I was in the car yesterday and I caught an item half way through. They were discussing various topics with an author who also seemed to be something of a philosopher. As I missed the start I'm not actually sure who he was but I was intrigued when the question arose 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' and he set forth with an in depth analysis of the psychological reasons of how we establish this as individuals and how we can alter that statement so that better things will arise for us (or at least thats how I interpreted it – I may be totally out of alignment with what he meant!
This has always been one of my favourite topics as it establishes in one sentence the very mistaken way in which we view our entire existence and our grasp of reality.
Most simply put there are two glaring mistakes in this statement - the first is that we assume we know what constitutes a 'good person' and the second is that we believe we know what 'bad things' are.
There are essentially no 'bad things', there are just things and there are no 'good people' there are just people. Things and people arising and 'happening', as is the inevitable movement of the universe, the constant shift of energy from one form to another. Simple physics. Things, energy can't be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another.
Yet because we put everything into the context of a world that is somehow aligned around us, every thing seems to have a polarity – good, bad or neutral. That polarity is based very simply upon whether we perceive the thing happening to be in line with what we think is our direction in life, or at least what we imagine that direction should be. For most of us, certainly in the West, that direction is imagined to be 'a pain free, healthy, comfortable. long life – ideally free from death and the thought of it if possible'.
Therefore everything arising around us gets this label of good or bad. We chase the things we imagine are good and we run from the things that we imagine are bad. We are equally indifferent about the neutral, but even in that, the ignorance is essentially the same because it is still all placed in context to us.
Likewise every person has no inherent good or bad, however much we might argue so. If that was the case, ever person would be hated or loved equally. But what about say, Hitler and the Dalai Lama – surely everyone agrees that Hitler was bad and the Dalai Lama is good?
Well there are plenty of politicians and even a great number of Buddhists who very much dislike the Dalai Lama, if you don't believe me then dig into it on the web. Hitler was no doubt responsible for terrible atrocities, but you could also say that he was loved by many, however deluded we imagine that to be. You could also say that from that awful period of war came 75 years of so far of relative peace in Europe – a continent of so many cultures, languages and religions. Of course it also led to greater confrontation in places such as the Middle East after they were carved up. Nothing is ever cut and dry simple.
So another 365 days have passed since this time in 2019. In those 365 days the sun has risen every morning and set each evening, totally unaffected by the trivial concerns of man.
Many will consider it to have been the most awful year ever, there seem to be many also who enjoyed the lockdown periods, the moment to finally disengage with the rush and stress that is the hamster wheel of modern living.
Lives have been sadly lost due not only to the virus but to other knock on effects, but many lives are always lost, that is the natural way of life. We would all be doomed as a species if no-one ever died. A few hundred years ago I would be in old age right now – in fact with my asthma it is doubtful that I would have even lived this long. And no doubt many lives have also been saved as a result of less traffic accidents, less pollution, other infectious diseases that haven't been transmitted due to physical distancing measures. There have certainly been way more babies conceived and born this year than I can ever remember from the friends I know! Nothing is cut and dry, black and white.
The only thing that has really changed is our view of 'reality'. That is where most people have really suffered. No-one knows what each day will bring, as a species we resist change because our survival is based on an environment that we understand the rules of. But when those rules are constantly shifted and the boundaries of the environment are altered, we suffer stress.
Yet in our world, those rules are simply conditioning. Rules, governments, they only have the power that we accord them. If enough people disagree with something then laws, rules, governments change. They were never solid we just imagined that they were. A deception of our own making.
The world, the energy changing shifting form one form to another, that hasn't altered at all. That is inevitably consistent and always will be. However much we resist it and cause ourselves suffering as a side effect of that resistance.
So thats an awful big ramble, was there any point to it? I'm not sure it matters. How you take it will again be polarised depending on how you perceive it to relate to you and your imagined path through life. It isn't for me to convince you that any of it is 'right or wrong', in all honesty I don't care less.
Maybe if we observe how things affect us and how we polarise good and bad things, good and bad people, that will be a start. Perhaps we will suffer a little less if we resist and chase and little less. Perhaps if we simply allow things to unfold, with a fascination and curiosity rather than a classification, perhaps then life takes on this attitude of the great game talked about in almost every religion if you dig deep enough.
Hoping that you all have a fascinating and unforgettable Christmas, whatever incarnation that might take.
Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash
To be human is to suffer said the Buddha. It sounds a bit depressing but it wasn't meant to be so, there is far more content in that statement than I could ever talk about in a short blog, or fully understand, but let's get down to the basic idea of it anyway and see what you take away for yourself.
I was lying awake in bed last night, I woke up around 1am because, being a middle aged man I needed the loo. Often I can get back to sleep quite quickly, but at the moment we seem to have a lot of things going on in our life and of course once back under the duvet I accidentally allowed my attention to slip to one of these and that was the last I saw of sleep for at least another hour or two.
