Ask me if I’m happy, and my answer is ‘yes.’ Ask me if I’m sad, and my answer is ‘yes.’ Life is so thick with all possibilities that when you enter into the moment in awareness, the reasons for happiness and sadness are all present, and you realize the moment just as it is, is enough, and when enough is enough, that’s enlightenment. (Paraphrased from Ram Das in a video entitled “Ecstatic States”)
In the course of reading my articles, you may notice I often use the word “and” in places where more typically we would be accustomed to seeing the words “or” and “but.” It seems like a small thing, but I want to suggest that it is really a very big thing. When teaching, I refer to “and” as the most important little word in the English language, and, of course, as I do in my writing, I will quite deliberately use “and” and suggest that others use it where more typically the words “or” and “but” are employed.
Buddhism makes a point of noting that human beings, in all of Nature, are the single species that has a brain that creates a consciousness of abstraction; separating experience out into “this or that,” and “yes, but.” Birds live within Nature and the flow of Life without questioning, complaining, and trying to change and control it, and for the birds, it’s enough. So, a typical response to this statement might be: “Yes, but, that’s what separates humans from beasts.” And, I would have to answer, with a twinkle in my eye, “Yes, exactly.”
We question, complain, try to change and control, thinking we are improving our lives; and in the wondering, complaining, and changing, while we do improve our chances for physical comfort and survival, we create a world of psychological suffering the bird never experiences. Significantly, human-beings existing within primitive nature-based cultures likewise live with far less strife and stress and are happier than those in modern civilization. We are constantly caught imagining some situation, some circumstance other than the one we are within as better, so we want the alternative we imagine, the “or,” the “yes, but” that will make things better. The moment is very, very seldom “enough,” so complete and “thick” that we experience absolute well-being. And when there is not “enough,” this is the “unsatisfactoriness” that Buddhism refers to as the source of suffering in one of the more useful translations of “The Four Noble Truths.”
We have difficulty realizing that whatever we are within is it, and it is rich. There are other circumstances possible, yes, and we may be able to find some increase in benefit of a particular kind in another choice. To hastily make that choice, however, may prevent us from truly knowing and exploring the full potential and connectedness of the circumstance we are in. We don’t give consideration that this situation we are in is the one we are in for some reason, so this thing is the thing we need to deal with, to explore, to understand, perhaps even find the hidden riches within. It’s the big “and.”
“Remember that the obstacles do not block the path, they are the path.” – Zen proverb –
The big “and” is the moment arising in awareness, containing everything. It is seeing the thickness that brings us both happiness and sadness, in other words, the complete experience of Life. To want “or” is to want something other than what-is, and this creates a very thin experience of Life, skipping about, never fully understanding and mastering anything. To even desire for something other than what-is diminishes our experience of what-is, and certainly diminishes our full understanding of what-is and perhaps why this the-way- it-is might be exactly the way it has to be. As a result, Life, psychologically, is a struggle for us in a way that it is not for a bird or an aboriginal human, and our relationship to Life-as-Nature continues to be increasingly problematic.
It is really quite remarkable how by entering fully into a situation and seeing its components as the aggregate and infinite sum rather than limited separate parts to be picked and chosen from, our view and experience expands. We begin to realize that we are actually circles within circles of energy and interest that eventually encompass the entire Universe. We begin to realize that “this” is vast, and that the “here and now” are without limit and boundary. The entire experience of Life expands radically and unpredictably. We experience both linear and non-linear possibilities, discovering the true and paradoxical nature of the Cosmos.
This is not to say we are to be passive and not use our capacities for discernment, choice, creativity and inventiveness to change our circumstance and the human and planetary condition in the immediate here and now and into the future for the better. It’s just that a richer life requires that we learn to be patient, to be curious, to be open to dimensions and possibilities not readily apparent. It means to question our assumptions about what “better” means. Better in the short-run may well be catastrophic in a larger frame. There is an immense qualitative difference to our experience if we see our situation as the inescapable “what-is” within the infinite “what-is.” No complaint. No fantasy. Just what-is – arising in awareness.
Now, we can create a new what-is. It may look like we have chosen “or,” but that’s only from a limited perspective. We don’t need “or.” Sitting right alongside what-is, is more of what-is. “Or” is fantasy. “And” is reality. That’s non-duality using duality, and it can only truly and skillfully be employed when we realize that we are the moment arising in awareness, wherein the full thickness, the everything, is arising in that which is not a thing – awareness. Even if significant elements of the what-is are difficult, challenging, threatening to the form of us, we will, as we always do, handle it. Perhaps now, with a touch of magic, understanding interconnections and interdependencies better. We have entered the magic of yes and no, my perspective and your perspective, form and space, sound and silence, movement and stillness, thought and awareness, manifested and unmanifested, particle and wave. We have discovered the consciousness that connects the manifested and the unmanifested, this and that, and that, and that, and, and, and………… to infinity, where there are no “that’s,” only “This.”
“And-ness” is the key, the link between non-duality and duality. To live in the moment arising in awareness, just as it is, in the full thickness, is enlightenment. For awareness does not suffer, awareness does not react, awareness does not complain or wish for the “or,” the alternative to what is. Awareness is, and awareness is who we are. When you get that, and I don’t mean intellectually, I mean really know and are able to live it, this is what the journey of enlightenment is about. This is the “waking up” of Buddhism. This is how we begin to resolve the Gordian Knot of human dualistic thinking at every level of experience – from our individual lives to our relationships, to our societies, to our planet. Living in and as awareness that holds the moment just as it is, and that knows what is needed next in the big “and” that is Life and Nature and the Universe, is the secret of Zen, and the end of suffering.