(reprinted in part, March 2012 as “Personal Peace”)
As you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you must ask yourself – “Who is it that is aware?” – Zen Koan
“Everything is as it can be” – Alan Watts
Change, as in going from one state to another, does not realistically happen in a person. Growth and evolution do. In fact, evolution can be so powerful that it can appear as dramatic change. Evolution begins with a compassionate understanding that you are exactly as you can be by the factors of your conditioning and that we can grow beyond our conditioning. When you understand this, you then have a handle on how to expand your life in a manner that creates real change.
Awareness is you, your true self, as Zen says, your original self. That’s the truth in the world of enlightenment. But here in the world of society, families and insecure interpersonal interactions, what Buddhism calls “Samsara”, the world of the illusion of confusing our conditioning for who we are, we act out our conditioning exactly and only as we can be from within that conditioning.
But, who you are is consciousness. You are not your thoughts or emotions or behaviors. That’s just the stuff conditioned into you that you believe is you, and that society reinforces by all of us judging and identifying each other by our programmed thoughts, emotions and behaviors. We can even get pretty defensive about our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, but guess what? They aren’t even ours. They are from our mother, our father, our society, media, personal experience, etc. They are what we have learned, and they represent a certain level of consciousness that is the only thing we can be from within the prison of our conditioning, but we are not our conditioning unless we continue in the belief that we are
So, you’ve got some addictive behaviors? Some interpersonal hang-ups and insecurities? Tendencies to be impulsive, compulsive, anxious, angry or depressed? If you would like to “change” some undesirable traits in the coming year, it’s important to realize, these traits are exactly and only what can be from within the prison of your conditioning, but break out of the conditioning prison, and true growth, evolution can begin to occur.
The pioneering psychologist Fritz Perls used to say, “The contours of your neurosis are exactly the same as the contours of your awareness.” You are exactly the same dimensions of thought, emotion and behavior as you are aware of the possibilities for thought, emotion and behavior that you are conditioned to. Expand your awareness for what is possible, and the limited neurotic addictions, hang-ups, insecurities, impulsive, compulsive, anxious, angry, depressed features of your false conditioned personality will begin to resolve themselves. You will begin to evolve.
Eckhart Tolle advises us “our suffering is in our resistance to what is.” The “what is” of life contains the entire spectrum of possibility from the sublimely beautiful to the unfathomably hideous, from the birth of a child, to The Holocaust, from the bloom of flowers in spring, to the wasteland of a nuclear explosion or catastrophic global climate change. Many rightfully ask whether it is not necessary to resist “what is” if it is patently destructive, anti-life and human dignity?
The answer is in the manner of resistance we bring. Tolle is not advising us to passivity. He is advising us to wise seeing of things for what they are, and not resisting the understanding that “everything is as it can be.” To oppose a wrong, we must first see the wrong as the natural outcome of the way things are. To change what is wrong and destructive, we must work with the “what is” of the conditions that created it. First, we must be willing to see it for what it is, to not be apathetic, not turn a blind eye. Having seen it, we must not shrink from it as if it cannot be, or that it is too frightening to us. Nor can we fight a wrong from the place of hatred. Hatred created it. In the end, from the place of hatred, we will replicate much of what we fought to displace. Action emanating from love, compassion and courage are the non-resistance that is the only true counterweight to evil, hatred and apathy.
“Everything is as it can be” is an amazing insight into the unfolding evolutionary dynamic of society. Human society is a collective consciousness that, exactly like an individual consciousness, is in a process of evolution, of moving from a narrow, self-absorbed, frightened and limited sense of self into more expansive, inclusive and resourceful awareness. In example: along the path of human history, absolutist monarchies, slavery, religious wars, sexism and racism have been accepted political consciousnesses. Humanity, individually and collectively has, or is in process of, evolving beyond such consciousnesses. The “what is” of humanity has evolved into a new “can be.”
Today, economic, political and national competition and conflicts are accepted political consciousnesses along with unfettered exploitation of the Earth’s resources. Such thinking, however, is beginning to be questioned and challenged by an increasing number of individuals who are evolving in their consciousness. These visionaries see the necessity for a social awareness that enfolds all peoples, all species, even the ecosystem of the planet itself as the necessary identity for humanity if we are to survive and prosper into the future. A growing mass of such evolving individuals is necessary to achieve an evolving, healthy human society that moves what “can be” to entirely new dimensions of “what is.”
It is a very difficult lesson to absorb that without the recognition of the “what is” of the limited consciousness that leads to destructive social patterns; there can be no evolving to what can be. The starkest example of this is that it took the insanity of The Holocaust for the majority of humanity to say, “never again” to genocidal racism. It took the shocking devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a growing realization to take root that unlimited war can never be waged again. It will, sadly, probably take the shock of dramatic consequences to human-created climate change to force a new evolution of human consciousness in relationship to the planet and our place upon it.
The horror of “what is” is sometimes necessary to wake us up to what can be, to what must be, if we are to evolve successfully as a species. No, to realize that “suffering is caused by resistance to what is” is not a call to passivity. It is a call to come out of denial into consciousness. It seeks to awaken us to the need for action that moves us beyond the “is-ness” of a destructive unconsciousness. Paradoxically, this evolved consciousness can bring us personal peace while we engage the forces of history and social conflict.
Sometimes, force is needed to constrain violence, but only peace will bring peace. Ultimately, violence only perpetuates violence. Only identification with the totality of life on this planet will save humanity from the consequences of our identification with separateness, consumption and competition moving us toward Armageddon. Do not resist facing this “what is”. It got this way because it is how everything has been. We must evolve our vision as individuals and then as a species into a new “can be” if the next stage of human history is a consciousness capable of a peaceful, beautiful, sustaining future. To resist this will surely bring suffering.
Wake up! If you are what you can be and the circumstances of your life are what they can be, expand what can be. Evolve. Change is nearly impossible from within the limits of believing your conditioning to be who you are, but if you have the courage to let go of your defensive identity and live as curious, compassionate, resourceful, expanding, evolving awareness, the possibilities are nearly miraculous. All you’ve got to lose is your neurotic self. Then you will begin to see what can be.