From moment to moment it is one or the other.
In this moment, we are either focused on ourself with needs that must be met and emotions and experiences that must be sought or resisted. Fearful, anxious, insecure and needy. Trying to be ok now. Trying to make the future ok.
In this moment we are the pure flow of life. No self consciousness, no idea of separation, no resistance. Just love, life, intelligence, presence and all-round awesomeness. Lit up and shining. The place where the entire universe begins and ends. The beyond joyful source of everything.
And I know that even the title question is unhelpful because it points us towards introspection and instantly the clouds of confusion gather as we do the futile and assess this non-existent self.
But how else to point out the enormous difference between the two?
And oh my god what a difference.
One is endless, interminable, relentless, exhausting resisting, seeking and suffering. It is a bottomless pit. The quest to stabilise and make secure a thought-created idea of self is as ludicrous as spending an entire lifetime building a mansion on quick sand.
The other is the knowledge that we are simply, truthfully and magnificently the source of everything. All of it is us. The whole world is appearing and disappearing in the awareness that we somehow make possible. There is nothing that exists outside of this awareness. There is no separation between what is perceived and us as perceiver. The whole thing is who we are. And as the whole entire thing there is nothing to change or seek or have or do.
Seeing this makes all the difference in the world.
Let’s take a moment to see exactly why.
1. Love, approval, being heard and validation
I need to feel worthy so tell me that you love me. I need to be validated so listen to me. I need to feel like a good person so tell me you like me or my work. I need to feel attractive so tell me you want to sleep with me. I need to feel respected so defer to me. I love you therefore I need you to be faithful / attentive / here whether that is what you want or not.
It is an endless quest. And it leads to a total loss of integrity as we manipulate, doormat, whine and assert ourselves in an attempt to suck out of the world what we think will finally make us secure.
We do stuff that goes utterly against what we know deep inside to be true. And so we hate ourselves even more. We feel even less worthy. We look even harder for validation. It is a bottomless pit of desperate need.
What a total, miraculous relief therefore that we don’t need to do this. There is no self to validate. No ‘me’ to approve. No separate individual to be heard. There is just the experience of need and lack and desire for affirmation. We can be with that experience. We can see the transience of it and the truth of simple awareness behind it. And as this illusory self disappears in this realisation, there is only love. The love that we had been desperately seeking all along. It was always here. Never out there. It is us. Exactly as we are.
Seeing this, everything we do comes from love. We ask people out knowing that whether they say yes or no there is no self to be rejected. We put our work out in the world because there is nothing to stop us. We speak the deepest truth from within because it cannot not be said.
And every word, deed, gesture will come from the truth of this unlimited source of love that we really are. It cannot be stopped.
2. ‘Good’ experiences and ‘positive’ feelings
Now we are perhaps getting into a bit harder to understand territory. Because it seems so logical, natural and inevitable that we would try to steer our life in order to have only good experiences and to experience only positive feelings. And yet, again, what a self-defeating, circular, thought-created, endless quest that is.
All experience is thought created. It is impossible to control thought. It is impossible therefore to control experience. We can never prevent the thought that says ‘this is terrible’ or ‘this should be different’. Anything that we believe is to be feared or resisted lives on in thought. We experience, in vivid imagination, our worst fears over and over again.
And so we stay trapped. Experiencing in thought everything we think we must never experience. Experiencing in feeling everything we think is unacceptable to feel.
And all the time trying to secure ourselves and the world so that none of this can happen. Not realising that it can only happen in imagination and it is what is being imagined right now.
But when we see that thought and experience appear and disappear, that none of it is permanent, that none of it says anything about us or other people we realise it can all come and go. There is nothing to change or resist. There is no self that has to have things a certain way. All experience, all feelings are welcome. As a result there are no brakes on the doing and being. There are no brakes on life living itself. We are the infinite source of everything.
3. Right choices, wisdom and mental clarity
I want to make the right choices for myself, my life, my family, my world. Of course I do because it looks like in those right choices lie my security, stability and well-being. So I scrutinise the thoughts. I try to manage my mental state and predict the future. I try to have less confusion, anxiety or mental busyness or anything that will detract from my clarity. I try to have the productive mind set. I try to distinguish the wise thoughts from the not wise thoughts, the good decision from the bad.
And, this is, again, an endless, fruitless task that leads to more confusion, more suffering and more distance from what is actually happening.
Because what would be a ‘right choice’ anyway? Only what thoughts say is ‘right’. There is no ‘outcome’ that would not be experienced in thought and which therefore would be anything other than temporary and transient. There is no mental state or mind set that has any substance or that can change in any way the unlimited intelligence of our nature.
Making the ‘right choices’ seems important because we believe they will guarantee more good experiences and more positive feelings and that just sends us straight back into the hamster wheel of trying to control the uncontrollable. Again another relentless cycle of a thought-created self looking to a thought-created world to judge the rightness of a thought-created outcome. No truth or stability in any of it.
So let’s forget that whole jumble, that whole crazy circular introspection of thought and mental state. Let’s just stick with what is actually happening.
There is awareness of thought. Full stop. This awareness is love and intelligence. From this place we watch this body that, once upon a time, looked like it was us, doing what it does. There is nothing to decide or make clear or predict. There is just our true self to rest in and miracles to watch.
4. Money, time and energy
There are fixed, limited, objective resources that are necessary to have a good and worthwhile life. These things such as money, time and energy say something about me, my ability, my identity. I focus on them and ruminate over how to manage these scarce resources as though they are independent of perception. As though they are actual things.
Again, another bottomless pit.
Believing that money is indicative of worth and ability there will never be enough money. I could earn billions and live a waking nightmare of scarcity. Believing that time is finite and real I try to manage it. It rushes past as I try to save it or drags on as I watch the clock. Believing in limited energy, I am obsessed with energy. I ration it out. It seems more and more limited.
But it is impossible that resources are anything other than thought appearing in consciousness. It is impossible that they are independent or separate. Realising this we notice experiences of scarcity and abundance come and go and we notice a body that is just doing what it knows to do regardless.
When something is there to be done, there is nothing in the way. There is no lack of energy, time, money or anything else. How could there be? The resolve to do and the resources are coming from the same place, are made of the same stuff. Made of us. We are the source of it all. Unlimited and infinite.
5. The extensions of me
Hurt my child and you hurt me. Criticise my town, you criticise me. Disagree with my work, you disagree with me. Offend my friend, you offend me. Vandalise my house you vandalise me. Disrespect my team, you disrespect me. This insecure, vulnerable identity extends out in all directions over time and territory, people and places. And it looks very ego-less and altruistic. Spiritual even. ‘I wouldn’t mind if they criticised me but they criticised XYZ and that is unforgivable.’ we say with a sad, self-less, shake of the head.
But this delineation between me and mine and what can threaten me and mine tells us we are not seeing clearly. It tells us we are attaching security and happiness to the preservation of this extended self. It is the same bottomless pit. Once we believe that in order for us to be OK, everything associated with us also has to be OK then we are out in the world, full of self-righteousness fending off imaginary dragons, creating enemies, waging war.
In our true nature, there is no ‘mine’. There are no boundaries. There is just love, indiscriminate and unrelated to possession. There is no us and them, no me and mine, no right and wrong. And we find ourselves doing and saying, in complete connection, what is required to be done or said.
So there we are. Bottomless pit and infinite source. We are both.
In one we suffer the pain and exhaustion of trying to make real and secure what cannot possibly even exist.
In the other there is nothing to believe and no one to believe it.
Just love, intelligence and life shining out.