human world. One has given up trying to answer the question, or maybe always knew better than to try, and the other hasn’t given up, for the sake of the ones longing to know what they really are.
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You are not precious, I want to say. And then: Notice what that statement does to you. What edge it sets your teeth on. What offense may be taken. The possible shock to the system.
The one who wants to feel good about himself, herself . . . who wants to heal, to matter somehow . . . the one who has suffered . . . is not precious. But seems to be. The one with armfuls of stories, triumphs, regrets. The one that is misunderstood, to whom being understood, or valued, matters so much. The one capable of being wounded, or uplifted by praise. What if this self turned out to be superficial? One enormous distraction from the deeper something you are.
All the beliefs that have collected — about what’s true, important, inevitable. The elaborate structure that has built itself around all your days, something to carry you along, to make life somehow — barely — manageable. What if it all ceased to feel precious, to require upkeep, improvement?
The self that matters so much has no access whatever to the underlying reality. The self makes no contact with the essence. It is not transformed into it. The two have nothing to do with one another.
The self that appears to be precious functions in only one regard to the “Self” that is, in fact, unfathomably precious: it obscures it. This — the apparent value of the ordinary self — is why the deeper truth is so rarely assumed as one’s day-to-day reality.
Like an exquisite garment put on, the essence of a human being is simple, plain, remarkable in its lightness. How many times in an ordinary day are you brought to a rush of gratitude — just for this, this that runs in your veins, that is here no matter what — that has nothing whatever to do with who you once thought yourself to be?
What could be more precious? Worth the cost of everything? And what is that everything? What has lost its former dear value? The heart that ached, that took offense, needed mending. The self that wanted, that mattered.
It’s the very self that believed if it meditated enough, or cultivated the right behavior or attitude, it would somehow become free of its self-made burdens. Would transform itself into what which never was burdened in the first place.
It isn’t how it works.
What happens, when it happens, is that you cease investing in the woundable self as being real. It stops seeming like what you are. It stops mattering.
Why is it that when this miracle occurs, a person will inevitably say — feel as if I’ve come home? It’s been here all along, I now see, waiting for me. It is recognized, felt to be familiar. Why is that?
Because it — what you really are — has been with you from the beginning. Alongside the self that once appeared so precious, so truly what you believed yourself to be. You might have had glimpses of the perfect stillness, where time and dissatisfaction do not exist. Maybe in childhood, or since then, in some kind of extremity. Some moment of stunning beauty, in which “you” did not seem to be there, or didn’t seem to be separate from the beauty. Your problems disappeared, briefly. Lost all substance. They left with you.
Yet something, some dazzling awareness, sensed its own reality. Then, shortly after, was eclipsed. For the rest of life, perhaps.
It could be otherwise.