You cannot be born into this world and not be a seeker. To be alive is to seek. Everyone, from the time we arrive to the moment we depart, is searching for something. Children question constantly; teenagers splinter off, join cliques, become obsessed with what’s ‘cool’; adults raise families, devote their lives to a career, turn to spiritual pursuit or the hard sciences; even those we’ve come to call ‘criminals’ — those deviants beyond the reform of the societal norms we’ve set up — are in desperate search of something they know this civilization cannot provide them with. All of it, in the hopes that we may come to find something substantial, something by which we might be able to define ourselves in the midst of this terrifying, unexplainable, ever-transitory experience we’ve all been born into here. Some kind of truth.
It is the grandest joke. If there is a god, they are having the mightiest laugh. The harder we look, the more confused we get. It happens on every level. Kids are set to bawling, teenagers to acting out; adults are plagued with life-long doubt, and the criminals? They just keep reminding us, quite effectively, that no one’s got it figured out. Search as we might, the hope of lasting truth remains just out of sight — an ever-dissolving, re-assembling mirage that is far too seductive in its promise for any of us to turn away from.
Oh, to be somebody.
There is a wonderful and simple quote from Paulo Coelho, that states: “If you understand life, you are mistaken.” The irony being that the wisdom therein is unmistakable. There’s no making sense of this thing. All the beliefs we stack up, one on top of the other — all of the incessant defining and re-defining — are an attempt, child and adult alike, atheist and mystic both, at establishing some solid ground on which we can stand, and, from there, build up an identity that makes sense to us, a podium on which we can step up and deliver our truth to the world, confident and whole-hearted.
Yet we never actually arrive. While it may appear that the world is full of people doing just that — preaching their truths confidently from stages and soapboxes alike — all one need do is deeply question the beliefs they’re representing to find out just how solid the ‘self’ they’ve created around them actually is. The defensiveness that is often encountered as a result is a clear indication of the underlying insecurity that haunts scholar and sermonizer alike — all due to the transitory nature of life itself. It is terribly ironic. Our identities are woven so deeply into our beliefs that to have them challenged is to have our very selves challenged. And in our fear of losing what we’ve worked so hard to create, we end up fighting against the very truth we originally set out searching for. In our quest for freedom, we imprison ourselves. We travel slowly from the wide-eyed purity of infancy into an ever-condensing form of restriction and limitation, unable to accept the un-ending mutability of all things. Out of this, of course, come the ideologies that enslave the world, restricting and limiting us at their tamest, giving way to slavery and genocide at their worst.
Yet all of this is very natural. We are meant to destroy ourselves. Destruction is, in so many ways, the point — just not the manner in which we’ve gone about it. There is a famous quote from the modern mystic, Adyashanti, which states:
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's seeing through the facade of pretence. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
This is a brilliant take on things. What it says is to stop gathering, and start dropping. To stop building up and start tearing down instead. To unclog the filter. To learn how to let go.
The only way to do this is by learning how to stay present. Only then can we possibly develop the ability to question our motives, to notice the biases we’ve adopted, to see clearly the fears that move us, the negative attitudes that creep into place and distort our view of the world. Only then can we actually come to know the selves that we’ve spent so long creating and begin the process of stripping away those parts of us that do not serve ourselves or others any longer.
This is, in reality, what we’re all up to anyway. The only difference being that the motives, biases, fears and negative attitudes we’re noticing don’t belong to ourselves, but everyone else. Yet there is no changing anyone else. It is a rare, drawn-out and often painful process — usually taking place within intimate relationships — for even the smallest amount of progress to be made in this regard.
Would it not be easier to simply start with ourselves instead? To begin dismantling all of the terrible constructs we’re forever limiting ourselves with in favour of those that would allow us to step out into the light of reality? To come to realize that nearly everything we encounter in life is deeply coloured with our personal and culturally-created projections? To learn how to see ourselves and others as closely as possible to what they actually are instead?
It is possible. And it begins with a decision to consciously, lovingly dismantle the fear-based identities we’ve all built up around ourselves.
It begins with a devotion to self-destruction.