“Let’s start with three things we know for sure:
1. The human reality is characterized by impermanence and change.
Everything that arises has the nature to change and pass away, which includes anything you can see, touch, hear, smell, touch, taste, and think. Health, finances, possessions, success, thoughts, feelings, relationships, physical appearance, body, mind, abilities, skills, circumstances, etc. The material world around us arises and passes away. Our thoughts and feelings arise and pass away. This is why we cannot attain lasting peace, happiness and well-being by seeking some combination of preferable life circumstances or trying to attain and abide in some continuous spiritual state of happy and serene thoughts and feelings.
To live life skillfully is to respond to situations as the require; by all means do this. If there is something you can do to lessen or remove unnecessary difficulty from your life, it makes sense to do so. But becoming attached to conditions, situations, or circumstances as the source of your peace, well-being and happiness will only lead to suffering. Life is uncertain and unpredictable.
We attach our worth, love, acceptance, security, peace, worth and happiness to the world, and the result is that we live in fear.
We fear failure because we have a misplaced dependency upon “success” for value and worth. We fear rejection because We have a misplaced dependency upon others’ opinions and responses to you for acceptance. We fear financial loss because We have a misplaced dependency upon money for peace and security. We fear abandonment because we have a misplaced dependency upon others for love. We fear God because We have a misplaced dependency upon religion that measures your value against your performance. We fear aging or not having the perfect body because We have a misplaced dependency on physical appearance for worth and acceptance. We fear honesty because you have a misplaced dependency on an image of having it all together for a sense of identity. We fear being a nobody because We have a misplaced dependency upon being a somebody for a sense of purpose and meaning and value.
2. We cannot find a fixed, unchanging self.
In terms of that which is characterized by impermanence and change, you are included! We know that our real Self is born out of the image, likeness and being of God. The image, likeness and being of God is the underlying, unchanging, fundamental and permanent essence of our real Self. And yet our mind and body, and all it’s related components, are a part of those things that arise, change, decline and pass away.
That underlying, unchanging, fundamental and permanent YOU, CANNOT be:
your possessions because your possessions arise, change, decline and pass away;
your roles and relationships in life because your roles and relationships in life arise, change, decline and pass away;
your physical appearance or body because your physical appearance and body arise, change, decline and pass away;
your skills and abilities because your skills and abilities arise, change, decline and pass away;
your personal traits and characteristics because your personal traits and characteristics arise, change, decline and pass away;
your thoughts and feelings because your thoughts and feelings arise, change, decline and pass away.
Okay, so where am I? Where is this Self, which is me? Point to it. Locate it. You can’t! And there is something profoundly fundamental about this that we must grasp.
We take ourselves to be an independent, self-existing, solid, separate, self, and this notion is the first domino that falls that leads to suffering. We have no sense of ourselves beyond our mind and body, and falsely assume that our real Self is contained within or somehow synonymous with the mind and body. And yet we cannot really locate and find this person.
3. We encounter suffering.
The result of the first two things is that we experience life as suffering.
You desire love, peace, freedom, and contentment in this world. Don’t you? Your seeking would be complete if you attained them and could keep a hold of them. But that doesn’t happen, does it? You work so hard and the pay-off is so small. You desire and seek these realities but they are fleeting and vulnerable. You have mixed and matched several scenarios in life trying to be happy and it doesn’t last. I bet you’ve experienced your fair share of disappointment heartache in the process.
You experienced the bliss of another’s love, but then you were heartbroken. You were right on target for realizing your dream, but the one thing you never expected happening, happened. You poured yourself into knowing God, but your depression returned. You got the latest technology but now it’s just another thing. You constructed an air-tight and bulletproof theology, became fully vested, but still lay in bed at night, grieving what your life is and what it isn’t. You did church, crammed the Bible into your brain, lived a moral life, and shouted Jesus from the roof-tops, but the peace and freedom and fulfillment never seemed to come or stay around very long.
You raised good kids and have enjoyed a wonderful marriage, you’ve got a good job and great friends, but there’s still emptiness inside. You did the vacation in Europe, but then it ended, and it was time to return home. You gave of yourself sacrificially, but you still felt that dull ache of discontent inside. One day you were in perfect health, the next day in a hospital.
You did it all. You followed the rules. You broke the rules. You wrote the rules. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. The whole seek-and-find thing proved to be pie in the sky. So instead you tell yourself, “Quit whining, suck it up, this life is going to be a crapshoot, trust and obey, be good, don’t mess up, and hold on until heaven.” Or maybe you think you’re too messed up to experience true peace – like you’re hopelessly stuck in the always-striving-but-never-quite-getting-there mode.
This is the basic human condition.
And yet Jesus said the kingdom of God is here, that knowing the truth would set you free, and that there is peace not as this world gives.
How earnest is your desire to know these things Jesus spoke of? Are you willing to risk your comfort and security to know them?”
– Jim Palmer, Notes from (Over) the edge