Suffering and free will

We have come up against the idea that our suffering is self-created, and that we can change.

This is true TO SOME EXTENT.

On one level, we are totally powerful. On another level, we are totally powerless. It depends on who we think we are.

Yes, our thoughts determine reality. But how can we change reality without knowing our thoughts? They are programmed into us on a level we are not aware of.

Only when we go to the level of pure awareness, we know our thoughts.

Ironically, at this level we are so detached from the role of the body-mind that we don’t expend energy trying to programme new thoughts. But actually, dissolving the baggage of the old thoughts is enough to effect freedom. But this freedom does not eradicate everything from the body-mind: there is still momentum, which is the force of our previous programming still playing out on the body-mind. Only the body-mind is subject to karma (ways of thinking passed on from generations through genes, and our own environments). The freedom of knowing we are not the body-mind affects the true self instantaneously because there is only the NOW for the true self. But the effect of karmic dissolution on the time-bound body-mind will happen gradually once its habits lose their momentum. Some of these ancient habits are deeply buried and it takes time for them to even come into our field of true awareness, so sneakily they hid in the layered egos of a person.

In other words, we have choice only when what we are becomes the present-moment awareness of freedom. Otherwise we are robots to greater or lesser extents depending on how much awareness has arisen. As sleeping robots we are destined to suffer, because this gives us the wake up call to be free. When this suffering is overtaken by awareness is decided by the grace of the Infinite, Eternal mind, director of the movie.

The world as projection

I have been thinking about sensitivity. We say we are highly sensitive if we experience energies and pick up on different feeling-vibrations as if they are our own. We call people ’empaths’ because they have a tendency to feel empathy and their boundaries of ‘selfhood’ are not as distinct. These people usually have a hard time, and since my teens, I seem to have become such a person.

In New Age circles, there is a big emphasis on using sensitivity and protecting it, by learning boundaries, being grounded, saying ‘no’ if we feel overwhelmed etc. But these are just coping mechanisms for what I feel is a transitory phase for the ego, just as in New Age circles there is often great activism against the perceived ‘wrongs’ of the world, which is good as it reflects the newfound feeling of compassion to balance out the old survival ego, but this is somehow still in ego because it creates a new ‘other’ to be angry at. Activism coming from true understanding of our shared being, a non-egoic sense of acting in the world, is still rare.

Coming back to empaths… The ego of strength and conviction, with clear boundaries, trust in apparent reality and good self-esteem has eventually been eroded by the polarity of experiencing the darker side of life: being let down by the world or ‘others’, feeling insecure, feeling afraid. These emotions make one doubt one’s ideas and make us sensitive to a wider circle of emotions around us, not just the emotions we ‘like’. Focussing positively out of aversion for the negative is still an egoic state (believing in a small, separate entity that has preferences). It eventually gives up its attempt to control experiences through the ‘mind’, because it is connected to a collective unconscious that it cannot always control. This sudden feeling that actually, we cannot control everything, breaks down some of our naive concrete ideas and leaves us with fewer defences against a range of emotions, often picked up from ‘others’ because our own inner emotions are projected and reflected back. The Law of Attraction is working all along, but we cannot always orchestrate it, as we believe ourselves to be people who can’t possible know our deepest beliefs or even how others’ beliefs are interacting with ours. As Rupert Spira has said, “To know your thoughts, you have to change the whole universe.” It is easier to surrender than to take this on. For people who manage Law of Attraction easily, I can only think that they are using a deep level of trust which most ‘separate selves’ can’t muster, and this is also something their mind structure has allowed them to access.

So these coping mechanisms for sensitive people may be helpful, but the real shift has to be in the feeling of selfhood that is noticing the range of vibrations ‘out there’. This time, the ego may not be so susceptible to being built up again through focussing positive on our own experience, as we realise we are deeply connected with anything we perceive outside of us – it influences the structure of our minds. This time only the gradual disempowering of the egoic identity can help us to truly detach from forms and notice the true background of love and safety that is underneath all phenomenon. From this place, if we have a preference for something, it is not as an aversion to something else or as a security for our small sense of self: it is in order to reflect our sense of true being, rooted in freedom, love, and the safety of the truth that all are one changeless reality, which we feel in the knowing of our true self.

The Judge Inside

Within the mind, there lives an entity called The Judge.

The Judge is a construct of thoughts: thousands of years of human conditioning passed along generations, helping us to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This little character sits within the human psyche as a very personal persona, judging not only our own but everyone else’s words and actions. It calculates rewards, punishments, deserving, and so on. It values and evaluates. Of course, its ideas could be a total fabrication. It could be missing vital facts and judging on misinformation. But still it assesses everything it comes into contact with. The worst part is that it separates life into many others ‘out there’ who are behaving in certain ways. It responds to ego because it is an egoic construct. We learn this so acutely as children, being told what is good and bad behaviour.

