I Don't Care What Happens Next
on the spiritual state of the world, the implications and utility of love, the definition and methodology of enlightenment
Sometimes I go months without writing a song. Sometimes I write so often and so prolifically, I can’t even remember all the songs I wrote. The older I get, the less often I seem to experience that latter, manic phase. Recently, I’ve been stuck in a bit of a block. It’s not so much like what I think of when I hear the phrase “writer’s block”; I don’t sit at my desk (keyboard) trying desperately to pen (finger) some poetic words (melody). It’s more like…apathy. I just am never inspired anymore. You see, the writing never truly came from me, from my mind. It sort of spilled through my mind and into the keys and out of my mouth. So, this variety of writer’s block is a little less like lack of creativity and a little more like the loss or dwindling of some incredibly beneficial but intrinsically unknowable connection to something beyond my self.
If that idea doesn’t bog you down too much, then maybe you know what I’m talking about. I believe—or would at least like to—that we all have experienced that (for lack of a better word) divine connection. Maybe you’ve felt it in your work; according to psychological science, that’s the most common place people tend to enjoy these so-called flow experiences. Maybe, like me, you’ve never been a big fan of work, and instead you find it in your art (whatever that may be to you). For me, it’s usually in my music. But, as I explained, music is not a reliable source of flow for me. Sometimes I have nothing to create. In those times, I find myself turning to consumption instead. I’m not talking about the old-timey disease; I mean that consumerist mentality that leads you to goals like “watch all the Netflix” or “eat all the junk food”. With such ideas as my guides, I careen toward useless, non-productive squalor and hedonism. Not that I’m not a fan of hedonism. I just think it would ideally involve a lot more expression and a lot less futility.
So, as this time is upon me, I hunger not only for my favorite junk food (cotton candy), but also for a way out. How can I break this cycle and become a meaningful, active songwriter again? Well, I try to do the things I know will always help me with every problem: I meditate, and take mindful breaths throughout the day, and make sure I always express my needs and emotions. The problem with this method is that I’m terrible at all of those things. Maybe what will help is that eventual breaking point, where I’ve been so fruitless for so long that it begins to eat away at my sense of self-worth until I have no choice but to express the pain through art. (Mind you, that’s several steps after expressing the pain through eating chocolate or expressing the pain through sleeping too much.) I suppose the only real solution is to develop those healthy habits I mentioned, but I was really hoping for an easy way out. (Eating chocolate, for instance, is very easy). Or maybe simply finding it in my awareness to accept my lack of inspiration will help me to dissolve some paradoxical block. Sometimes the only thing keeping you from doing something you love is the fear that you might not do it.
Being unemployed can be really stressful. So can being unhappily employed. Feeling stuck in a career that doesn't seem to suit you is one of the top causes of dissatisfaction with one's life. (I think I read that somewhere.) Well, guess what? We're all there at some point. I'm there now. Odds are you're probably there now, too. But there's no reason to feel stuck when it's nearly impossible for that to be true. You always have a choice. In the ideal situation, you can just leave your current path and hop on the one best suited for you. Even when that isn't a good option for you, though, there's still a way out…or should I say a way in?
Turning inward, when we are unable or unwilling to change our external situation, we always have the option to change what's inside. My favorite explanation of this I've heard to date is from Tolle's A New Earth, where he provides not only his perspective on this truth but also a beautiful categorical system:
Basically, when everything is just totally perfect, whether that means our life's circumstances are perfect or our state of consciousness is perfect (so it doesn't matter what's happening around us), we're going to feel pretty darn happy. Specifically, when we're in a perfect state of consciousness, that feeling is so deep and pure and immutable that it becomes something on-the-whole different from and more valuable than mere happiness. Tollé refers to that state as the joy of being.
If that joy grows and becomes injected with a sense of purpose, as in the case of those who have found a career that suits them to a T, it turns into something else altogether. Enthusiasm imbues a sense of intensity into goal-directed action; it's an entire plan being put in motion or a problem being solved and, what's more, it's absolutely elating.
Failing an easily-enjoyable situation and a deep sense of enlightened being, we are often unable to either enjoy or enthuse our daily lives. In this situation—one in which I've been finding myself frequently in my latest professional endeavors—we are left with one good option: acceptance. If we can only accept what is, and slough our dissatisfaction, we can still find a sense of goodness and belonging from within.
The lesson is this: when we find ourselves unsure about the right next step, or in a situation which doesn't fulfill us, we should accept it anyway. This way, we can still be at peace and—bonus points!—it's a great addition to our existing spiritual practice. It's also possibly the best way to begin a spiritual practice. Applied to my current life, this lesson means stop stressing about jobs and remember to appreciate living. It's really quite basic…and vital.