That might sound strange coming from someone that likes to share meditation teachings and all of that sort of thing but at the end of the day it is also what makes me human. I haven't passed beyond suffering, I believe that I am still human and in fact there is no suffering other than that which I create for myself as this human.
Let me try to explain it another way. There is a situation in my daily life that needs to be resolved right now. Don't worry its nothing that exciting but it does niggle me most days at the moment and causes me some anxiety. The thing in itself is largely out of my control and in and of itself it carries no suffering, it is just a situation that has arisen. A situation isn't suffering, it doesn't contain suffering, any more than a car alarm is suffering – its just a car alarm. If I don't like car alarms I'd suffer to hear one, however if I had been deaf for my whole life and then I suddenly heard a car alar, it would be the most amazing sound ever! You get my point? The car alarm has no inherent suffering attached to it, nor does anything, however much we might believe they do - that is just our greatest misunderstanding, what in yoga we would call Avidya.
So where on Earth does this suffering arise from if it doesn't come from things outside of me? Its not like I would actually create suffering for myself is it? That would be an insane thing to do.....?
When my attention first went to the situation that I am currently feeling anxious about there was a moment of decision right there. I had a chance to choose to give it my attention or not. The problem with a lot of this is that we simply forget. In fact I really think that meditation should be renamed 'Remembering practise' because that is actually all we have to do. We constantly have to remember that we have a choice and that choice is where the attention or awareness rests
So why do we choose to put that awareness on our disturbing thoughts for so much of our time? Simply because the awareness finds them so fascinating. They are an unsolvable problem to chew over, watching the breath is nowhere near as fascinating, at least not at the start of our journey.
You might say that herein lies some of the truth of what the Buddha was exploring - to be human is to suffer. The question that we might sensibly ask here then is what does it mean to 'be human' – what does that entail? Because by extrapolation from the Buddhas observation, we might conclude that to not be human is to not suffer?
My awareness could be said to be what I truly am; we have explored this in past blogs – explored why we aren't our body and we aren't our thoughts because both of these are constantly shifting and changing. The only thing that is unchanging is my awareness (not be confused with my senses – I can be aware of my senses – but the awareness knows the senses, it isn't the senses themselves.)
The 'humanness' that my mind (thoughts) imagines myself to be isn't the awareness; the humanness I imagine myself to be is the body, the thoughts, emotions & so on – the faculties of being a humans you might say. It is only these bodies, thoughts and emotions that appear to have any problems at all. The awareness has no problems and never has had, how can it? It is simply aware.
Sooooo, if we confuse ourselves to be human then of course we confuse ourselves to have all of these problems associated with that humanness and therefore we imagine that we suffer.
Logically then 'to be human is to suffer'. If 'I' could permanently remember that 'I' was not this human form, no suffering would exist. Sure things would happen (from your human point of view you might classify some of them as bad or negative) but essentially they are just things happening, not good or bad. Empty of any inherent suffering, but actually full of infinite potential.
That is pretty far out and you might need to read that back half a dozen times to make any sense of it at all. But of course that is entirely natural. After all if all that you had heard for your entire life was very loud white noise, you would assume that the only sound that existed was very loud white noise. Likewise with these ideas, it is very hard to think yourself out of thinking after all 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?' Well Maria certainly can't fix that problem, she is the problem.
Eventually when I'm lying in bed on nights like last night, I do remember that I am my awareness, and when I remember that first step, then I remember that awareness is free and I can then let it rest on the breath, the body and indeed even on the thoughts in moderation. I can be aware of the thoughts, I just have to remember not to confuse myself with being the thoughts.
It can need to be a forceful process at first, after all as I said, the thoughts are so fascinating, so full of detail, so changing and shifting. But if I direct that awareness forcefully onto the breath for example, after a while I can relax it and allow it to dissolve over everything, the next thing I realise it is morning.
Not to worry though, because I'm still very much identified with this human form, however much I logically understand it to be an illusion, I know that I'll get to practice the same thing over and over again tonight as well!
If you enjoy working on all of this or are right at the start of your meditation journey you will probably enjoy our Beyond Mind Online Course, which we have reduced by 30% for the Christmas period at a time when many of us are suffering greatly from an over active mind or know someone that is! Now only £25 for 3 hours of video lessons and 3 hours of recorded audio meditations :)
After around 4 years of searching for the perfect spot we have finally found exactly what we were looking for! There is a lot to be said for patience! Although we spent the best part of three years searching around North Devon, circumstances and a natural pull drew us further West into Cornwall where we already had the support base of may of our past trainees and tutors locally.
And so we stumbled upon Little Acorn, nestled in an acre of protected Oak woodland, a very rare thing in North Cornwall and hidden down a mile long unmade lane, the only thing that you can hear when you wake up are the birds singing and the stream at the bottom of the hill.
Of course that is just the start, we have some adaptations to make so that we can be ready for our first yoga teacher training in April 2021 but nothing that we cant handle!
Watch this space for further info, Super Earlybird places are already sold out but there are still a few earlybird slots left. #yogalikewater #bewater #yogateachertrainingcornwall