Monthly Archives: July 2015

Everything You Need To Know About Not Knowing

The biggest challenge of life is not knowing. This not knowing can drive us crazy, not necessarily because of the not knowing, but because of how it fits with what we think we know. The amount of things that we know is astounding. Even if we don’t think we know much, we know thousands of words, we know hundreds of people, we know how to communicate what we are thinking and how to guage what other people are feeling. We know ways to comfort ourselves and others when we notice pain and suffering. We have ideas about numbers, negative numbers, zero and infinity. It’s incredible how much we know that helps us function in our daily lives. When we start to examine those things we think we know, we realize that we don’t even know what we know. It’s hard to know what nothing is. It’s difficult to comprehend infinity.

If we compare all that we know with all that we don’t know, what we know is closer to zero and what we don’t know is closer to infinity. Even if we take all the knowledge in the world, everything that everybody, living and dead, has ever and will ever know about anything, it won’t scratch the surface of the unknown. We can and will spend the rest of our lives trying to fine tune what we know, discarding what we find to be false and keeping what we imagine is true. We continually refine our knowledge so that we can happily exist with everything we don’t know.

Not knowing can be either distressing or exhilarating, it can be paralyzing or liberating.  Not knowing what will happen at the end of a book keeps us reading. Not knowing what will happen tomorrow fills the day with possibilities. If we think something horrible will happen, we fret. If we think something wonderful will happen, we feel the joy of anticipation. All we know is where we are, feeling what we’re feeling, thinking what we’re thinking, not knowing how it came about or where it will lead.

When we know that we are stressed or distressed about something we either know or don’t know, we can remember what we know about not knowing and look curiously, openly into our experience and ask ourselves what is happening, knowing that ultimately, we don’t know. When we are able to find comfort in not knowing, we can be comfortable anywhere, because we never know.

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Love Pressures

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to love and be loved. We see love as a magic elixir that can make everything in our lives right. The loss of love can be devastating. We define ourselves, create our identities, around who and what we love and by who loves us. Empires are built and kingdoms crumble from the forces of love. With so much riding on love, it is important that we learn to live with it.

Living with love should be easy. It is the closest thing we have to a magic potion that will make everything right. When we feel love, we feel good. When we don’t feel love, we feel bad. That part is simple. When we try to love ourselves or other people things get more complicated. The problems do not come out of love, they come out of our ideas about how love should be.

Love is always just as it should be. We often think it should be different, which causes problems. We think love should make us feel good. It does. When we think love is making us feel bad, we are not feeling love. We are feeling attachment to an idea of what love should be. We expect people to behave in certain ways to demonstrate their love. They behave differently and we question the love. We expect ourselves to be a certain way to be worthy of love, but we are how we are and we question love.

When we feel sad or anxious or scared because of love, we are putting too much pressure on love. We are trying to confine it to too small of a space. We try to confine it to a specific circumstance, person, place or time. No matter how awful these ideas of love may make us feel, love will eventually be there to make us feel better. Big love, spacious love, is all around us.

Everybody, everywhere, does everything they do for love. Admittedly, in our confusion, we sometimes make a big mess of things as we do what we do for love. When we are feeling the pressure of the love we want, we need to open ourselves up to the love that we have. In every interaction, love is present. To summon love we don’t need to find our soulmate,  we can think of people we love. think of things we love, or think of times we felt loved. When we are able to evoke that feeling of love, it works. We love. We feel good. No pressure.

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From Confusion to Decision

When we acknowledge our basic state of confusion, it helps us take decisive action. Even though we are generally confused, we are continually doing things. Most of the time, we are unconcerned with our confusion. We have a certain course of action that feels stable and predictable. Without ever knowing what will actually come next, we live our lives into the future, anticipating the next surprise circumstances will bring. When we need groceries, we go to the store. As we predicted, the store is there and it has groceries. We go home again with our groceries into the future that we predicted would occur when we decided to go to the store.

When we have important decisions to make, we become aware of our confusion and it can be painful. We make important decisions all the time, from what to wear to what to do with the rest of our lives. If a decision feels important, with important consequences, and we don’t know what to do, that confusion can be frightening. When we notice that feeling, we can recognize it as confusion and remind ourselves that our confusion can lead us to our wisdom. Our wisdom will guide our action.

