Lately I seem to be stumbling more frequently across a New Age teaching promoting the idea that reality is perfect just as it is, and that for us to criticize reality or try to change it in any way is to create suffering for ourselves and others. This seems to be an offshoot of an interpretation of certain Buddhist teachings, which propose that emptiness is our preferred state of being and that all human action is ultimately meaningless since the material world is impermanent.
In my experience, these sorts of beliefs fly in the face of reality itself. While I can grasp a limited benefit to adopting them, I suspect they're really just conceptual intellectual exercises designed to train people to detach themselves emotionally from both the challenges and the seductions of this world so they don't suffer unduly when the world around them changes or the time comes for them to leave it all behind. The rationale goes something like this: If you don't attach meaning to anything that is temporary, how can you feel emotional pain when it inevitably disappears? Likewise, if you don't ascribe any value to your own actions or discern any purpose behind how you relate to the external (material) impermanent world, what does it matter if your actions are not appreciated by others, or if you fail to create the intended result through your actions? In short: if we don't care about anything we experience or do, nothing that happens (or fails to happen) can bother us.
To try and train one's psyche to detach from reality in that way seems absurd. Perhaps it helps lessen the fear of future suffering based on the fear of future loss, but at the same time - for me, at least - it would also require me to surrender all love, joy, appreciation for beauty and the intimate experience that comes from knowing myself to be embedded in, and participatory in, this ever-changing energy that is life.
Do we need to deaden our souls in order not to feel pain? Is the suffering that comes from losing something inevitable if we connect to this impermanent world in an intimate, loving way? Is suffering even something we want to avoid at all costs, or is it simply the price we're required to pay in exchange for experiencing joy? These are all open questions, and I find myself frequently exploring them as I continue my own exploration of this life.
What I seem to be discovering is this: it's possible to open-heartedly and completely embrace an experience, a task or a relationship without experiencing undue or endless suffering when it changes. It's possible if we ALSO embrace an attitude of gratitude, if we remain fully conscious of whatever is still PRESENT once the event we were experiencing or the person we were loving so completely has gone away. Yes, we may feel deep sadness at the loss of a loved one, a temporary hole where that person used to be, but that hole CAN be filled and joy can return to our lives if we make the effort to refocus our attention on giving that same amount of love to everything else around us that is manifesting.
The challenge then, is to discover within ourselves the capacity to be both fully present to life and remain lovingly engaged with it, while learning not to cling to the temporary form it happens to take or try to recover that which is irretrievably lost. A line from a song from the '60's expresses this idea rather nicely: "If you can't be with the one you love, honey...love the one you're with."
While some may interpret that to be a statement promoting free sex, I perceive it to be promoting a deeper truth. To love whatever you're experiencing in every moment, or at the very least to be able to accept your life situation and interact with reality so as to change it for the better if it's not exactly to your liking in the moment, is what life seems to be all about. After all, we were gifted a brain, a body, arms, legs and opposable thumbs for a reason - we're not ethereal minds floating disconnectedly through some vast expanse of empty space. Let's USE the gift of reason then - not to pretend that reality is an illusion, though it clearly is an illusory (temporary) experience in its present form - but to discern how we can make the BEST of what we have in every moment we have breath remaining in us.
Who cares if no one but me ever knows how much I've loved and appreciated being an integral part of this world, or realizes all the things I've done to add a bit more love to the space around me? That I know it of myself, and that when I die I'll get to appreciate both this amazing world AND the gifts I was able to bring into it is what ultimately matters for me in the end. I suspect I'd rather face death from a place of gratitude for having lived my life as fully and deliciously as possible, than from a place of regret that I failed to attach meaning to any of it and as a result lived a meaningless - ultimately wasted and emotionally unsatisfying - life.
I don't have any idea what comes next, or even if there IS such a thing as "next." The best I can do then, is embrace THIS, enjoy this, love this and appreciate this, and allow whatever wants to happen to be.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."