I am not saying children should not learn appropriate conduct. It is vital and inevitable that they learn to identify different objects and forms of behaviour. But it takes us down the road of confusion as adults when we haven’t balanced this ‘logical’ understanding with the understanding of interconnectedness – the ability to suspend mental noise and judgement and feel as One Totality that whatever is going on around, we can’t possibly know it all mentally.

The Judge that operates primarily against one’s own personality is turned inwards and creates guilt or arrogance. The one that comments on others creates blame, anger, pity, jealousy, vengeance, and so on. But it is the same construct of mental judgement of life, breaking life into tiny pieces of experience we feel we can analyse and label.

From the point of view of consciousness, everything is occurring simultaneously as part of one expression. There are no distinct separations and there is no piece of the puzzle that can be taken out and evaluated. The Judge cannot see its own ignorance until it admits it knows nothing. Once it is witnessed from the viewpoint of awareness itself, realising life is one everywhere, it loses its certainty of labels and gives in to the Unknown.

The Judge that never rests is like a poison in the mind. But eventually it creates so much confusion and sorrow that it poisons itself. The end of the Judge is the end of the subject-object relationship. It is the end of duality.

The apologies you never got…

Human relationships are strange in that we don’t know how something we said or did stacks up in the universe. We don’t know the history-future-karmic stuff that relates to each thing. We don’t know what a comment we made meant to someone, nor a gesture.

But there are times with hindsight, when we can see that something felt unfair to us. Or in other situations, we reacted unfairly to someone. Unknown knowledge becomes a little more known, better understood. For instance, our boasting about our kids or our lifestyle could make someone feel uncomfortable or competitive, or we could feel judged as inferior by another person bragging to us.  In situations where such emotions get aroused, or reactions are created, there is usually a karmic string attached…necessary for our own growth of consciousness. We can go about trying to ‘put things right’, by manipulating what appears as our external, objective world, not realising that the objects are a secondary appearance.

If there is immediate need, most would respond to a situation without calculation or mental commentary. But if we are pondering the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’, then the judgemental mind is further trapped into the karmic thread which created the situations in the first place. Often the thinking mind takes hold with strong force or habit, and there’s not much we can do. But the moment we realise this, is the moment of true ‘choice’, where we can become the observer of this play rather than the actor trapped in its template.

The work we do within is always forgiveness. Not as an excuse for harmful behaviour, but as a surrender and letting go, with the knowledge that we do not know the reasons. This is forgiveness towards the apologies we never got, and also the ones we did not utter.

The collapse of Beliefs

It seems so obvious that certain statements are true: that we are humans, that we are born, that we will die, and so many other things. But the most profound realisation that comes with awakening to reality is knowing that all beliefs are conditioning, and as such, all beliefs are false. This is because all beliefs exist in the realm of ideas, which may refer to something we experience, but they are not an experience in themselves. The idea that we are born is one fundamental belief that we cannot refer to in our experience: none of us knows the experience of being born as a reality. Can you find, in your self, the experience of your own beginning? Maybe we can recall being a child, but even then, that experience refers to an idea in the past which is not being experienced right now and is therefore in the realm of memory or imagination. The future is the same. What about beliefs and ideas in the present, such as ‘I am a man or woman.’ This belief is just as questionable as beliefs of past and future. The concept of gender, for instance, assumes an identity based on physical perceptions, but these perceptions are temporary and changeable and last only as long as we believe ourselves to be bodies. Are we bodies endowed with consciousness? Or are we consciousness having a temporary experience as a body? The idea that ‘I am a body with a gender or race’ is breakable. Every idea is breakable.

When belief collapses, reality begins. It doesn’t begin in time, but flowers in a timeless moment, for time is just another belief along the illusory past-present-future continuum. Time has never been experienced by anyone except as an idea in our minds. The things we demand from time are projections of our thoughts. The ever so complex interplay of form, manifestation and time is not so much our experience but our beliefs being taken for experience. What do we experience without beliefs? Emotions are the residues of decades of beliefs imprinting themselves on our physical perceptions. Without a belief in an enemy, there would be no emotion of anger or revenge. So when wiped clean of beliefs, what is left of thoughts and emotions? Nothing.

In this space of nothingness, reality is experienced. This is the letting-go we are practising: unlearning the conditioning of being born a human.