If we have time to make a decision, we can gather information that will help inform the decision. We can talk about it with other people, write out lists of pros and cons, clarify our goals and intentions, imagine the repercussions of various actions, and imagine what a successful outcome would look like. Often, a specific course of action will present itself from the gathering process. If not, if we have time, we can wait, or we can do something and see what happens.

If we need to make a decision immediately and feel stifled by our confusion, we take a breath, feel what the confusion feels like, see what we think we should do, trust that our wisdom is there for us, and do it. If we make a mistake, we try something else.

All decisions come from confusion. In working with our own confusion as we make the little and big decisions that define our lives, it is helpful to remember compassion. If we habitually make compassionate choices for ourselves and others, we will find happiness and joy within our confusion.

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Nobody is Ignorant

In Buddhism, ignorance means believing in the existence of a self. From the no-self standpoint, there is nobody to be ignorant.

When the self seems real, there is ignorance. This ignorance is important because it is the primary cause of suffering. The sense of self gives rise to desire, attachment, greed and anger, which are each sources of suffering. When there is suffering, it is the self that suffers. When there is no self, there is no ignorance and no suffering.

If the no-self is the fundamental state of existence and the self is an illusion, then even those who believe in the self, fundamentally have no self. However, we still suffer from the illusion. In order to examine the illusion, we have to look into our sense of self. We can see what it is that we think is uniquely us that is something apart from everything else. We can look into what we are.

What we seem to be is a perspective, an awareness that is attached to a body. Already there is an attachment. The body is attached to a life force that is sustained by other people and the planet. The planet that sustains our life can only do that because of where it is located in relation to the Sun. From our perspective, we can observe and theorize about the extent of the universe and the nature of time and space. As we observe and participate in all that is going on, it often seems that we are something separate.

Accepting the idea that we don’t have a self does not immediately end our suffering. It provides an avenue for exploration as we look into why we suffer. Whenever we notice ourselves suffering, we can remember to look at our thoughts and beliefs and see how they relate to our sense of self. We can see how we measure our self, judge our self, and belittle our self.  When we learn to see our self comparison as ignorance, comparing our self to our self, a mental habit that reinforces an illusion, we can dispel our ignorance. When we see what we truly are, nobody will be ignorant.

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Why Suffer?

The universe, in its infinite wisdom, created suffering. The universe and suffering arise simultaneously. Suffering, in its infinite wisdom, created the universe.

The main reason that we suffer is that we don’t have an option. We simply suffer. Things hurt. If you want to find a reason for your suffering, you can come up with one. You probably already have one. You have several. There is an endless list of what can make you suffer. You can suffer from love, wealth,  justice, smells, noises, thoughts, loss, boredom, excitement, life or death. You can suffer from not knowing what is making you suffer.

Suffering is a part of life, but it is also a habit. It is not the only reaction there is to pain. It is one reaction. We don’t choose to suffer. We invariably choose to do things that will ease our suffering. What we often choose to do to ease our suffering does not work and can lead to more suffering. Drugs, food, sex, entertainment, are all things we reach for to ease our suffering, but they provide temporary relief at best.

To find relief from suffering we have to forget about relief from suffering. We have to accept our own suffering. We have to see that our suffering comes from within us. It is our reaction to the world around us. To change our habitual reaction, we have to remind ourselves that we can work within our suffering. When we begin to work directly with our suffering, it loses its edge.

If we imagine that somebody has made us angry, we will be angry for a long time. If we imagine that we have become angry because of our own anger habit, we approach our anger from a different angle. We work within our anger and it loses its edge.

When you notice yourself suffering, remember that suffering is something you are adding to the circumstances. Feel what feelings are actually there beneath the suffering. See what thoughts come with the suffering. Notice if the thoughts are about yourself. Notice if the thoughts are about somebody else. Notice if the thoughts are about the past or future. After you have recognized suffering and observed your thoughts and feelings, take a moment to be right where you are and see how the suffering changes.

If you notice that you are suffering and you get frustrated with yourself for suffering, that is creating suffering. If you notice that you are suffering, remind yourself that there are other possible reactions and actively change your suffering habit. Why suffer if there are options?

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