Part One – Existence
We are all lost in a world of thoughts, emotions and the illusion of physical reality. That physical reality is an illusion is quite well established by modern neuroscience and was illustrated by renaissance philosophers such as Kant, Schopenhauer, Berkeley and Spinoza. Even further back, the Hindus were talking about Maya – the illusory world.
There are many paradoxes associated with any attempt to disentangle ourselves from the ten thousand things – as they are called in the Tao the Ching. The first of these is that we need to understand the nature of the illusion and our bondage. This means taking on board more ideas and refining them until we are satisfied that we understand the nature of our lives. This is a long work and involves many blind alleys. Even so, it is possible. We can establish the following things for ourselves:
1. That the emotions are part of our animal nature and derive mainly from our will to live, or survival drive.
2. That most of our ideas are inadequate and confused. This is inevitable since we are tiny parts of an unknowably large universe.
3. Our physical reality is actually constructed by our consciousness. The brain builds our world picture and presents it to our consciousness.
Establishing this within oneself is very important. If these things are not understood in the root of your being there is no solid foundation for moving forward, and you will vacillate every time something new comes along. In summary emotions, thoughts and physical reality are just phenomena. We are interested in what lies behind phenomena – existence itself.
Having established the understanding mentioned earlier, we can discard it. It’s a bit like having a ball and chain attached to one of your ankles. If you want to become free you need to study the ball and chain, and particularly the lock that keeps it attached. There is absolutely no point imagining that you can become free until you know the lock so well that it becomes possible to unlock it. All dreams of liberation are just imagination until you know the nature of your bondage.
Most of the time we are asleep to the experience of existence. We are lost in phenomena – thoughts, emotions, and fascination with the physical fantasy. So here is a quick experiment. Look around and fix your attention on an object with a particularly vivid color. Right now I can see a blue plastic folder holding documents. Look at the object and experience the color (in my case the blueness of the folder). Now here is the tricky bit. You are not interested in the object or the color, but in the experience of the color. It helps to realize that the color is created by your brain – there is no color out there at all. So experience the experience of the color. This is the best way it can be explained. We are not interested in phenomena, but we are interested in experiencing the experience of those phenomena. This is the key to freedom and it requires a conscious effort on your part. There are various meditation exercises that can help with this, but they are subtle and need to be explained in person. If you have some interest contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part Two – Becoming Nothing
Much of our suffering comes from a sense of self-importance, and this, in turn, is driven by desire. Desire is the very essence of man – to quote Spinoza, and it pushes and pulls us around every day of our lives. If we want some sort of peace we need to see the nature of this desire and how it pumps us up with self-importance and anxiety. The more important you think you are, the more anxious you will be. You can’t have one without the other.
Dealing with self-importance is difficult – maybe the most difficult thing a human being can do. This is a tricky and potentially dangerous endeavor and so there isn’t a great deal that can be said. However, some obvious facts can prove to be salutary. Today around two hundred thousand people who believed they were important will die. In a hundred years or so from now, almost none of them will be remembered. It will be as if they had not existed. No one and nothing cares about your achievements and ambitions other than you. This is a judgment on how important your achievements and ambitions are. We all need to develop a sense of our own authority, and a self-love that is not predicated on any form of doing.
Becoming free of self-importance is one of the most joyous things we can experience. In the morning it is useful to repeat some kind of mantra. Create your own or use something like the one below:
Today I may die along with two hundred thousand of my brothers and sisters.
In this unknowably large universe I am nothing. I do not matter.
Because I do not matter I am wholly free.
Losing self-importance and focusing more on the mysterious sense of existence – beyond phenomena, sometimes does allow a person to experience peace, bliss, and contentment. There are other ways, but this was my way.