Things that appear to be so under one set of conditions, are often found to be quite different under another. It is for this reason that most of our conclusions formed historically, in the context of separation consciousness, are erroneous. What’s remarkable about the experience of life is that we can be completely incorrect about ultimate reality, and have a very real and vivid experience of our own false conclusions up to and even through the experience of dying, without ever being more than the width of a thought from a completely different experience.
For some, the first question that arises is how exactly we are to determine whose experience or picture of reality is “false” and whose is “true”. This sounds like a question we ought to be able to answer, but unfortunately it is not easily done. If experience did not differ based upon what I’ll call the “basic interpretive settings” of what are largely unconscious logical faculties—e.g. the underlying choice of separation vs unity consciousness— and, if the experiences to which we are drawn, and which are drawn to us, were not the result of a deep relatedness between each one of us and the world we experience, then by rights this question would be easily answered. But it is not easily answered, (at least by the thinking mind alone), because we are fundamentally and primordially related to all that exists, and because the deep-lying cognitive filters we apply to experience do as they’re told.
In other words, we live in a logical rat hole. Our experiences are assigned meaning by cognitive processes that reinforce the standing interpretations, and neither we ourselves, nor the world out there we would study, are fixed constellations of meaning. All that exists in third-party, observable form, is meaning-less. A blank canvas. We are the painters, not the guests at the museum centuries later. When we put a daub of black paint on the canvas, then step back and say, “Look! It is black! See!” we are not being particularly clever. We don’t experience it this way of course, because the complexity of human experience is astounding.
One problem is that there isn’t even an obvious way to determine if what I’m saying is correct: that we are fundamentally related in some manner to the movement of creation, or that the meanings we assign to experience are in fact self-referential and circular logics. I suggest that this problem does have a solution, however, and that solution is the reality of suffering. We need only hypothesize that suffering results from adopting stances incongruent with the nature of ultimate reality—the ultimate nature of ourselves and all that collectively exists—and that correcting those stances will end the experience of suffering. This then, provides a compass—a tool for discernment.
Suffering of course is a challenge to define at any one instance of time, as the effects of our conceptual stances often take many years to unfold in our lives. Sometimes we suffer immediately, and other times it takes decades for the nature of our choices to be revealed to us. We can keep anxiety and difficulty tucked behind a facade of well-being for many years if we so desire. And of course, none of us are all that excited about admitting the stances we have chosen are not resulting in happiness—none of us enjoy being proven incorrect about ourselves—and so it is human nature to act as though we are who we think we should be. The only people we’re fooling of course, are ourselves.
So this is an inside job. This is a job best undertaken in the quiet of one’s own heart, and there is in fact nothing whatsoever that needs to be said to others about what they can or should be doing, too. Nothing good can really come of instructing another on how to accomplish the task we ourselves have yet to accomplish. What is useful, is true companionship along the way. These are the people who share in the readiness to question their basic propositions, and to report honestly on the experiences that derive from that, but more importantly, these are people who see you in ways you yet cannot. These are people we can drop the guard around, neither to wallow in our difficulties nor to proclaim a false triumph, but to truly join with, because in joining our own private Idaho’s dissolve. When we join together, we triangulate the location of our false perceptions, and then the choice is brought clearly to light: either we choose to continue with it, or to let it go.
We live in a world that demands a great burden of proof from us. If any of us wish to assert an idea that is not in accord with the received thinking, then we are put to the task of proving it. Ideas that cannot withstand external scrutiny are rejected. But if it is indeed the case that our minds process information in ways that reinforce standing perceptual modes, and that even the circumstances in which we find ourselves derive from a deep relatedness—e.g. particular conditions of belief and learning that are unique to each of us interact with the world in a meaningful way—then by and large no externalized proof is possible. We will never convince another that there is a more fulfilling way of experiencing ourselves and the world, and why should we? Our need to do so is largely derived from the false hope that enlisting another in our viewpoint will validate it. Perhaps the most powerful choice we can make is to simply live, and be the unique examples of life that we are.
Joy is its own litmus test, and anyone that is truly joyous over the long haul has probably got it right, regardless of the words and symbols they choose to use. This is the flip side of the reality that suffering tells us when we have clung to a position that is ultimately incorrect. Joy confirms we have aligned ourselves—our thinking, our feeling and our knowing—with the ultimate nature of things, while suffering confirms that we have not.
All of which is to say quite simply: we each have within us all that is required to experience lives of abiding joy. And though it may at times seem a lengthy process of shifting our beliefs and learned perceptions, our lives guide us unerringly to this long sought reality, if we are but willing to listen to them.