14 June 2009 2 Comments
Sogyal Rinpoche interprets some of the ideas from the ancient texts for the modern world, and argues that the lack of respect for death in the modern world prevents us from living life to its fullest potential. This is not, however, license for hedonism, to do what you like, ‘cos we’re all dying anyway’. It is, in fact, a call for more responsible living, rather than less. Death is a fact of life, and death is encountered in every facet of life, not just the physical — we may experience the death of an idea, the death of a relationship, a feeling, a way of life, and so on. In other words, death speaks to impermanence. The death of our physical bodies is just one aspect of that process.
I was asked very recently about the purpose of practice — why would I want to be more self-aware, if it meant being aware of more pain, more confusion, more dissatisfaction? Wouldn’t it be easier to numb yourself and ‘get on with life’?
I didn’t have an answer to that at the time, and still don’t, though I will attempt one. I think it’s a matter of choice. Sure, one can choose to be numb, but how much do you hurt yourself and others in the process? This is not to say that one may not hurt oneself and others in practice, but one hopes that effect is minimised. Or more importantly, taken responsibility for.
While it is easy to demonise the numbness one achieves through drugs, alcohol and other addictions, we don’t often consider the numbness achieved via the addiction to ‘work’, to ‘busy-ness’, to never having enough time to stop and face oneself. Rinpoche calls this ‘active laziness’.
If we look into our lives, we will see clearly how many unimportant tasks, so-called ‘responsibilities’ accumulate to fill them up. One master compares them to ‘housekeeping in a dream’. We tell ourselves we want to spend time on the important things of life, but there never is any time. Even simply to get up in the morning, there is so much to do: open the window, make the bed, take a shower, brush your teeth, feed the dog or cat, do last night’s washing up, discover you are out of sugar or coffee, go and buy them, make breakfast — the list is endless. Then there are clothes to sort out, choose, iron, and fold up again. And what about your hair, or your makeup? Helpless, we watch our days fill up with telephone calls and petty projects, with so many ‘responsibilities’ — or shouldn’t we call them ‘irresponsibilities’?
Our lives seem to live us, to possess their own bizarre momentum, to carry us away; in the end we feel we have no choice or control over them. Of course we feel bad about this sometimes, we have nightmares and wake up in a sweat, wondering: ‘What am I doing with my life?’ But our fears only last till breakfast time; out comes the briefcase, and back we go to where we started.
I know this to be true in my own life, but I try not to make it a perpetual excuse for why I cannot be present. What I haven’t worked out is how to carry that message to others who are clearly suffering — don’t we all know someone who proliferates busy-ness? — active intervention is interference, even arrogance (‘I know better than you how to live life.’). I guess the practice is to sit with why I feel the need to intervene in the first place, rather than simply bear witness to what is happening. If I am honest, it is a way of validating my own suffering, and my own struggle with living authentically — because I’ve struggled for so long, struggling ‘must’ be a better way to live than numbness. Is it? I don’t know. It is a choice and I must own it.
Image from Cover Browser.