Two Possibilities: Happiness Or Suffering

In every moment, there are two possibilities. One possibility is to have all of our curiosity, attention, and passion focused on what is happening. The other, is to have that same curiosity, attention, and passion focused on what is not happening, what is not present, or what we think should or shouldn’t be happening. In every moment, the question is: What are you giving your attention to? Are you allowing what is, or going to battle with it—trying to change it in some way?

When our focus is on what is, our experience of what is opens up and becomes bigger, richer, and more complete. But when it is on what is not (the past, the future, or any thought about what is), our experience of the moment contracts and becomes narrower and full of suffering and struggle, because inherent in a focus on what is not is a struggle with what is.

When we look, we discover that most of the time we are in opposition to what is and oriented toward what is not. Life is mostly about how to make things better and get more pleasure, or how to get rid of the things that are painful. We are constantly evaluating our experience, looking to see what’s wrong with what we are experiencing and how it could be improved. We tend to be focused on what’s wrong with the moment or on what could be added to it to make it better. As a result, our attention becomes very narrow and our awareness very limited.

Once we see how much time we spend struggling with what is, the tendency is to go to battle with that—to try to fix that. We think the solution is to fix this tendency to try to change everything. But that only changes the content of our struggle: Now we are struggling with our tendency to try to change things. We suffer over the fact that we are suffering.

The other possibility is to just notice how much you suffer, without trying to do anything about it. Just allow the fact that you don’t allow much. Just recognize that that is the way it is. This struggling with what is, is just what we were conditioned to do; and this conditioning is also a part of what is.

Once we stop being in opposition to what is, it is possible to see how all of our struggling comes from the idea of a me. Without the assumption that something is my experience, there wouldn’t be much point in trying to change anything about the moment. Our effort and struggle to change what is only makes sense if there is a me. It is all in service to maintaining the idea of a me. In fact, the struggle is the me. When there is no struggle, there is no me. All of our suffering is how we have and maintain an identity.

Once we realize this, the tendency is to try to fix this—to try to change our belief about who we are. We focus on getting rid of identification, which is again, focusing on what is not. We are still suffering because now we are at war with our tendency to identify. Instead of being oriented toward and accepting of what is (our struggle with identification), we are oriented toward how we think it should be: I should know better than to be caught in identification; I should know who I really am.

Another possibility is to be really present to this tendency to identify, without making any effort to change it. If that’s what is happening, then that’s what is happening. You just let it be that way. You can even be amazed by it all, including the fact that there is a sense of a me. You see how unreal this me is, but you don’t struggle to be rid of it. There’s no longer an assumption that something is wrong that needs to be fixed.

When it is finally okay for the moment to be just the way it is—including the fact that we identify as me and therefore battle with the moment—then more of our experience can be recognized and included in our awareness. If we are willing to be present to and allow our identification, then it is also possible to notice something beyond identification, something beyond our struggle and effort to maintain a me. What that something is, for lack of a better word, is Being.

Along with awareness of identification and the struggle and suffering inherent in that, is an awareness of this larger ground of Being in which everything is happening. When we see that all the me is and ever has been is a lie, but we don’t turn away from that awareness or judge ourselves for it or try to get rid of the me; then we start to notice that, along with the struggling inherent in the me, is a beautiful, rich presence of Being, which is allowing everything, including the experience of me. We come to see that the me’s struggle is only a tiny percentage of our entire experience and that this struggle is happening in an ocean of allowing. This allowing is Being.

When we are allowing, we include in our awareness what it is that is allowing, and that is Being—which is who we really are. This realization can be a very jolting experience or a very quiet one because Being is actually very familiar. Every moment of allowing has actually been a moment of experiencing Being.

Identification is the source of suffering. It is only the me who ever has a problem. All of our suffering can be traced back to identification, to this misunderstanding that the me exists. It’s not that the me has a problem; rather, the me is the problem. Everything that the me does is a form of battling with our experience. The me is this split in our being that goes to battle with itself. That’s all that the me is.

Paradoxically, what brings us beyond the struggle and unlocks the bigger view is realizing how much we enjoy identifying. Once we allow things to be the way they are, it is possible to admit that identification has been a lot of fun. The illusion of a separate self is an incredible act of creation. It has created the whole drama of human existence. It has inspired many of the great works of art and literature. We love to identify, but that doesn’t mean we also don’t suffer from it.

This creation and projecting of a false identity—a me—is not a mistake. It’s natural, spontaneous, and inherent in human nature. It’s one of the richest parts of our experience—and there is also the even richer possibility of no longer mistaking the me as the totality of who we are. Identification isn’t a mistake, and yet there is much more to life—and to us—than that experience.