This is the terrible irony of the vast majority of human suffering: the thing that gives rise to it in the first place is then asked to alleviate it. The mind cannot relieve what it has brought about. But this is what we attempt to do.
Reality comes along, and the mind spawns some kind of story or image that brews anguish. Then the same device is uselessly enlisted in the pursuit of comfort, coping, escape.
When the entire thing could have been skipped.
Mired in its interpretation of reality, the ego-mind tries to talk itself into believing it will all be okay, or at least bearable, understandable. It tries to get “positive” thoughts to push out “negative” ones. (A thought is a thought, regardless of which end of the spectrum it’s on.)
Once the mind gets hold of some piece of reality and interprets it, the interpretation becomes your “reality.” You’re stuck with relating to that thing in your head as if it were life itself. Meanwhile, the actual life occurrence (as it was before the mind got its sticky fingers on it) is still its same self, floating out there somewhere, forgotten.
Yes, it’s possible to encounter reality without the mind automatically engaging. At the very least, it’s possible (and greatly relieving) to observe the mind doing its thing, to realize the mental handling is at a remove from reality itself, and so to not take it very seriously.
You are in opposition to nothing – not because you’re in favor of it, but because it’s real.
In the face of something difficult, what happens when the mind isn’t automatically pressed into service? Reality comes along, and you feel it (not think it) along every surface of your body. You allow it to enter you, without resistance. It’s a physical thing, a felt thing. There is recognition of what’s here. The mind is blessedly quiet – at least, the mind as it’s usually pressed into service by the anxious, controlling ego. You can still perceive, recognize, understand. Awareness is alive and well. It’s just that you aren’t taking the usual next step of figuring out what you think of it, what it means for you. You don’t rush to forming an opinion, a judgment, even a label.
The reason the mind usually starts up, in the face of a challenging development, is to protect the ego in some way: to launch a counter-attack, to fit what’s happened into some kind of familiar (mind-made) pattern, to seek consolation. Inevitably, the mental activity generates painful emotion . . . which you then want to ease somehow. So you look for some positive (mental) spin to put on the thing, or you try to distract yourself with different thoughts (or booze or the computer).
But using the problem-causer to solve the problem is . . . well, a waste of time. It will do nothing to put you in touch with your deeper nature, which is entirely comfortable in the presence of reality.
When the mind is allowed to be still (or at least recognized for what it’s trying to do), and whatever is happening in life is taken in all the way – which occurs naturally in the absence of mental filters, of resistance – then the feeling in the body may be deep. Possibly very painful. Then, very likely, you will move on. The reality of the situation will have registered. If you need to take action of some kind, or think in a way that’s practical (as opposed to torment-inducing), you will do that. But you won’t be burdened with the mental mess that has previously attached itself to every life challenge.
* * * * *
A person might think that having a quiet mind, losing interest in your dignity, losing ambition and pride, becoming detached from your history – that all of this might land you in an unfeeling condition, where nothing can touch you. It’s true that you’re on an even keel. You aren’t stirred up like you once were, by every little thing that comes along. But when something real comes (not from your mind but from life itself), if it is painful you will feel it all the way into your bones. There is no impulse to protect yourself. Because you are not lost in thought about the thing, you sense reality directly. Of course you will feel!
When you stop using your mind like a shield, there’s no distance between you and life. “You” and “it” are a continuity. (What do you think nondual means?) Yes, you can choose not to go there. Nothing says you must subject yourself to every available misery, just because it’s there. You can decide how often to look at the news. Because when you do watch, you will surely take it in – the suffering of another person, or people – as if the pain were your own. You may prefer to be alone, to pay only a little attention to the larger situation, only as attention is called for.
But when you encounter something painful, either because you go there deliberately or because it’s close to home, it will saturate you. There will be no protective shield. The mind will be like an open window: out of the way.
There’s a difference between mind-caused suffering and pain that has no mediator, that’s felt spontaneously, before you’ve had time to think about what it means to your ego. When mind-caused suffering has stopped happening, you still feel. There is tenderness, openness, love. It’s just that it isn’t in the name of holding you together. It isn’t about “you.” The heart breaks open in the face of a death. Love floods in, sadness, cherishing.
The mind does have a useful role in such a situation. In the aftermath of the death of a loved one, a purely cognitive process occurs around the edges of felt grief. The fact of the goneness of the beloved has to “get through your head,” probably many times. In the morning when you wake, there is the remembering: he is no longer here. Many times it will come to you, I will not hear her voice again. There are ways our native intelligence collects data and reminds us of changes in the landscape, so we can adapt to the new situation. This is useful.
But what doesn’t happen is the story-making. The attempt to rescue you from the pain of missing, of loving when there is no one there to love. There is no keeping a stiff upper lip, keeping busy. There is no counting of the blessings, no avoidance of the possibly difficult particulars – the unresolved, the disappointing. No consolation: at least he lived a long life.
You aren’t at a distance from life. You haven’t become tough, or aloof. It’s just that you no longer run everything through a filter. It’s that you’re no longer at the mercy of the mind, whose primary mission used to be to protect you. To keep you feeling okay about yourself, your circumstances, your prospects.
Your mind no longer exists to hold together a self. Your self is not of interest anymore, so the mind can rest most of the time. When thinking is needed, it operates much more efficiently and clearly than before, when a virus had infected all its functioning, when virtually every mental movement occurred in the name of holding away perceived threats, plotting a better future, seeking relief.
Now the mind is a blessing, when it’s needed. Handy, practical, creative. Direct and skillful, nothing wasted. Generating no emotion. Mostly, it sits off to the side, quiet. Your body, though, is alive. You feel, the way an open heart feels. Not a heart that can get its feelings hurt. Not a heart that needs protecting.
Your senses are alert, without judgment. It doesn’t occur to you to drop things into categories: I like this; I don’t like that. What-is overwhelms every other consideration. You rest in what-is. You are in opposition to nothing – not because you’re in favor of it, but because it’s real.
You feel incredibly alive. Peaceful.
How can this be? That you are both fully here and yet the old you has broken apart into bits, melted away? How is it that you are really here and yet not attached to any of it? Reality doesn’t bounce off of you anymore. It enters you, passes through you. You feel it, but it leaves you. It leaves you unchanged. Life doesn’t determine what you are, how you proceed. It doesn’t leave you with a revised set of beliefs, or with the old ones cast in murky light. You don’t need beliefs anymore.
You want nothing. But life is here, happening. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes there is a surge of joy. You’re really here for it, all of it.