Hide and Seek: The Power of Awareness
In a quaint village, Farmer Kim once shared with his neighbor that his prized mare had fled. The neighbor, empathizing with Kim’s predicament, remarked, “This is indeed a great misfortune, and it will undoubtedly bring great challenges to your life. You must be deeply distressed.” Kim responded with a simple, “Maybe.”
A month later, the runaway mare returned, carrying a precious gift within her – she was pregnant. Ten months thereafter, she birthed a magnificent foal. The neighbor, thrilled by this fortuitous turn of events, came to extend his congratulations to Farmer Kim. He enthusiastically declared, “The new horse will undoubtedly augment your wealth and bring security to your life.” Kim, ever composed, replied with a nonchalant “Maybe.”
As fate would have it, Kim’s son, while riding the mare, met with an accident, breaking his wrist. Upon hearing of this, the neighbor lamented, “Such a terrible misfortune has befallen you! That horse has brought nothing but misfortune, and your loss is immeasurable.” Kim, with his characteristic equanimity, replied, “Maybe.”
Three days later, a military commander arrived at Kim’s farm, seeking to conscript young men for a brutal war. However, with a broken wrist, Kim’s son was deemed unfit for service, and the commander moved on without him. The neighbor, rejoicing in this unexpected twist, exclaimed, “What a stroke of good fortune that your son broke his wrist!” Kim, with a serene smile, responded once more with a measured, “Maybe.”
The Yoga Vasistha states, “The world is as we are.” When we are in resistance, we live at war with life. When we are in acceptance, we can live in peace.
Resistance exerts its pervasive influence upon our lives as we experience our reactivity to pain, fear, suffering and forgetting. Resistance, in essence, manifests as attachment, aversion and distraction. When we find ourselves in the throes of suffering, misperceptions and misidentifications, the outcome is a life filled with resistance, refusing to accept “what is.” Instead of embracing allowance and acceptance, we clutch at what we desire and push away what we wish to avoid. Because our life is filled with endless grasping desire, we are filled with endless resistance.
One facet of resistance takes the form of distraction. Intense distraction is addiction. Distraction emerges when we harbor a deep aversion to the present moment, to “what is.” In such instances, we employ distractions to shield ourselves from the present, effectively erasing it from our consciousness through replacement or oblivion. Whether through substances like alcohol and drugs, or behaviors like gambling, over-activity and excessive sex, we seek to blot out or replace the discomfort stemming from our pain, fear, separation, and apparent inadequacy.
These distractions and addictions are often erroneously labeled as sources of pleasure. We might convince ourselves that two drinks a day, a single joint or intense activity serve as sources of enjoyment, but in truth, they represent resistance. They distract us from what is.
Different as they may seem, addictions, distractions, grasping, and pushing away all share a common root: resistance to “what is.”
Resistance is the act of our dissatisfaction with ‘what is.’ It is the force of attachment or aversion, the energy that fights for or against ‘what is.’ One clings, while the other rejects.
Albert Einstein is attributed with saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet, this is what we do.
We are so conditioned and believe so deeply that the thing outside will create happiness inside. As a result, we create endless desires attached to worldly outcomes that we expect will create happiness within.
Because we receive some brief pleasure, temporary joy or momentary relief, we think that real, lasting happiness is possible if we get more of the things we desire. Yet, the short-lived nature of that joy or pleasure always disappoints and quickly vanishes. But we do it again and again and again – for a lifetime. We grasp for the thing and grasp for the happiness from outside – believing we will get a different result.
Pain and pleasure, destitution and riches only really affect us when we identify ourselves with them. Our attachment and our aversion create a subtle identification because we become connected and bound to whatever we feel attached or averse to. Through forgetting Self, we identify as our body and thoughts. Through attachment and aversion, we identify as our pleasure and pain. Through misperception of where happiness lies, we identify as our desires. These mis-identifications lead us into a state of complete confusion and grasping.
Because we grasp for happiness outside, we create endless desires attached to outcomes. Then we unconsciously identify with our desires and attachments. Our grasping becomes focused through desire and we become attached to the fruit of our desire. Because of our attachment, the outcome becomes our affection, our extension, our sympathy. We subtly become the outcome we desire and then we fight for it, become angry when we don’t get it, and depressed when it disappoints us. Then we do it again.
This attachment is so pernicious that it destroys our equanimity with ‘what is.”
Aversion finds expression in various forms of pushing away. We may harbor hatred, rejection, judgment, or engage in battles and renunciation. As we have seen, we become attached to outcomes but we just as easily become averse to outcomes. We are attached to what will make us happy and averse to what will make us sad. We grasp for happiness and push away suffering and pain. Yet, there exists an underlying similarity between these seemingly opposing approaches – they are both forms of resistance. Both modes of existence represent outcomes of misperception in mis-identification. Both stem from a form of resistance to ‘what is’.
Ultimately, true renunciation entails letting go of our forgetfulness, our misconceptions, our misunderstanding of our true nature, and our limited identifications.
Whether we are grasping or pushing away, whether we love or hate something, whatever we put attention on grows and becomes empowered. Whatever our attention rests upon becomes impressed within us.
When we tether our happiness and peace to specific outcomes, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Desire attached to outcomes breeds discomfort stemming from the resistance to “what is.” This underlying unease casts a shadow over our lives. When we resist ‘what is’ we are fighting a war. We search for happiness externally, hoping that a particular outcome will bring us joy. However, when that outcome eludes us or proves fleeting, we succumb to frustration. True acceptance allows the mind to relax and relinquishes the grasping nature of desire with attachment.
Acceptance isn’t about powerless acquiescence or blind accession; it’s about being with “what is” in the present moment with non-judgmental neutrality and equanimity. In equanimity, we release attachment and aversion. We should act with great creative power, yet not be attached or averse to outcomes. Be with ‘what is’ and act. Focus on the action and not the fruits of action.
Calmness and composure are only possible when we release resistance and our subtle identity to it. Our equanimity so often becomes a decision, a choice.
A person visiting Buddha wanted a specific answer from him. Buddha would not respond and the visitor began verbally abusing him. The visitor became enraged as he watched Buddha become peaceful and non-responsive. He hurled foul language at him, screaming obscenities. But Buddha remained in a state of equanimity. The visitor turned red as his blood boiled with rage and abuse. He trembled and became so exhausted he could no longer speak.
Buddha was asked to explain his equanimity in the face of such abuse. He answered, “It is true he has abused me, but I did not accept the abuse from him. Since I would not accept the abuse from him, he had to carry his abuse back with him. That is why he turned red and tormented. The abuse landed back on him because I would not accept it. If someone cooks food for us but we do not eat the food that was prepared, the cook must eat it all himself. So, if someone verbally abuses us and we do not accept that abuse, that person must eat all the abuse himself.”
When we react quickly and thoughtlessly to someone else’s harsh words, we are accepting the words and begin to turn red. Even in meditation we remember the words and boil. If the words of abuse have been unjust, the originator of the words must bear them if we do not eat them. When we eat them, the words are over but we hold onto them. We repeat them again and again in our minds and make them into a story and believe them. We own them and eat them as leftovers over and over and over. They become our memories and we become miserable.
If there is truth in the words of others, accept them and better ourselves. If the words are only a reflection of the other person’s agitated state, then do not taste them and leave that person to eat the meal he has prepared.
If we get lost in attachment and aversion, if we lose equanimity and immerse ourselves in resistance, we become it. We become our anger, our loneliness, our monkey mind, our shame and our anxiety.