When we look around ourselves at the sad state of our existence, we have to ask, “Why isn’t it better than this?” After three to four thousand years of civilization, the bulk of humanity still processes information in the same fashion, responds with the same prejudices, and glorifies the same sort of limited viewpoints. There exists a fear of becoming something larger, wiser, more profound. We cling to our frailties like the Church clung to the notion of an Earth-centric universe. It is as if we are afraid we wouldn’t exist without our fears and desires. We need a universe that circles around those fears and desires and makes them hauntingly real. This is our identity.
Can you imagine living in a universe that does not circle around those fears and desires? Your culture would want to reel you in, your religion would want to reel you in. “You must share our fears and desires, loathe what we loathe, cheer what we cheer. That’s what it means to be one of us. You must be one of us.” This can be a lonely path, punctuated by a few good friends. It’s also good to find more.
Last week was my 59th birthday and an unexpected gift arrived, an email from a young man who had stumbled on to one of my articles here on BC. He expressed his great feeling of separateness and how sometimes it made him feel superior. Most of the time though, the feeling made him feel full of doubt about himself. He wanted to “stand tall” in terms of spiritual experience. He asked, “What else is there, or what else should there be?” I sent him the following reply.
“The best reply really is the shortest. In a Zen way I could say, "Just this!" and it would say everything, but not enough.
When one encounters the Great Largeness of existence, the proper reactions are both humility and awe. Both qualities are in short supply in this world. If you were to really grasp the magnitude of the process that has made you, the billions of years of the formation of the universe and suns and planets, the millions of years of human evolution, then you have to ask if the life you lead is worthy of all that great effort.
I do not know what things cause you to doubt yourself, or what things cause you to perceive the crack in the façade of the world and make you feel different. It is necessary to see the crack, but it is easy to be overcome by the separateness from the ways of the world. We are wired to be social creatures. Many spiritual traditions solve the problem by living apart in cloisters and monasteries, but that creates its own inbred problems.
Seeing the crack and seeing the delusion by which most people lead their lives can foster several different reactions. One can feel superior to the deluded or one can fall into despair at the sense of isolation. One can also simply feel compassion. I believe that compassion is rooted in a deep sense of sadness at the way humans choose to live in the delusion and ignore all the effort that has gone into creating them.
Standing tall. How do we stand tall with great humility? That is the real challenge. It is good to have some disciplines, good to have a teacher. Compassion is not the last step. When you can stand tall with humility, maybe you can then move on to extending your core energy, your core being to touch another. This is what I call real love. This is the core of why I write, my small attempts to extend what I have learned and cultivated from the old men who loved and helped me.
I have the notion of creating an online community for these things, for community and friendship are at the core of the solution. Separateness and isolation are killers. They also promote ego inflation, for seeing the crack is nothing special. I posted a comment on a friend's blog yesterday to that effect. The core of the comment is to, "Find a friend to learn from, find a friend to teach." The teaching, though, is one that comes from modeling rather than telling.
Beyond the shrinking of your ego is life, not what we imagine or merchandise or fear, but what IS. It's not easy, but it's necessary.
How can we exist in this world beyond the crack? What do we say to our friends when there is nothing to boast, jeer, or gossip about? When I see one of my best friends after an absence of a year or two, we simply touch foreheads and smile. This world is full, but for most, it’s rejected before it’s even encountered.
Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
don’t make sense any more.