So, lately I’ve been a bit stuck on the topic of wanting. I’ve gone over this before in detail, so I’ll just quickly recapitulate. Whenever I notice in myself a desire for something other than what is, I try to let that go. The basic idea is that, if I’m wanting something else, I’m not truly appreciating whatever is really happening. If every time I’m at work I’m just wishing to be at home, then of course my workplace is not going to be an exciting or satisfying place to be. So, why not just stop wanting?
For me, the rub with this is, basically, in the context of relationships. I can find contentment in my personal life just fine, and never be wanting for anything, and it rarely becomes a problem for me. However, in relationships, we’ve been taught that desire is key. So, to make it simple, what I want to know is this: how do you create sexual desire without egoic wanting? I'd like to find that depth of connection we think of as romantic love, and establish that associated trust and joy, all while avoiding dissatisfaction at the spiritual level. Let’s check with the experts.
Tolle tells us in A New Earth that the ego can offer us only three states within a relationship. The first is wanting, which we already know is less than ideal. Alternatively, by refusing our egos the objects of their desire, we can induce thwarted wanting, which leads to resentment and anger. Our final choice is to not discontinue egoic wanting altogether, but at least to not want anything from our partner. This, while it sounds promising at first, leads to indifference in the relationship, as we find ourselves chasing satisfaction elsewhere. How then, I wonder, do we justify sexual desire when Tolle defines wanting as egoic and ego as incompatible with sex?
In contrast, Osho's views on sexual desire define it as totally compatible with egolessness. In fact, he touts a shift in our attitudes toward sex as a strong tool in the quest for egolessness (From Sex to Superconsciousness). But Osho also believes in meditation as a replacement for current standards in sex education; so the drive for egolessness can itself inform our perspectives on intimacy.
Indeed, Osho propounds further that mankind’s first glimpse of samadhi—the final stage of meditation in Hindi yoga, in which union with the divine is reached—likely occurred during sex. He postulates that the mind is freed of all thoughts, including wanting, during the depths of intimacy, and that this leaves only our pure selves, one with the divine, and inspires joy and egolessness.
Based on Osho’s interpretation, it seems that the desire experienced in intimacy that is not connected to ego must be that same desire that propels us down the path of enlightenment. If we are left empty of ego during intimate moments, then our spiritual impulse to seek egolessness may lead us to these moments. We do not need egoic wanting to draw us there. We do not need to crave intimacy with our minds and our bodies because our souls will seek it out effortlessly.
We certainly can appreciate this interpretation, insofar as it may remove the burden of ego from our relationships. If we find truth in it, then we will have no reason to fear a lonely moment, as we can trust our very nature to attract affection in its many varied forms.
Don Miguel Ruiz paints a rather clean and well-organized picture of enlightenment and the spiritual state of the world. In a nutshell, his four agreements provide an escape from "the dream of the planet” by offering us an alternative to the endless agreements we already—and perhaps unknowingly—maintain. His methods involve the sacrifice of our current agreements to make room for the titular four.
The above puddle of seeming mumbo-jumbo can be significantly clarified by explaining how Ruiz uses the word “agreement”. You may imagine a sort of amalgam of a belief, a promise, and an expectation, and that would bring you about as close as can be achieved in one short sentence. More specifically, we form an agreement when we concede to a belief, a rule, or a virtue. Whenever we see a word on a page, Ruiz explains, we tap into the agreement that is that word’s meaning to us; we agree that the symbols we see refer to the concepts we were told they symbolize. We refer to agreements when we feel shame for an action we have been taught is wrong. Perhaps the most deeply rooted agreements are the ones concerning our own identities; I agree that I am me and all that this word entails, be it my age, gender, perceived strengths, or sense of individuality, including an unquestioned separateness from others. These agreements I have made with myself form what I think of as my personality
Every time we make an agreement, we expend some of our personal power to maintain it, analogous to the formation of a covalent bond in chemical reactions. Ruiz insists that only if we break these agreements—particularly those based on fear, which are especially exhausting—can we begin to change the patterns of our lives and regain our natural power. But how do we break these long-held and multitudinous agreements? According to Ruiz, we must make four new agreements:
1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
The first agreement states that we must not go against ourselves. It goes beyond the implied honesty of communication with others, requiring that we do not harm ourselves with our thoughts or actions toward ourselves as well as others. When we use our freedom of will to create hate, we are sign against ourselves. That means no critical thoughts about your appearance and no harsh evaluations of another person’s worth.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
The next agreement seems built to work in tandem with the first. If someone tries to use their word to hurt you, be it with an insult or through the creation of doubt or fears regarding your life, the second agreement urges us not to take this to heart. Even the immutable circumstances of your life can hurt you if taken personally, so keep this agreement in mind always.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
We can augment the first agreement by avoiding assumptions. When we look for clarification and ask questions, we can easily avoid the potential suffering and uncertainty that comes with taking blind leaps. We needn’t make it harder to enact the second agreement by surmising a personal attack where none may be.
