The Freedom of the Unknown - Will James
We are all very comfortable with the familiar and a little uncomfortable with the unknown or uncertain.
We have this habitual tendency to interpret the present with the constructs we have built up from the past. We carry over our impressions and overlay them onto what is happening now, thus interfering with the natural spontaneous flow of life. In looking for the familiar there is a tendency to distort the present experience, for the ideas and concepts of the known, which are always carried over from past experience, cloud the mind and limit the openness to any new experience.
We also bring from the past experience our fears and anxieties. This inhibits and restricts our willingness to be open to new experiences. We narrow and fence ourselves into a restricted area of the familiar by imagining all the possible harmful outcomes that may arise. We are talking here about the psychological fears and anxieties, our imagining what might happen and the uncertainty that goes with that. We are not talking about the learnt survival responses that protect us from physical harm.
Facing the present moment afresh is a challenge for all of us, can we recognize the uncertainty of each and every moment and still remain open to each new experience.
All these behavioural patterns arise as some form of protection mechanism for the self, for the construct that needs continual reinforcement and affirmation. The self is inherently insecure for the very reason that it exists as a separate solid thing only in our imagination. The more fears and anxieties we have the stronger our sense of a separate self and also the more restricted and controlled we become.
Is it possible to live free of this conditioning, this construction?
We don’t need to practice extreme sports or to be constantly putting ourselves into dangerous situations, actually every situation is uncertain and at any time anything could happen.
Are we taking each moment for granted, feeling a false security that today will be just like yesterday? Can we be open to whatever arises without feeling we need to be prepared or protected by our knowledge and our concepts.
With the understanding of the fear of uncertainty comes a freedom that is not imprisoned or restricted by the known and opens the unlimited possibilities of the unknown, the full expression of just this unfolding life.
Simplicity - Will James
Our modern society can appear incredibly complex and brutal and often motivated by greed. We only have to look at the recent financial crises to see this insensitivity and exploitation at work. This insensitivity, confusion and complexity is contributing to alarming levels of stress and anxiety on man as well as pressure upon society and the environment on which he depends. Young couples are trapped in mortgage and financial pressure, anxious about the security of their jobs and hence their ability to finance their loans.
For some a response to this confusion and entrapment can be to try and simplify their situation; to try and live a less complicated life. For many however this is not an option as many are slaves to the system of debt and repayment.
Many of us of a certain age are familiar with this situation; some actually remember the seventies. Many believed that by simplifying their lives they would bring about a radical change and awaken some understanding of the human condition. Simplicity however is not merely imitating others or withdrawing from society or adopting some belief however noble.
Simplicity that is fundamental and real can only come about by an inner understanding and cannot be enforced outwardly. From this inner understanding outer simplicity becomes a natural outward expression.
Life is becoming more and more complex, change is occurring faster and faster and the answer to this is not necessarily to withdraw from society. How to find that simplicity of mind that enables one to be more sensitive to our own needs and to the needs of others and society?
It is this inner simplicity that is so essential because simplicity creates sensitivity and receptivity. A mind that is not open, that is caught up in its own superiority and desires can never be sensitive or receptive to life. When all our attention is caught in our thoughts, anxieties, views and opinions then we are self obsessed and isolated from the world around us.
We can only be inwardly simple by being aware of the complexities that we are caught up in and consequently being aware of that which obstructs and blocks sensitivity and an open receptivity to life.
What is it that impedes our direct experience? Surely it is our accumulation of beliefs, ideas, views and fears that we cling to. We are prisoners to our ideas, our desires and our views from the past. Simplicity cannot be found unless there is a letting go or freedom from the accumulated constructions of the past.
The mind is full of past impressions and sometimes we feel that the answer is simply to get rid of all the excess mental junk. We think we need a garage sale of the mind, boxes of secondhand fears, used ideas, worn out theories etc. need to be discarded and that we need professional de – clutterers sometimes called Dharma Teachers to help us.
We could spend the rest of our lives trying to simplify our inner life and in doing so only make our minds more complex. This process would be made even more difficult because we would continue in the meantime to acquire more mental impressions.
The only answer to this dilemma is to instantly see the whole process of complication and in the very seeing free ourselves from the habit of accumulation.
When we look into the relationship between our inner and outer world, we see that they are intimately connected.
We see the suffering, the conflict and pain that is present and by facing these truths openly and honestly, the pathways to inner simplicity open.
The Buddha understood this connection, hence the eightfold path, which focuses on giving attention to both the inner and outer areas of our life.
It is also through inner simplicity that creativity is possible. What becomes possible is a life of improvisation, where each experience is fresh and new, undistorted by the past and met with a sense of innocence and wonder.
Our problems, social, environmental, political and spiritual appear so complex that we think we need ever more complex solutions. The mind that is so full of facts borrowed from other people, a mind that clings rigidly to concepts and ideas; that mind is incapable of simple direct experience and it is through the simple direct experience that the truth is revealed and solutions are found.
A simple, unobstructed mind is free of the whole concept of becoming, free of being caught in the prison of time.
When we see our desire to become some idea of who we think we should be, we realize that this is only adding more complexity. We see it as a movement away from simplicity therefore we let go of all forms of “becoming”. Can we totally let go of trying to change ourselves for the better? For surely in trying to change there is only tension, suffering and disappointment.
The natural expression of inner simplicity is a loss of infatuation with oneself and one’s own needs and a greater sensitivity to the needs of others.
True simplicity is not something you can pursue, it is not something you can achieve or an experience you can have, but rather it is a quality of mind. Simplicity is like grace or like a flower that simply opens when the time is right.
It is a mind free of reaction, free of fear and paranoia, it is that innocent mind of wonder and love, it is always already present if we only step aside and allow it to blossom. All that is needed for this blossoming to unfold is a deep trust and the courage to face life honestly, directly and openly.