Let's drop this shared illusion
We wouldn't like it if we could attain it.
“I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking, “If only that hadn’t happened life would be so good.” Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path. Our role here is to get better at navigating those obstacles.”
We have one weirdly entrenched and utterly false belief that gives us lots of trouble: the belief in a static place of being.
We throw this belief onto the past, and it results in an idolatry of the old. Back in “the good old days” things weren’t static, secure, comfortable, or better than they are now. But it’s easy to think they were, to pull out a few rosy details and imagine that life was a postcard, that culture, economy, politics, and lifestyles were firmly established, accepted, and successful. That everyone knew what to do and when to do it. That life was, in a large sense, predictable, understandable, and static.
We throw this belief onto the future, and it results in a relentless drive to get somewhere else. Somewhere else in time, somewhere else in space, somewhere else in situation. We have the idea of a peaceful plateau, or an enlightened mountaintop. Once there, we think, we’ll know. We’ll be free from confusion, out of uncertainty. We’ll be set up, good to go, a-ok for the rest of life.
It’s alluring, this idea. It’s also unattainable, because static anything is an illusion.
Here’s what we’re made of: moving moving always moving particles of energy, waves of energy, mixing and meshing and changing energy. The most solid arrangement of atomic stuff is spinning at crazy speeds, is always coming together or blasting apart. It happens slow and it happens fast, and it happens in a way we don’t notice, but it’s always happening.
A truer belief is this one: if we could invent or find a static place, a life of ultimate stability, we would enjoy it for approximately 10 minutes… and then we would hate it and find a reason to destroy it.
We’re not static beings, and we’re not made for any kind of unchanging existence. The ebb and flow of life gives us stuff to work on.
The obstacles are challenges, reasons to learn, to grow and expand, to draw forth new powers.
Even the terror—the insecurity, the self-doubt, the imagination of all those bad things that might happen—even that has its place. Fear wakes us up, shakes us out of complacency. Offense, anger, and dissatisfaction are weapons against lethargy.
If we can drop the idea of some single, fixed, safe way to live, we can see what is and learn to love it. It’s not the obstacles of life that create pain: it’s our resistance to them. It’s not the ever-changing nature of life that makes us feel insecure: it’s that we’re looking for something that doesn’t exist, feeding ourselves an illusion, twisting ourselves into tangles and knots.
We resist change because we tell ourselves we’re supposed to. And we believe we’re supposed to because we accept the idea of “static success” (in one form or another) as the pinnacle of achievement, the ultimate goal in life.
In a sense, there is a static goal: for all of us, the story ends in the same way. If life is ever-changing, an endless flow, a room full of moving parts, then death is the door we close on it. I have a suspicion, though, that we don’t find any more stability after death than we do before, at least not anything that fits our current definition of stability. Why would we think of death as changing the essential nature of what we are, of existence? What reasoning do we have for this?
Oddly, the more I release the idea of a static point, of reaching any stage of life that stays the same, the less I long for stability. The flow of life, the movement itself, becomes the stable foundation. It’s a matter of changing our definition, opening up to a new idea of what safe can mean. We’re not really after a static, unchanging existence: we’re after a feeling of safety. We just think feeling safe requires everything being predictable, repetitive, glued in place.
But if we loosen our grip on that particular requirement, maybe we can find safety elsewhere: not in some external point, but in our own internal being. In our ability to learn and adapt. In our depth and creativity. In our honesty and connection.
There’s freedom in the movement and change of life, freedom and flow and a shitload of fun. Challenges, yes. Obstacles, plenty. But these are the experiences that become most rewarding. These are the moments when we become more than what we are, and sense that our own development, our own daily changing and growing, is the most radical transformation of all.
There’s not really a choice of what kind of life to have: a static, safe one, or a flowing, free one. Life is not a river with a calm shoreline. You don’t get to choose whether you flow with the current or sit tight on the riverbank. You don’t get to opt out of the movement.
Life is a river without a shore, an endless stream of movement and change and energy, fluctuation and expansion. The choice we have is whether to fight it or flow with it. We can react and resist and seek an illusive point of stillness, grabbing at every rock or tree branch that seems solid. Or we can turn our faces forward, take the rudder in hand, and learn to ride the waves.
All of us in this moment. Appreciating the transient experience it is, knowing it will never—in a billion billion lifetimes or realities—be repeated, that this moment is unique, unknown, unrepeatable, and I get to be here in it. I get the gift of this experience.
I’m singing all the love songs to myself. Super introspective this week! Oh WAIT THAT’S EVERY WEEK.
Through a glass darkly. One of the deepest pains in changing, growing, becoming who you are, speaking your truth, living your own fucking life, is the pain that is not your own. It’s the pain you cause others.
Go forth and do the thing, whatever it is.
It’s a hot date, for me. I love having an oldest child old enough to babysit the younger children. This parenting thing is starting to pay off.