The Value of Desire

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Desire is a tricky thing when it comes to the human psyche. It is usually seen as the beginning of man’s downfall. The Bible depicts Eve’s desire for the apple as the beginning of sinful temptation; the Bhagavad Gita wtinesses Lord Krishna urging Arjun to ‘act without desire’.

In the New Age, however, desire is seen as the motivator of success. Having goals, aspirations and desires to better ourselves is encouraged. Looking back on religious texts, we in the West generally see the rejection of desire as an attempt to control the masses – take away people’s aspirations and rule over them more easily so that they will be subjugated by guilt and fear. Maybe there is some truth in this, because fear of punishment is something that keeps society in check after all. But on a much deeper level, on the level of heart and soul, what is the relevance of desire? Can it be truly useful for our betterment, and if not, can it be so easily rejected?

In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, a wonderfully concise book by Deepak Chopra, the author discusses the value of desire as the primary motivating force of humanity’s progress. At the same time, he advises ‘detachment from desire.’ I found this very hard to grasp, for the desire is in itself a form of attachment to something, so how can you have a desire that you are detached from? For instance, if I want to be rich (desire), I obviously have some longing. If I became detached from wanting to be rich, would it still be called a desire?

Then I started to see this idea of desire in Chopra’s book more in terms of preference. I might prefer being rich to being poor, but I don’t have a strong longing or need for it, so I can be emotionally detached. This puts the idea of the old religious desire into perspective. What the texts were really warning about was not aspirations in themselves, but the attachment and neediness that comes with those aspirations. Hence, Krishna urged Arjun to act (towards a goal), but let go of the need to win (the battle). Why was it so important to let go of the attachment that came with having ‘desires’? Because the attachment feeds the ego, the belief that we are separate entities that need something ‘out there’. Why is the ego described as such a bad thing? Because it makes us believe we are something we are not; it separates ‘us’ from ‘the world’ and starts within us all kinds of misconceptions that lead to suffering. The ego is a psychological construct we hold so dear that we are willing to hurt ourselves and others to protect it. And the ego is closely linked to desire: it is those desires we have become attached to for our own sense of worthiness to stay intact. So along with the attachment to a desire is the FEAR that our world will collapse if we don’t get our desires. This fear is a intuitive knowing that we are chasing after something which will ultimately cause us pain, as a mirage in a desert. Knowing all this theoretically makes little difference, though!

Rupert Spira’s talks focus a lot on the desire for happiness as the primary motivator within all humans. It is the search for happiness that keeps us going until we realise we actually never find happiness out there. It is the despair at knowing this that makes us give up. It is the giving up (relinquishing of desire) that leads us to turn inward. After much pain, like the prodigal son, we turn towards what can never be found in the ‘world’. It happens to us through repeated struggle and suffering, it cannot be forced by following the dictates of texts and applying superficial knowledge. As Rumi said, “the heart must be broken several times until it opens.”

Awakening

When I started thinking spiritually around 15 years ago, going to meditation centres and reading spiritual texts, the word ‘awakening’ did not come up much. Now it seems to be everywhere in spiritual circles. Anyone who has entered the realm of spirituality will have come across the idea of spiritual awakening. There are two layers of meaning here, and the second layer goes pretty deep into a place that’s hard to even explain, a non-place, if you will.

The first aspect of spiritual awakening has been popularised by the work of Eckhart Tolle, which has reached millions of us across the planet. The Power of Now emphasises again and again the immense importance of living in the present moment, mentally. This means not dwelling in the psychological aspects of past and future, but being in the moment without mental commentary. Another writer that drew attention to this in the West is Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now. The awakening spoken of here is mainly to wake up from mental ‘unreality’ into the reality of the present moment. The whole art of Buddhist mindfulness meditations focus on this.

But there is a second layer to awakening. This one takes us down the rabbit hole, and it is the waking up from our perceived identities. This act of questioning or knowing who we are starts in the present moment but takes us beyond into the realm of timelessness. Time is understood as an illusion by those who can live in the present moment (neither past nor future can be experienced except in the present moment as memory or imagination). But those who take awakening to the next level of questioning their own identity (the process which Sri Ramana Maharishi called atma-vichara), enter a level of awareness in which even the manifestation of the present moment loses its objective qualities: they no longer experience a world outside of themselves, but rather experience themselves as the consciousness in which the world is appearing. This is why the world, in Vedanta and Buddhism, is referred to as illusion. It is not a magic trick but rather that our concepts, superimposed onto it, have made it unreal to us. The fact that we hear the word ‘awakening’ so much now is evidence of the fact that our shared consciousness is waking up from the illusion, albeit in faltering steps…