Saturday, September 24, 2016

Becoming Self Aware.

All of us eventually become creatures of habit and after the passage of time are lulled asleep into a state of blindness based on an assumption that what we think we know is true. Mark Twain said it best: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Someone who never knows the truth believes they do nevertheless.

Faith, by design, is a precarious state of being that asks us to accept particular aspects of the inaccessible, the imperceptible, the ineffable and the immeasurable without challenge. And being given to easy persuasion by those we trust as being more astute and capable than ourselves, we come to a state of confidence in their esteemed judgements, and at long last embrace and take to be our very own, the ideas expressed by “the experts.”

What breaks this chain of presumption? Ought it not be success or failure? The measure of life as what works or doesn’t for one and all? Unfortunately this is rarely the case. What we believe, is held in higher regard than such concrete measures and we shape our lives, not so much by the good of all than we do by what supports our fanciful wishes: The hope for things being different than they truly are. Try, try again is the mantra. If at first we don’t succeed then try harder to shape what is not so into illusions of what we prefer. Be more perseverant, more tenacious and resilient. And after such relentless assaults, even with the experience of not reaching the goal of the common good, we are remiss to let go and try a different path. Instead we hold fast to dogmas and reject the obvious, clinging forever to standards set by those in whom we have placed our trust. In psychological terms this strange behavior is known as “confirmation bias,” a state of ignorance wherein we reject the truth and favor what confirms our preconceived beliefs. To do otherwise, we reason, will cause a loss of face and force us to admit error, neither of which our egos desire.

It is an exceedingly sad aspect of being human that leads us all into those habitual states of continuing ignorance, and it is not an aspect adopted only by the common man. Surrendering from our cherished ideas, valued though they be, seems risky work. Yet to reach the depths of our souls where the light of truth prevails, requires letting go of little to get all. Meister Eckhart, one of the greatest mystics of all time put the highest release like this:

“I will put into plain words what St. Paul means by wishing to depart from God. Man’s last and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God. St. Paul left God for God: he left everything he could give or take of God, every concept of God. In leaving these, he left God for God since God remained to him in his essential self, not as a concept of himself, or as an acquired thing, but God in his essential actuality.”

Even those who adopt open minds and are moving toward enlightenment fall prey to the trap, sometimes to the edge of death. The Buddha came to the final point of surrender before letting go of the greatest natural fear of all: The fear of death. When he reached the edge of the abyss, his choice was clear: Let go or die. Only then did he awaken to the core of his True Self. Only then did he become genuinely Self Aware. Only when any of us faces the grim reaper and accepts what seems like our ultimate demise will we be ready to cast off the chains of illusion and meet, at long last, our true nature and know that, as Eckhart said: “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being made and let God be God in you.” 

And on the way to this exalted place of pure awareness, where do we place our faith? In the orthodoxy? Holy Scriptures? The experts? What shall we consider our anchor that binds us firmly to eternal life?
  • “Do not believe anything on mere hearsay.
  • Do not believe in traditions merely because they are old and have been handed down for many generations and in many places.
  • Do not believe anything on account of rumors or because people talk a great deal about it.
  • Do not believe anything because you are shown the written testimony of some ancient sage.
  • Do not believe in what you have fancied, thinking that, because it is extraordinary, it must have been inspired by a god or other wonderful being.
  • Do not believe anything merely because presumption is in its favor, or because the custom of many years inclines you to take it as true.
  • Do not believe anything merely on the authority of your teachers and priests.
  • But, whatever, after thorough investigation and reflection, you find to agree with reason and experience, as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all and of the world at large, accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it.
The same text, said the Buddha, must be applied to his own teachings.
  • Do not accept any doctrine from reverence, but first try it as gold is tried by fire.”The Buddha: The Kalama Sutra
It is the fires by trial in life that burn away ignorance, but only when we are open to letting go of the unreal and ready for the real. And when once we meet our Self for the first time we are still left with residue of the old, that lingers like unwanted dust and was previously considered to be gold, when all the while it was fools gold. We then must learn a new way, no longer clinging to chains of the past but rather accepting wings of The Spirit, just as any baby learns to crawl before walking. And until our spiritual legs grow strong, we will wobble and fall again and again, until at last we rest in assurance that the core of our being is firm and immovable. Along the way to maturity we will be unaccustomed to the new way and think for a time as Lao Tzu:

“I alone seem listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication of their presence. I am like an infant which has not yet smiled.”

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