Life is mostly an exercise in escapology and humiliation. You want to be happy. You don’t want to suffer or experience pain, but life rarely cooperates. The harder you run from the inescapable, the faster it pursues you. The monster is always one step ahead, waiting around the next bend in the road. It knows all your tricks and bolt-holes. It knows you better than you know yourself.
You run from the inescapable because you run from what you don’t understand, what you can’t control. You run from the light as well as the darkness. You run from fear. But in the end, there’s no escape from who you are.
I wasted years running from wounds that wouldn’t or couldn’t heal. When I feel stronger, I would think, then I will let go and reach for freedom and truth. When I’m happier, when I’m a better person, when I deserve it, when I’ve let go of my past, forgiven my parents, found the perfect partner and my dream job. When I’ve finally become all the things I believe I’m capable of, when, when, when…
And then one day, I couldn’t run anymore.
Sometimes all you can do is sit. After years battling illness and a disintegrating life, I had no energy left to fight. I had failed so completely that there was nowhere left to go and nothing left to do but surrender. I sat on the sofa and stared at the wall and knew that my life was over. I was finished.
The crunch came during the immune flare up I mentioned last week. Prior to that, I had pulled myself clear of an almighty Shadow Attack and my health had been improving. I was feeling stronger and more positive than I had in years. It would be the perfect time to detox. With auto-immune disorders the immune system is a little too keen to do its job and overreacts to every stimulus. I wanted to strengthen my system so it would become less reactive. But sometimes, when you give it a boost, it overshoots and you get a flare up. This is what happened at the end of last year, sending me to the sofa to sit and ooze and quietly contemplate the void.
The worst of it was that I had done this to myself. In trying to make myself well I had made myself so ill that I couldn’t move. Caught in my own trap.
Life imploded into a moment of utter defeat. I couldn’t think. Every thought looped back around on itself and popped. Every argument led nowhere. I knew exactly what I would think or feel about everything anyway – exactly what I had always thought and felt. The same patterns, the same tricks, the same lies.
I had backed myself into a corner from where I had no option but to stop fighting myself. Resistance costs energy, and I couldn’t afford to resist; I didn’t have the energy.
Everything dropped away. I didn’t try to do anything – my mind wouldn’t cooperate anyway. So I just sat. And then out of the void came…
I didn’t understand at first. How could I feel this happy for no reason? How did I even have the energy to feel this joy? Where was it coming from? Sometimes the joy would be bubbling through my body and I would catch sight of myself in a mirror, only to get a shock because I looked so hideous. The outside of my head was a swollen pustule. The inside was bliss.
Maybe I was delirious or deluding myself. Perhaps the inflammation was making me crazy. Surely this was the definition of unreasonable happiness. Was I mad to feel this good for no reason? How would I know?
I should say that I didn’t feel like this all the time. The joy came and went. I had just as many bad days, if not more. But it only takes one moment to overturn everything. Once you know it’s possible to feel different, there’s no excuse and no reason to run.
So what is this joy and where does it come from?
The joy is what’s left when you let go of everything else. It doesn’t always feel like that – sometimes it’s quieter, peaceful and still; sometimes it’s a kind of nothing, a pause or an open space waiting for the next moment. Resistance falls away and the joy is there.
Joy is one expression of your true nature.
It won’t always be joy. You have no idea what will happen when the story stops and dissolves into surrender. It’s completely unknown and uncontrollable. That doesn’t stop you from trying to control it though. You have to be willing to let go of everything, to lose everything. There are no guarantees. It’s a leap of faith.
“Waking up to your true nature promises to give you nothing.” – Gangaji
The interesting thing is that the mind stops all the time. Moment to moment there are tiny pauses, or cessations, filled with nothing. Normally you don’t notice because you’re not looking for it – you’re too busy thinking and conceptualising and ordering the universe about.
Life doesn’t stop when the mind stops. Life continues, but there’s no story attached to it. Life is. You just stop taking it personally.
That doesn’t mean you lose your individuality and become a bland non-person. That would be pointless and go against the whole process of life churning out unique forms in order to explore its mysterious Self.
You become who you are. A unique expression of the universe in miniature. A microcosm of the macrocosm.
Life will begin to use you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to awaken to itself, to know itself through you. When you stop and let go of the story, you learn that the purpose of your life is to live – not on your terms, but on life’s terms. Not my will, but Thy Will be done.
(Difficult for a reformed agnostic to admit 😉 )
Everything in your life is an opportunity to wake up. Anything can be used to look into the source of all things because awareness is always present. But don’t think that once you’ve woken up all your problems will miraculously heal or disappear. The thing that’s bugging you may still be there, but now it’s held within a larger context. Now you know it’s not personal. What changes is your perspective, how you interpret what happens. Your sense of identity shifts and becomes more inclusive; you become larger, universe-sized.
I still have auto-immune problems. I still get inflamed joints and red eyes and dodgy guts. None of that changes the truth of who I really am – underneath the pus. Even when I forget who I am, the truth never leaves. It’s me who moves away from the truth, but I can’t escape it. Nothing that happens can be separated from it because nothing can arise without it – good or bad.
So I’m finally learning to have some compassion for myself. The old demons still try to kick up a fuss, but I don’t really believe them anymore. It’s getting easier to ignore them or give them a hug. They can’t be other than what they are – and neither can I.
How can I feel this happy for no reason? It’s easy. Like falling off a log.
I don’t deserve it. I haven’t earned it. The joy wasn’t given to me. It’s not even grace. It’s just who I am. Why would I ever want to move away from that?
Finally, after 25 years of practice, the dharma is coming to life. You can think about this stuff and read all the books and even believe you’re practising, but it’s only when you come face to face with the absolute necessity of change that the teachings penetrate your thick skull. That’s when the practice begins to make sense. That’s when shit gets real.
Now I know what zazen is. I don’t do it, I’ve never done it – I can’t. It does me. I don’t even come into it. I’ve ‘known’ this for a long time, but now I KNOW it.
And if I am mad? Then I’m happy to be so.