“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”
- Lao Tzu
Last night – just before writing this, I went for late stroll at about 1:30 am to a secluded beach where I sometimes sit under the stars and listen to music through my headphones. The reason I went there was because an arbitrary stressor had upset me and I needed to change the channel in my brain to something more calming.
I am not one to stew on things these days without taking conscious action to alleviate my stress (breathe, focus on how I want to feel in that moment, meditate, go for a walk, run, hike, gym, focus on gratitude, or listen to calming music). Particularly since my “awakening” – because it was then when I learned that inner peace was absolutely real and that I could find it in the midst of any situation because it was within me and MORE powerful than fear or any other opposing emotion or feeling. (Note: feelings are how we react to things, emotions are how we feel.)
This awakening has been wonderful in empowering me to actively alter my state when my inner peace has come under the siege of stress, worry, or fear. Effectively it’s enabled me to use better coping mechanisms because I know they are capable of delivering me from the lowest valleys of my most negative thoughts and feelings.
As was the case last night. After a short while sitting on the sand and doing some light breath meditation (approx 10 mins), the initial stressor had subsided completely. From there I walked over to a still burning fire and watched it burn, staring into the pulsing glow of the red hot embers. Then I climbed up to a place I like to sit, listened to this and started thinking. Blissful for a time.
But the blissful feeling of having alleviated my stress didn’t last long.
For, I soon found myself an actual truth: the truth that part of the change that characterizes life is the internal changes we are constantly being subjected to by virtue of being thinking and feeling human beings.
We’re on this ride, and happiness is never a permanent feeling. We’re at the mercy of circumstance and emotions, and really, life’s this roller coaster of feelings that bounce us around like a pinball at times. Part of the day you might have an argument with someone you love and be upset, later you might worry about something coming up and feel anxious, then later you might relax and laugh, which is a nice respite – but what you really desire is inner peace that lasts and sustained freedom from anxiety, worry, and depression.
And in thinking about the transient nature of happiness and inner peace, I felt frustrated that the temporary stressors in my life had the power to so easily rob me of my highest value / most important core desired feeling (inner peace).
Why is that? Why does life get in the way of this quest for lasting inner peace?
I suppose because I allow it – because there is this perpetual flowing of thoughts and the ebb and flow of feelings and emotions that come and go in waves – and I’ve decided to let these illusory things
become rule my reality.
This concept of an illusory reality – a thought centered reality – is a central theme in Buddhism. Buddhism teaches that while reality itself is real, how we perceive it and think about it is illusory. This ignorance, in living within the illusions of the thought world, is what leads to suffering.
Then if thought is illusory, what is this reality we cling so dearly to?
While on a sunset hike yesterday, I came across a beautiful spiderweb. In pausing to admire it, I was struck with a brief moment of zen awareness.
In the grand scheme of life, the impact of this spider’s existence on my city was akin to the impact of my own existence on the universe. His web and my life were both temporary yet here now. And perhaps, the web meant to the spider what my life meant to me; both of us clinging onto our respective existences out of the instinctual fear of their inevitable destruction.
Dust in the wind. Yet, we hold onto that dust because it’s solid, and we cry and scream and whimper and shout as if it all really is forever. But it’s just a spiderweb to the universe.
So, what does this mean? Are we just nothing – infinitesimal dust in the end?
Sure, perhaps. But we’re not just any regular old dust.
Allow famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to explain:
So, now that you know what you are made of, it’s time to put your existence within the context of the existence of the earth as a whole. For this, we’ll turn to another hero of mine – Carl Sagan. His narration of the legendary excerpt from his book Pale Blue Dot, which was spurred by the famous photograph of the same title, is an all time favorite of mine.
Enjoy some excellent animation as Sagan explains the earth in a way you may never forget:
So, where do we go from here. We’re as fleeting as a spiderweb, made from stardust, and on this pale blue dot. How do we reconcile with this reality of nothingness, with the fact that we’re meaningless to the universe?
Since, my heroes have been doing such a good job so far, let’s let philosopher Alan Watts discuss reconciling with this reality of nothingness. I’ll be damned if this isn’t the one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever heard. (If you’re not in a rush, watch this first – before the video below.)
Well, if you’ve watched each of these videos and come this far then I hope I’ve fucked with your entire concept of reality enough to put your life into a more rational and healthy context than you previously held.
It’s pretty special to me that my journey has led me to such parallel ideas on the fundamental nature of reality. Perhaps those individuals (my heroes) arrived at complimentary viewpoints because what they are talking about is completely true. I’m being a little bit aloof here because I want these truths to set in for you.
And before any of my heroes wrote or spoke their words, a writer (and Zen kind of guy) named Jack Kerouac immortalized a similar, but different viewpoint in a 1957 letter to his ex wife, (his first wife), which was used as the script for this epic hipster short by high-end Spanish/Italian bicycle company Dosnoventa:
In a way, the words of Kerouac are very much detailing a similar kind of zen realization as the spiderweb moment I had while on my hike.
The narratives of the Buddhists, deGrasse Tyson, Sagan, Watts, and Kerouac on the nature of our existence, the world, and reality are all essentially cohesive narratives of the spiderweb story.
Life is but stardust. A temporary glistening in the sun. All stress, worry, dilemma, fear – it’s just an illusory experience veiled in this thing called thought that we accept as absolute reality, but in the end it’s all false. Our lives will disappear eventually – just like the spiderweb melts in a single rainfall. Poof. Gone. And what are we so fucking stressed and worried for?
Feeling down? That’s okay too.
Stressed out? That’s okay too. It’s all okay. It’s all ecstasy inside as Kerouac said.
We float on, no matter the day to day experiences and how they effect us. Whether pleasant or pushing the boundaries of our tolerances – the constant changes in our day to day feelings do nothing to alter the basic truth that we are alive regardless of whether we are happy 100% of the time or not. We float on and the universe doesn’t give a flying fuck either way.
It’s up to us.