This is one side of a chat with a friend earlier this evening, which connects with ideas from the entry on the beauty of existence:
Your nature is not you. It is only the carrier for your awareness. There is no “you”. There is only life, the experience of life. The experiencer is the experience. There is no separate reality which stands outside it all, dipping its hand in here and there. You are as much your experience of the sky when you look at it, as you are your experience of your nature when you become aware of it. You can appreciate it to a fuller or lesser extent, but there is no controlling it.
Now, you can take actions which change the particulars of the experience, and there is great value in doing so, but it does not change the underlying nature of experience itself. So, in wanting to control your nature as if to control yourself, you are dividing yourself in two, between the experience and the experiencer. There is only life. Point to anything that is not life. See if you can find even a shred of evidence for its existence. Look for it, you will not find anything other than your experience. Even memory is just the experience of remembering in the present.
Here’s what I think happens: we grow up with the message that we should become something. That’s a good message, especially when we are looking for direction in life. We are taught that becoming “good” is the highest form of becoming, and so many of us want that. Without any deeper understanding of life, that is a pretty awesome goal, actually. But what happens is that we become utterly absorbed in that task, because as children, our parents, our society, gave us the task. It sets in, very deep, the sense that we are fulfilling it for somebody; as if someday – maybe in the after-life – if we work hard enough to become good, somebody will put a gold star on our forehead and say, “Yes, you have now reached the stage I wished you to achieve.” We are looking to fulfill the original plan of our childhood, which is to become this “good” we wanted to fulfill.
And so we pursue it, by many different means. Some of these means are even the task of removing self. But the thing is, the entire scheme is a scheme of the self. There is no part of us which can “be” good, since we are only our experience. This doesn’t mean that pursuing goodness is wrong, just that we took it to heart in the wrong way. And even that was not wrong, it was just… suited to a different mentality. It was what we needed to motivate us. But here we go, seeking to acquire this “goodness” so that we can gain the ultimate approval we’ve always wanted. But when you start on the mystic path, for example, you reach a fundamental contradiction. You cannot hold absolute unity, and the concept of “becoming good”, in the same mind. They contradict each other.
Because what is it that can “be” good? Unity means there is nothing but what is. What part are you going to cut away, to put the gold star on? Once you cut it away, you undo the goodness you thought you had achieved. It becomes a fundamental paradox, achieving selflessness in order to “be good”. You have to have the idea of a self, in order for that self to “be good”. Otherwise, there is nothing that can be good. Now, this does not mean that pursuing goodness was wrong. It’s just, it’s not about the self acquiring goodness. The self is not a “thing”: it’s sight itself.
If experience is not deepened, it remains very shallow, like a form of blindness. Because of that blindness, the real good of existence cannot be seen. God’s very brilliance hides him, because eyes are unaccustomed to His Light. So the good that you seek is His good, not the acquiring of your own good. The deeper you go, the more one’s experience is of Him, and of His good. This is the good you’ve been seeking all along. You become that good by becoming the experience of that good – not by possessing it, or acquiring it.
The Law is there to assist you in opening your eyes. There is no existent evil, but there is the evil that blinds men’s souls. The reason for punishment is to help the individual avoid that transgression in future. But it’s all functional toward the experience of God’s manifest being. The whole world you think you see is your blindness, your self. The veil that’s pulled over your awareness. Everything is functional toward the end of union with God.
And not union of a “self” with God, but union through experience: baqá. I think heaven exists in the present moment. But that doesn’t mean we get to see all of it. If I were a man in a park, and then I turned into a bird, I could see much more of it without having to go to a new place. If baqá is knowing existence itself to be heaven, death is simply a broadening and deepening of that basic realization. But what is important is experiencing God, moving toward Him. Reaching out into His infinity.
To that end, we must leave the self behind, and the quest to “become good”. Christ said: “Why callest thou Me good? There is none good save the Father.” As another example, imagine you knew a girl, and realized she was the perfect woman for you. That would only be the beginning of really getting to know her. It would only grow from there, never reaching an “end”.
You see, all I’m saying is that existence is the only thing that exists: and this existence is the manifest will of God. We can either appreciate it, become fully aware, or no. All of the things that happen in this existence are still this existence, are still part of the constant unveiling of His will this existence represents. So, it is entirely compatible with having a family, a job, a “normal life”, etc. It’s not the content that matters, but our awareness of it. There is beauty in everything. It doesn’t need to be in a monastery on a mountaintop. It can be in counting out apples to sell in the market. The details do not matter. They only matter insofar as they help or hinder us in knowing God. All of the content of existence is functional toward the awareness of that existence. Beauty exists so we can know beauty.
To say that “normal life” doesn’t fit is like saying that the content of existence has no place in existence. This is exactly one kind of trap that some mystics fall into, because the content of existence is the awareness of existence. But there is only existence. There is only He. So whether you pray, or raise a family, or do your job, you are existing. Some things you do will help your awareness deepen, some things won’t. In those terms, you should choose. But there is no actual better or worse, evil or good. There is no self that can be any of those. There is only God. All that we see, that is our self. When we purify the nafs, we are purifying our sight, not some separate reality that needs purification. Just seek Him, and that is all you ever need to do, “with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind”, as the Jews say.
We worry relative to the gold star, to the task of “becoming good”. We fear we won’t be good enough when the time comes. But here’s the kicker: you will never be good; there is no “you”, there is no “being good”, and there is no “good” as opposed to evil. There are no gold stars handed out. All you will ever have is your experience. And your experience at any moment is the result of your own effort to truly know. Your experience itself is the reward, and the goal.
When I talk about blindness, I mean blindness as a lack of experience, relative to what could be experienced. However, even focusing on blindness is misleading, because blindness is not something separate that adheres to any “self”. Let’s just say that there is only experience, and experience is all there is. Experience never ends. In one sense, it can’t even be divided between “doing”, “done”, etc. There is just being, ipseity… is-ness. When you sit to pray, that is all there is.
If we choose rightly, we will appreciate and love existence. If we choose poorly, we will not. Religion is a guide to right living, right seeing, right knowing, right acting, all to the end of experiencing and appreciating the good. And that good can be experienced at any time, by anyone, anywhere. No qualities need to be “acquired” to achieve it, simply that we free ourselves from our blindness. And even that is not blindness in the typical sense. It’s more like you are talking to a friend, and suddenly you realize they have more quality than you’d earlier given them credit for. Now you value the relationship more, and you put more energy into deepening that relationship. And as you do so, your appreciation of their quality grows. And then you put in more effort, etc., and so on ad infinitum.
But the thing is, you are always with that friend, conversing with them, from day one. You don’t need to achieve a certain level to be talking with them. As you progress, you simply get more out of the relationship, you value it more, and see more fully what it has to offer. Prayer is one of the forms of conversation in that relationship, but there are many, many forms of relating to life. So really, it’s just that the deeper you go, the cooler it is to be, the cooler being is. However you want to play with the words. Our relationship with the Friend goes through infinite changes, forms, joys, etc.
And nowhere in all of that do we need to be “good”; our search for goodness is really a search to relate properly. The same way that an architect looks for good in his buildings by making things square. He does it because it makes the building livable, and not because the building then becomes “good” in any absolute sense. That is why being worried about virtue should make us laugh. Any fear is like fearing that suddenly that we will cease to exist. As long as you exist, you are with Him. It’s just a question of realizing it. And it only gets better from there.