I found a door I hadn’t known was there. It was like entering into another dimension, only this wasn’t science fiction, or a dream, or delusion. It was just plain true. There had been a door all along, in the room in which life-so-far had taken place, fifty years of it. Suddenly I turned and looked in a direction I’d never looked before, and a door I’d never seen was slowly opening, waiting for me to step through. I stepped.
It was like that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the monolith that was buried millennia ago is now, newly uncovered, about to be touched for the first thrilling time by the rays of the sun, which will set in motion something revolutionary. The dramatic opening notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra will play, lest you miss the significance of the moment. The monolith shape is reminiscent of a door, a tall shiny black door, standing free of any walls.
But this — this door that opened in my awareness — is not science fiction, or a movie. It’s a plain-old life, my ordinary human life. Anybody’s life. Only stepping into the newfound space causes life-ever-after to have nothing plain-old about it.
The thing is (and I have yet to get over this), what I saw vividly was that the door had been there all along. How could I have missed it? How could we all — humankind, that is — miss noticing the ever-present door? How is that possible? For years now I’ve been scratching my head about this.
Around this apparent reality, literally inside us and present in every moment we live, is something very like space. It goes everywhere you go.
We think that our ideas about life, about ourselves, are reality itself. This is the cause of our suffering. Our mental pictures have us so convinced of their objectivity, their legitimacy, that it doesn’t occur to us to consider another possibility.
We live all our lives contained in a room of our own making. Reality is what it is: mentally unfiltered life occurring, moment by moment, one day followed by another. We are there for it. But what we live in is our interpretations of things. Our elaborate and pain-inducing stories. Meanwhile, uninterpreted life goes on, at a great distance from our consciousness. Trapped in our minds, we miss life itself — the real thing.
When the door is noticed, it’s an invitation to step outside the mind-made room into actual life: immediate, sensory, unprocessed, unresisted life. What encounters this life is plain consciousness. Not the stories, the beliefs, the history that we bundle together into a self that needs asserting and defending. When consciousness encounters life, all is profoundly well. Maybe even fun. At the very least, peaceful.
Yes, even when life dishes up a big challenge. There is unending peace and well-being. Because there is no resisting, no mental processing.
It’s a stunner.
Why don’t people see this door? Why didn’t I? To step through its opening is to leave behind many cherished things: grudges, wounds, ambitions. Identity. Dignity, self-esteem, familial pride. Anger and hope. Defenses. So many things that we hold to ourselves, like comforting clothing. The irony is terrible, as all of this is what causes us to suffer. To miss the real thing!
Meanwhile, we point to life and declare it the cause of our misery. So why bother noticing the door, when we can’t bear to consider the idea that we ourselves (not life) are the makers of our torment? Anyhow, it’s impossible to imagine that it could be otherwise.
This must be science fiction, you may be thinking — that it could truly be otherwise. That’s what I would have thought, had someone proposed such a thing to me. Anyhow, I don’t recall really noticing there was a door there. I seem to have fallen through the opening. I looked around and saw the familiar world . . . only vastly changed. Well, it was the same world, the same life. But I was utterly different inside.
* * * * *
It seems to have to do with perspective. Stumbling through the door separating our usual way from the alternate one is about looking at something you’ve previously looked through, like a lens. You’re looking from a different place. Things don’t look the same from this point of view.
It’s like looking at a room, at the structure you’ve occupied your whole life, from the outside, whereas before, you’ve lived entirely in it. Only before, you didn’t realize this was a room you were in. (Let alone that there was an “outside” the room.) You always thought this room was just . . . reality. Having no idea that you had constructed the place, using your ideas about things.
But now, you’re looking at the construction, from some point located outside of it. The simple fact of having relocated your perspective has changed everything. Among other things, it has altered your ability to suffer.
But hardly anybody is aware of this phenomenon. Even rigorous spiritual seekers often are unaware of the nature of the change that has to occur in order for suffering to stop. Mostly, it’s believed that the necessary change has to do with trying harder to be at peace, to quiet the mind, or come up with a more “positive” or “spiritual” set of beliefs, or to heal from some emotional wound.
All of that effort occurs inside the room (however spiritually decorated it might be). This has been likened to rearranging the furniture inside the prison cell. Moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic.
All the while this earnest effort is taking place, there is the enduring impression that you are your history, your beliefs, your pain, your spiritual practices. The sense of who you are (that room you’re in) is constructed of these things. This impression of you turns out to be the only problem — that you mistake all of this for what you are. As if there were not, within your very existence, a vast spaciousness that partakes of none of that familiar self-definition.
And so suffering continues.
The room each of us occupies appears to be the whole reality. What each of us calls “my life.” Yet around this apparent reality, literally inside us and present in every moment we live, is something very like space. It goes everywhere you go. You can sense it in any moment your attention is here. When you cease believing your thoughts. When you aren’t resisting anything.
It isn’t necessary for the mind to be quiet. All that matters is that you not listen to what it’s saying, as if it were true. One of the primary building materials of the room that seems to be you is the mental stream. When you invest in your thoughts, you are laying down cinderblocks and smearing mortar between them, busily keeping yourself feeling okay about yourself with more and better cinderblocks. If you look under your feet as you work, you’ll see what you’re standing on. The floor (previously nailed into place by you) is made of the unquestioned assumption that if you believe a thing to be true, then it must be. Focused as you are on keeping the walls solid, you don’t even realize this is the underlying structure of your sad existence. That’s why it endures. As far as you know, it’s simply a fact. Not only real but necessary, to keep you “secure.” (With security like that, who needs terrorists?)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the light-blocking walls, the vast spaciousness goes on forever, in every direction. Inside of you. (The real you.) Within ordinary consciousness, palpable in this moment’s stillness. Just on the other side of the invisible door.
Space does not suffer. It does not compute time, or a self. It sees the movement of thought the same way it sees clouds forming and unforming themselves.
If you look around at the structure of the room and its furnishings, you will see all of your formative experience, how your relationships define you, the contents of your value system, your goals, your work life, the things you’re admired for, the stuff you’re lousy at. You’ll see your image in a mirror and how you feel about that. Your ethnicity, gender, sexual preference. Your name. The atmosphere in the room is your earnest attempt to improve one thing and another, in yourself (and maybe in others). And so much more, of course. There could not be a sufficiently exhaustive list of what can be found inside the room. It’s a wonder anybody can breathe, or move. (Did you ever wonder why it’s hard to really rest?)
Everybody has (is) a room. It comes with the territory of being a person. The question is, where do you locate your self? Are you able to look at the construction, to see that it’s something you’ve assembled? Or are you convinced there’s nothing else to you but the apparent reality inside your head? For that, of course, is the location of the room.
Entirely inside your head. (Don’t expect the ego to warm to this idea.)
The question is, what are you that is not made of thought?
When you’re outside the room, looking at it, what is it you’re looking with? It’s not ordinary thought, is it? It’s more like light. It’s consciousness itself. You’re simply aware. There is no emotional quality to the looking. Nothing personal about it at all. No investment, no angst.
If you allow yourself to grow quiet and still for a few moments, and you feel around inside your body, inside your awareness, to see if you can tell whether you’re alive, right now — if you do that . . . sure enough, you can tell. Yes! Alive! Aware!
How can you tell? What did you use to know that?
That “knower,” that looker, is not inside the claustrophobic room where suffering thrives. It’s in that vast space. Yet it is, surely and truly, within you. It’s the truest, realest you.