The Beauty of Things as They Are; Reality vs. Fantasy

Originally posted on 05-12-07:

I’m just getting around to the Fall, 2006 issue of Tricycle, and I find two articles with apparently similar but actually opposing views. One is called “Letting Go,” by Judy Lief—a worthwhile topic but I didn’t find the article particularly inspiring. The other is called “Born Again Buddhist,” by Clark Strand, and it seems to be about letting go—letting go of reliance on oneself—but in fact it is about clinging.

Clark’s story is about dealing with our inherent ignorance and uncertainty by coming to believe that we are saved by Amida Buddha. Saved from what? From ignorance and uncertainty. Do you see the irony in that? We are afraid because we cannot know the “ultimate” cause or outcome of anything, so we deal with that fear by coming to believe in the certainty of our salvation. We cling to the comfort of certainty, and invent something that can give it to us, regardless of the mental contortions involved.

I can sympathize with that. When I first stopped smoking pot, my world view was shattered. I was filled with anxiety to the point that I feared for my sanity. I decided that the only way I could deal with that was to believe that something in the Universe cared about me, so I invented my invisible friend, “Bubba.” Bubba was with me constantly, protecting and guiding me, and my anxiety subsided. I even began to experience excitement and happiness, but after nine years of Bubba, I realized that I was still comparing myself to other people and feeling inferior or superior, and that I was afraid of being undervalued, inconsequential. So I began looking for a better way. It has been a lengthy struggle, but I finally realized that the only security is in accepting reality as it is.

I think that perhaps the greatest asset of being human is also the source of our greatest difficulty, and that is that we can imagine things being other than they are. On the one hand, our imagination drives us to improve our situation, and on the other it leaves us disappointed that it isn’t better than it is. We can imagine a life without pain, disability, and death, and we want it; we struggle for it, but in the end death conquers all, whether from age, wear, and tear, or from hurricane, flood, earthquake, and asteroid. And we never know what will get us in the end.

The good news is that we can learn to be happy with things as they are, just by facing reality and accepting it as it is. Reality is not the cause of our unhappiness, it is our imagination, and our attachment to its creations, that cause our problems.

I have come to accept that if I continue sipping at my coffee, the cup will eventually be empty, and I can enjoy every drop even though I can imagine an endless cup. I have become convinced that I cannot eat all the pizza and ice cream that I want without having to carry extra weight around, and so I have learned to enjoy just their smells, and just the recollection of having eaten them, even though I can imagine an endless meal. My body is breaking down, but I can maintain it as best I can and enjoy its remaining capabilities, even though I can imagine endless youth.

We cannot be happy with reality unless we face it, welcome it, embrace it, and relish it.

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Just As It Is

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What’s the Point? Language In Perspective

Originally posted on 05-11-07:

To continue with yesterday’s topic. If all the people who are saying, “Stay in the moment,” are really saying, “Don’t verbalize,” what’s the point? Our use of language is a major part of being human. It makes all the accomplishments of civilization possible—whether you approve those accomplishments or not.

The point is realizing you have an option, and realizing how attractive that option can be. Many of us have been caught up in obsessive verbalization at one time or another—otherwise known as worrying—and many of us have realized it wasn’t accomplishing anything. Others have recognized the simple inanity of the chatter that goes on in our heads constantly and longed for a respite. For either one of those reasons, and others, it’s nice to know that with a little paying attention to something else we can change the focus of our attention. Some people are addicted to constant sensual input—most conveniently these days, music—for this very reason: to distract them from constant internal verbalization. So it’s nice to know that, even if you don’t have an ipod, you have a choice.

But wait a minute. A couple of days ago I said there’s no free will, and today I’m saying you have a choice about what’s happening in your brain. Who chooses?

Your brain chooses–that’s its job. It evolved as a decision making/problem solving mechanism that is guided by a built-in set of priorities: 1) breathe, 2) stay hydrated, 3) eat, 4) procreate, 5) protect the body, etc. The more complicated the organism, the more complicated the processes for satisfying these priorities, and verbalization has multiplied the options and complications exponentially. One of the guiding principles in the brain’s problem solving operation is efficiency, and as it learns new ways to save itself time and energy it will usually act on them. Your brain may have come to the realization that it wastes an incredible amount of energy on excess verbalization, and when it learns that it can conserve a lot of that energy with a little practice, it may decide that the practice is worthwhile.

Of course, some people have a vested interest in worrying—if they gave it up they wouldn’t know who they were. An essential part of our brain’s job is to keep us oriented in our environment—social as well as physical—and people who find themselves located in the niche of “worrier,” or “critic,” would be lost without that identity.

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Many Points

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