“We can’t go under it. We can’t go over it. Oh no! We have to go through it.”
That’s a line repeated over and over and over again in a kids’ book about a bear hunt. To find the bear, a family has to go right through all sorts of elements – mud, a river, a forest, a cave. They can’t go under or over, they have to go through.
So they go through it and, in the book, the obstacle is exactly as it had appeared to be. The mud is thick and oozy. The river is deep and cold. The forest is big and dark. The cave is narrow and gloomy.
But we all know that books aren’t real life.
Because in real life the obstacle is NEVER how it appeared to be. Imagination (and it is all imagination) is NEVER the same as reality. How can it be?
One is an idea, a concept, a projection, a set of beliefs. The other is simply what is. But these concepts, unquestioned, hold us in place. Trapping us in an identification with a fixed self in relation to a fixed other.
A concept of self.
A concept of him, her, them
A concept of right and wrong, good and bad.
A concept of happiness, sadness.
A concept of work, value, impact, success, failure
A concept of son, daughter, parent, sibling, teacher.
A concept of past, present and future.
A concept of lack or enough or too much.
A concept of respect, worth, appreciation, friendship
And so on and on and on. These are the mud, forests, rivers and caves of our imagination. Fixed as real things. They take on the appearance of solid reality and here we are: an apparently objectively real self navigating an objectively real world.
Money is lacking. Time is running out. The future is frightening. The past is depressing. He is domineering. She doesn’t like me. They are wrong. My parents are hard work. Success is elusive. Friendships are confusing. I am a victim.
And we forget that concepts are simply collections of belief. None of it is true. But the way they are held in thought in that moment keeps us momentarily fixed in place. And life takes on that form. These concepts become the filter of all experience, all relationships, all happening.
Life becomes the means through which these concepts get bigger and more solid and more real until they are running the show. Constantly self perpetuating as the concept builds evidence of itself.
And yet these concepts, even those, developed over decades, even those that seem so overwhelmingly real, even that concept of self, can disappear in a heart beat.
Because once they are met with an openness to explore, enquire, experience they cannot exist as they once did. Once the light of genuine presence is shone they are seen through. The concepts disappear into the reality of this moment.
So when we are stuck, confused, suffering and in pain instead of resisting, we can take a deep breath, chin up and go straight into the middle of the concept whatever it is and we see what is there. Whatever it is. To learn whatever is there to be learned. To listen. To be open. To ask. To experience. To hear. To allow in. To accept.
And that is the moment of transformation. The shift has happened.
Before we seemed to be a real, fixed, separate individual trying to control a world of fixed real, separate events, people and circumstances. Held in place by that effort with no enquiry. Fixed by resistance.
And now, in that moment of openness, something miraculous happens. In total acceptance of what is, we realise there is nothing there, not even who we thought we were.
There is only presence.
There is only space in which all concepts arise, transform, disappear, arise again as something other. Nothing is there. We opened to the concepts and they disappeared into who we truly are.
And now we are are on the other side of concept. A maturity of understanding. A transcendence.
This is not backwards. This is not the pre-concept naiveté of a child pulling items off supermarket shelves and tearing up the bank notes from his mother’s purse.
This is not denial. This is not the facade of pretence and ignoring. This is not overriding fears by telling ourselves they are not real. This is not defence against others by telling ourselves they don’t exist.
This is a genuine opening up and, in doing so, a moving beyond. Moving through step by step, space by space. Open to seeing what is real in the horrors of our imagination. Open to whatever the self has most resisted. Open to seeing life for what it really is and ourselves for who we really are.
We took courage, we opened up, fully prepared for the thick and oozy mud, the deep and cold river, the big dark forest. We went through. And in that openness, they disappeared. They had to. They were never there in the first place.
And we see that all that is left, all that has ever been there, is love.