BREAKING FREE IN AWARENESS
Why would we choose to live in a dark, dingy and cluttered basement when a vast space of unlimited beauty, creativity and peace was also available to us? Without even realizing it, this is what most of us do all the time, when we limit ourselves unnecessarily by not seeing the true nature of who we are or the true nature of reality.
By learning to sit quietly and search deeply within ourselves, there is the opportunity to open our perceptions and become the master of our reality rather than its slave. With our every single thought, word and action we are creating our environment. Our minds lead the way, and everything follows from that. So, if we start to examine the workings of our mind, we will have obtained a very large and important clue into how to access the inner peace and wisdom which is contained in every one of us. Rather than running away from whatever circumstances we are experiencing, we begin to face them directly and with compassion. The process of seeing in this way, in the present moment, unfolds as we learn the way of life practice.
This practice may seem very simple, but it is actually very profound. It has been used for centuries with much success. Concentrated attention is placed on the breath and bodily sensations, in an experiential rather than theoretical practice. By experiencing this process, we gradually go deeper and deeper into ourselves. The noise and excessive stimulation of the outside world recedes into the background and we have new territory to explore. This is the foundation of the practice and it builds from there.
In order to find and sustain real happiness, we might first take a look at what is standing in the way of that happiness, at why we seem to be caught in a cycle of discontent. There are many, many versions of what we might label to be “suffering.” They can range from intense physical pain to the subtlest of emotional disturbances. We typically react to most circumstances in three ways – with attachment, or craving, for something we desire, with aversion or resistance to something we do not like or want, or with neutrality. Most of the time, we swing between the two extremes, at the mercy of external circumstances rather than in a state of acceptance of whatever it is that comes our way. All of our suffering, at its root, arises from what is called the “three poisons” — attachment, aversion and ignorance.
For us to ever be able to change and transform our habitual emotional responses, we must first become acquainted with who we really are and how we typically react to situations or events. It is only with full awareness and presence in the moment that the clouds obstructing our vision will float away. The way of life practice provides a powerful tool for us to do this. Surface knowledge becomes wisdom, and awareness and equanimity become a part of our lives. The benefits of this practice are experienced directly and dramatically in everyday situations.
The breath alone has much to teach us. By observing its rhythms, temperatures and sensations, we may come to realize that nothing ever stands still, all is in constant, flowing movement. We cannot grasp tightly to the breath, as we cannot grasp tightly to experience, or even to our very selves. Have you ever thought about the fact that it is impossible to retrieve or relive a breath that has already been taken or to store up a potential breath for the future? Nothing in this world is permanent, and the breath points the way to the truth of impermanence. This provides the antidote to our fundamental state of ignorance, and once we experience this on a deep level, we may not feel as attached or as tempted to cling to what we desire, nor as frustrated when we do not get what we want. Today’s happiness may quickly turn into sorrow, and today’s sorrow may quickly turn into happiness. We cannot always control our external surroundings, but we may certainly control our reactions to what is happening. We can use the breath to stabilize our concentration, then observe our bodily sensations — experiencing how we move from consciousness to perception, then to sensation and reaction.
By quietly observing our mind, we are in presence, there is “somebody at home.” If a house is unoccupied, there is a much greater chance that intruders may break in and cause problems. If we are not at home in our own minds and bodies, distracted by this and that all the time without even realizing it, there is a much greater chance that unwanted and disturbing thoughts may take over. It is a matter of awareness and of training the mind. The way of life practice allows us to fully reside in our own true natures. Instead of living in a world of fear, confusion and limitation, we gain access to the indescribable treasures that are right here, every moment. We begin to wake up rather than sleepwalking through our lives. We begin to step into the spring of true peace and happiness that flows within us at all times.