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Spirituality is an internal inquiry into the causes and conditions that give rise to our dissatisfaction.
Let’s begin our inquiry into the causes of suffering by mentioning impermanence.
Everyone and their mom knows intellectually that the whole lot of existence is in a state of endless revolution. On the other hand, few people go through life truly conscious of this fact. We simply ignore the way things actually are. We conjure up all sorts of elaborate fantasies and dreadful fears. Then we move through life attempting to avoid our nightmares, by manifesting these visions. Basically, we aspire to freeze reality in the image of our own self diluted hallucinations. It is this state of un-consciousness, this simple state of ignore-ance, that is at the root of our unhappiness. So the point of this discussion is not to explain impermanence to you, but to point it out; to wake you up to the truth of change.
Alan Watts use to compare life to music. The point of music is music. People enjoy listening to music for the rhythm, the stream of melody. No one is listening to music to hear it end. If they were, then, as Watts said, their favorite songs would be the ones that ended immediately, with one single uproar of noise. Life is the same way. The point of Life is Life, to participate in the melody. The only way to participate is through simple awareness.
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The problem is that we see ourselves as some permanent thing apart from the music, so we are all the time trying to pause the song so that we can relate with it. We are far too busy conjuring up fantasies, and trying to impregnate reality with them, to experience “one-ment” with the music, to actually hear the song.
Before we can begin to discuss how ego repeatedly tries to pause the music, we must understand the need in solidifying space. In order to do this, we must develop some general idea of what is meant by the ego. The ego is nothing more than a concept, a mental formation. In and of itself, this concept has no meaning; it is just a meaningless collection of thoughts. This concept derives a sense of purpose or direction from its interactions with “other.” It is given meaning or identity through its associations with “everything else.” So the ego is not only a concept, it is a concept which is defined by things that are othre than ego
The ego perceives itself as some-one apart from life. It sees life as some-thing that it does. From ego’s point of view this unit of separation is absolutely necessary for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, its what enables the illusion of endurance to persist. This illusion is what gives rise to the belief in a permanent self. The illusion of endurance is why we believe that in some shape, way, form, or fashion we are still the same person we were twenty years ago. The second reason this separation is necessary, is that there must be two before one is able to tango. So thought establishes this separation by drawing a line in the sand, which distinguishes between the “self” and “everything else.”
Upholding this segregationist stance is necessary if any sort of relationship or interaction with life is to be possible. It is through this relationship with “everything else” that the “ego” receives a receipt, a proof of purchase so to speak. Based on the vouchers ego has managed to stockpile throughout its many lives a type of identity is formed. It is this relationship with the “everything else” category that defines the ego, but in order to have this relationship there must be some-thing other than ego, and therefore distance or space between the two. The ego's very existence is dependent upon freezing or preserving this degree of separation…
Through the medium of ignore-ance, thought is perceived to be the representative of some mysterious figure known as the self. So, there appears to be someone who owns and manages all of our experiences. We imagine ourselves to be a solid thing with intrinsic characteristics. Now imagine for a moment the problems one is bound to experience if they view themselves as a solid thing in a fluid world…
Things change. If we think that we do not, we will always feel ill-equipped or out of place, like a foreigner in our own life. Take for a moment the transition between being single and in a relationship. When you are single you develop a lifestyle that that doesn’t have to take into consideration another person. You can wake up in the morning drink your coffee, read the paper, have breakfast, go to work, go to the gym, hang out with friends, etc. When you bring another person into the mix you cannot continue to operate on the same schedule. The situation has changed, so your old schedule is outdated. This is not a problem. We assume it is, but it is not.
We think it is a problem because, we experience ourselves in a particular way, as a static entity that does certain things. A situation that doesn’t allow for us to do those certain things at specific times threatens our sense of self. This is because our sense of self is nothing more than a snap shot of the past. We experience ourselves as if we were portraits.
Now many people say we should not have to give up who we are in order to be in a relationship. This is our way of articulating the belief that there is a problem. The problem being, I cannot be who I am right now, if who I am is based on past information. This more or less always the problem; intimate relationships are just the most obvious example of this dynamic.
I say, if you do not have to give up who you are, then you are not in a serious relationship... In fact, if you do not have to give up who you are every moment of every day, then you are not in the moment! Changing situations should affect my behavior. That is sanity; allowing new information to affect my behavior. Lets's say I am at a bar talking with friends, and a man walks in holding a shot gun and says, “Next son of bitch who says a word gets shot in the head!” I am not going to hold fast to the belief that I should talk because that is what I was doing! Rather, I will allow the new information to affect my behavior.
Allowing thought to be a reflection of change is sanity. From this point of view, thought is always fresh because, life is always changing. This is original thought. We are not other than life. Thought is not other than life. Everything is an expression of life, and life is change.
We have to accept the fact that we cannot wrestle happiness out of this world simply by putting life in a head lock, and forcing it to play with us. We have to see that life is change, change is life; that they are one in the same thing. Furthermore, we are not somehow other than this change, we are Life. Confusion and discontentment arise from the mistaken belief that we are a solid entity. Happiness, peace, and contentment are by products of the recognition that we are a verb.