4. Always Do Your Best
Ultimately, the only way to create a habit of the first three is by use of the final agreement. By expecting ourselves to perform as well as we are capable of performing, and no more, we will not go against ourselves when we fail. We don’t have to take it personally when we cannot achieve some goal. But we do need to push ourselves to reach our peak, because making these new agreements with ourselves is not effortless, so we mustn’t expect ourselves to do any less than our best, either.
By utilizing these four agreements, it is Ruiz’s belief that we may discover true freedom and happiness. I definitely recommend a deeper delving into each of the four, as well as Ruiz’s relevant theories of enlightenment, as found in The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book.
I realize that I haven't written anything in a few months, and I want to take the opportunity to write about why I haven't been writing.
Basically, I find myself inspired to write only when I am in a place of peace and awareness, a state in which any turmoil in my life or my thoughts dissolves and becomes unimportant. This is a state that my girlfriend and I refer to as Centrespace. To us (or, to me, at least), this means a loss of ego, attachment, or identification with the superficial world. When I am in Centrespace, my only priority is enlightened doing, being, and loving. When I am in Centrespace, I do not worry and I have no fear. Any fears that live in my awareness I do not regard as myself, only as fear. Any potentially stressful or painful situation is simply what is, and I do not feel the irrational need to label it or resist it.
For the past few weeks, I haven't often found myself in Centrespace, but have been reactive or fearful or even just identifying with form (as opposed to spirit). The few times I have fallen squarely into my peaceful place I have spent writing new music or connecting with those close to me. Today, however, I find myself centered and alone, and thus in the perfect moment to write. Whenever I try to write while identified with form or fear, I can only write from my thoughts, not from my soul, and that kind of writing, I have found, can do no good.
The best musicians that I know seem to have this way of writing music and lyrics that don’t quite seem to match up. While you’re rocking out to their catchy, upbeat style, you begin to pay attention to what they’re saying . . . and it doesn’t quite fit your expectations. This whole time you assumed this was some party song about love or success or money or something else (mock-)superficial, but they’re belting their stories of heartbreak or misery. How does that make sense?
But that’s exactly why they’re the best musicians that I know. Not simply because they defy expectations, which is often a mere parlor trick, but because within this apparent contradiction lies a strong and misunderstood truth: all of life is beautiful. Every story, whether one of breaking or one of healing, is a source of joy. Even life’s darkest moments—depression, fear, loss—are a reason for celebration! And these songwriters understand that. They know that, while they could write hundreds of sad, slow songs about their wounded souls, it is far more powerful to weave something stable through this seemingly painful tale. Their stories are bolstered both in effect and in validity by the indescribably stabilizing honesty of trust. They trust in the workings of the world, and they know that the good, the bad, and the in-between are all just pieces of life, a life that they cherish and honor. This type of songwriting is an homage to the oneness of being. These musicians respect themselves, us, and reality itself. They realize that it is far safer to have faith than to cling to fear or regret.
This ties nicely into the idea of non-judgement, which is basically just a refusal to label your life's events. When something happens in your life, it's a strong habit to interpret it as a "bad" thing or a "good" thing. While this is certainly a pervasive convention, it can actually be rather self-destructive! For instance, when we experience something "bad", we may find this a very good excuse to feel "bad". Okay, so we just avoid the "bad" stuff and try only to encounter "good" stuff, right? Well, there's a problem there, too. Namely, when something "good" happens to us, it invariably comes with a price: it's always temporary. And, because we're aware of this, even the most perfect moment can be tinged with fear—the fear of the comparatively "bad" stuff that is inevitably to come.
There is hope, though, for relief from this imbalance. It's in those paradoxical songs. It's in those brief moments when you simply forget to think or decide or label. It's in every spiritual teaching and every philosophical tome. It's the act (or, perhaps, the non-act) of non-judgement. All you have to do is refrain from calling the thing "bad" or "good", and then it is just a thing. Just stuff. Just whatever it is and you don't have to feel anything about it or react to it or deal with it. Instead, you can revel in the deep peace that lies within you regardless of the circumstance. You can belt it out at the top of your lungs, even if the words may seem sad to a judging listener. And you can sing it with joy.
