The following is based on my own personal experience. It may work for others – I hope it does. But it may not – as Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the world’s revered spiritual masters, warned – “Truth is a pathless land.”
Weary of the struggle? – the mortgage, the rent, the insurance, rising prices, the cost of running the car? Long hours, late home from work? Overcrowded trains, buses. The costs of childcare. The long wait for a doctor’s appointment. The weasel words of the politicians. Increasing debt. The whole stressful, anxiety-ridden merry-go-round – when all you want to do is forge a meaningful and mostly enjoyable life for yourself and your family. Is it too much to ask? Is there a point to all this? And if there is, where is it?
Why do we ask the question? Why don’t we just accept that this is life – period? It’s a bit tawdry; bad things happen; we get ill; have problems with our kids; we lose loved ones; go through divorces; we struggle to make ends meet. It’s leavened from time to time with a few sunny periods of laughter, a few good times; but in the end we’re all going to die – so what on earth is the point?
I think the reason we ask at all is that somewhere inside us, buried deep beneath the accumulating confusion of our everyday living, there exists a sort of certainty that there really is more to it. But if that’s the case, where is it? Why can’t we feel it? Was there ever a time in our lives when we could feel it?
If you start to get a sense, an instinct that there really is, or just may be, deep down, something else – something which might illuminate life’s ‘point’ – and if you feel a genuine urge to find it, where do you begin? Well, there’s the mindfulness/self-help books. But there are so many of them – it’s a profitable business these days. How would you know a good one from a bad one? And you can bet your life that although some will have been written by someone coming from exactly the right place and with the needful curiosity of the serious seeker in mind, there are others that will have been written with the primary aim of cashing in, for the benefit of author and publisher, on a growing trend. How would you know one from the other?
If not the books – then what? Church on Sunday? That doesn’t seem to quite fit the bill. Join some spiritual group? There are many. Or become – for example – a Buddhist? How do you do that? And in any case, isn’t Buddhism a bit – well – odd? The Quakers? Now there’s a thought. But haven’t they, sort of, been around since the Flood – like they’re almost part of the establishment? And of course, lots of people – probably millions of them – become devotees of some big international guru or other. Same thing though – how to know a good guru from a tricky one? There’s been quite a few of the latter.
Many years ago I was in India researching a film I was to direct for US television on Hinduism in general and the guru Sai Baba in particular. In the course of this research I met and interviewed an extraordinary man. He was perhaps in his mid-fifties and lived in a cave – literally – on the thickly wooded lower slopes of the mountains that rise up out of Rishikesh where the Ganges first emerges from the Himalayas. Living with him in this cave, were three devotees who regarded him as their guru – the one who would help light their own spiritual path.
In his interview – which my Producer in fact conducted, she being the only one who spoke his language, Sanskrit – he was asked by her if the huge numbers of Westerners who came to India searching for a guru should actually look around for gurus in their own lands. He looked at her, then said, very quietly, “Why? Why would you look for that which you are holding in your hand?”
It wasn’t until I got the interview back in the cutting rooms in London some weeks later and was studying it in detail that the import of his words really hit me. What he was actually saying was that he knew very well what was being searched for – and that it’s not ‘out there, somewhere’. If you want to find that elusive ‘point’ to life, don’t go looking ‘out there’ – look instead inside your own self. In me that touched a nerve.
We in the West are not used to doing much serious introspection. It’s sometimes even thought of as being – well – not quite nice. And organized religions have, for millennia, told the faithful, on pain of retribution, that they should look beyond themselves for salvation. So that today, we seem to regard looking at ourselves and what goes on inside us, mentally and physically, as not really our business. It’s the province of the doctor, the psychiatrist – they’re the ones who know. But while it’s obvious there are times when only the skills of the doctor, psychiatrist etc. can cure or ease our pain, it seems quite bizarre that we spend so little of our everyday lives in conscious touch with our bodies and our minds. They are, after all, uniquely ours as individuals; they belong to us, and for the whole of our lives, they are in our keeping; and between them, they add up to the most mysterious and complex of all entities in the observable universe. Isn’t it likely there’s something in there worth looking at beyond science’s concern with labels, measurements and that rather dry and lifeless thing known as ‘knowledge’?
Sit straight upright in a chair, place your hands loosely in your lap and close your eyes. Then be as still and as quiet inside your own head as you can, and just be aware of what’s going on there. The usual stream of thoughts appear. Disconnected and more or less random – with which you identify and get momentarily carried along in their worries and concerns – for problems are what they mostly deal in.
Now try and step back from them. Try to just watch them as they drift across your mind, one after the other. Don’t get caught up in them. And if you really can remain that concentrated, an odd thing happens. There are no more thoughts. They arise only in the absence of something which their own absence then reveals – your awareness. Don’t try and think about that, i.e. don’t allow your mind in here, because if you do you’ll be caught up in thought and you’re back where you started. Just be aware – of being aware.
That awareness is – in the true sense of the word – real. It won’t go away. It has been there, and will continue to be there 100% of the time as the background to all you ever do and all you ever are. Like a cinema screen on which the transient images come and go, it remains ever there. As the Western master, Eckhart Tolle has said, ‘You are the awareness, not the thought.’
Is this maybe a signpost to life’s elusive ‘point’? Like the Tao says – “Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?”