The mind is a dangerous thing. Of course it is. But why? Is it because it is so powerful? In a way, that is true. Our minds are robust tools for quite a breadth of purposes. We can comprehend such intricate concepts as the nuances of language, the complexities of the psyche, or even the complicated world of theoretical math. Indeed, many of us tend to find deep delight in uncovering the little truths of these systems, along with numerous others. However, the mind is not an infinitely applicable tool. Not every problem can be solved, let alone understood, by way of thought. Herein lies the true peril. When we attempt to utilize thought to comprehend that which is beyond our understanding, we miss out on the meaningful depths of the thing. Eckhart Tolle is pointing to this truth when he speaks of the seeming chaos of unadulterated nature in A New Earth:
The true power to comprehend life itself, thus, lies not in the mind, but above it, outside of it, beyond and without thought. Our deepest self, the self that is unattached to matter and unburdened by expectation, resonates perfectly with that sacredness. We live as one with this higher order that we may call "God" or "consciousness" or even "heaven". To let go of our ideas about what nature is leaves us free of judgement, free from the distance we place between it and ourselves when we think we know what it should be. To completely accept life as it is does not necessitate knowing what it is. To blindly surrender to the perfection of nature is to enlighten ourselves of the need to understand and explain what we see, and therefore also to eliminate the weight that we shoulder in so doing.
And I’ve weighed the respective benefits of my superego’s and ego’s choices. In these moments, I often find that, while I may not know what I want, I do know what the person I wish that I were would want . . . and I think that answers my question. I think that, for me, what I want to want is equivalent to—or maybe even better than—what I simply want.
You would be hard-pressed to find a spiritual teacher with nothing to say on the subject of desire. Don Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements that we really want to be ourselves, and in order to do so we have to stop trying to appease others by wanting what they want for us. We have collected all this wanting into the mitote in our minds, a bustling marketplace of conflicting agreements we have made with other people. This mitote obscures for us our true desires.
Osho argues that "the ego always desires more", and that our attempts to combat these desires—say, by resolving to do less of something when we truly crave doing more of it—inevitably results in inner conflict (From Sex to Superconsciousness). Opposition to wanting only strengthens it, and thus is not a true escape. Fighting your desires leaves you even less equipped to change them, and certainly more confused than before.
Eckhart Tolle teaches that fearing and wanting are the two "primary motivating forces of the ego" (A New Earth). That is to say, when we find ourselves wrapped up in suffering or superficiality, identification with our desires and fears is the most likely culprit. In this view, worrying about getting what you want is simply a stall tactic to avoid facing the real issue: the wanting itself. When we want for anything, we are implying that the current moment, just as it is, does not suit us perfectly. We resign ourselves to feeling unsatisfied, lacking, or unfulfilled.
We could, of course, choose otherwise. We could choose to see the moment as perfect, always, by definition. We could choose to want for nothing, to be completely content with where we are. This, of course, is a battle of trust. To accept our lives as they are, we just trust that life is going to give us exactly what we need. We must let go of thinking we know best and surrender to the wisdom of whatever higher power we acknowledge (God, the universe, the collective consciousness, et ceteræ). Then, when we do notice in ourselves a desire for something, a push toward performing an action or making a choice, we can be sure that it comes from a greater intelligence than our own.
What is it? Well, I think I have a pretty good explanation for you. Let’s just take a second and look at the word.
Well, why don’t we start by trying to lighten ourselves? Maybe we could take ourselves less seriously. Maybe we could stress less about things by not placing so much weight on them, letting them be lighter. Maybe we could release, let go, stop carrying so much, stop holding on, let it be.
Enlightenment is about backing away from our lives, living less in a close-up of what’s ours and who we are and living more in the context of the whole of life. Enlightenment is about relinquishing our focus on ourselves. It’s about giving way to the grand forces of life. It’s about surrendering to nature, fate, God, or whatever else you may choose to call it. The incredible peace of enlightenment comes to us only when we let go of everything else, or at least loosen our hold significantly. It’s a simple process, really, once you’ve stumbled across that necessary perspective, the one where you’re barely significant but totally empowered. Otherwise, you think all those things you’re holding on to are all you’ve got, and so important, and it’s damn near impossible to find the courage to let go.
So, let me do you a favor. Let me reassure you that there is nothing so important about your possessions, your reputation, your self-image, your body, your intellect, your career, or even your relationships that conflicts with your innate ability to relax. No matter how afraid you are of losing those things, holding tight will never ensure their permanence. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and a whole world of peace to gain, by letting go of your fear and your wanting.
Try it, and let me know how it turns out. Take a second right now to just feel yourself pull back and truly, deeply relax into it. You know you want to ;)