It has been said that “The journey is the goal.” It may sound cliché, but it is true and sometimes a good cliché is “worth its weight in gold.” Sacred scriptures document for practitioners ways to cope with the challenges of life. These wisdom teachings are blueprints or road maps for us to enjoy the sights along the way and maneuver through the impending pitfalls that life presents. Ultimately, every road and every step we take in life leads to oneness or “God,” the Ultimate expression of bliss.
Our realization of this basic premise can go a long way in helping us deal with the torturous mindset that can sometimes get in the way of living life to the fullest and seeing beyond problems.
In his beautiful work “Sadhana,” Hindu writer Rabindranath Tagore wrote about the self and self-realization. Like all great masters, Tagore identifies the paradox of what we know to be “true self and false self” and uses philosophy and concrete imagery to help us identify complex concepts in self-actualization.
The things that stand in our way in life tend to come from a place of uncertainty. We all need the oxygen of understanding to help us in life. When we are working at our full capacity, mind body and spirit are one in serving us and helping us arrive at deeper realizations to the meaning of life and self-actualization.
Tagore identifies the concept of “avidya” or “ignorance.” This term is identified as the fundamental misperception of the observable world.
Who hasn’t been trapped in the nets of false perception? We have all had those times in our lives where we misunderstand our place in the world. We fumble in the darkness of understanding about what our place in the world is and how we can understand what needs to be understood to find our way. That is a scary place to be. That rabbit hole of darkness in some cases can force the hand of mortality and make those who are suffering consider ending it all.
The world can trick us into thinking bad thoughts. We compare ourselves to others and see how “together” someone has it. The world can delude us into thinking that fame, fortune and being appreciated can give us what we need when it can’t. The world can send us signs that we are not doing enough in making this happen for ourselves, or we have no point and are just taking up space and these messages settle in the recesses of our minds and come out when we least expect them. When we’ve arrived at that place of uncertainty, we’ve encountered a hell where the songs of false messages play over and over in our minds.
These messages lead to isolation and despair. Hope is always there but it is impossible to see it. Identifying that we have a problem and need help is the first step out of the hole.
“We gain our freedom when we attain our truest nature. The man who is an artist finds his artistic freedom when he finds his ideal of art. Then is he freed from laborious attempts at imitation from the goadings of popular approbation. It is the function of religion not to destroy it but to fulfill it (truest nature).”
This ideal in the self is what Thomas Merton identified as the “true self/false self model.” I think of the times in my life when I was deceived into perceiving the world in a way that brought me down. “I’m no good, I have nothing to offer. What am I doing here?” I felt as though I were spinning my wheels and not moving forward, because I didn’t know what path to take or even know what direction to walk. The entrapment of low self-esteem is a trap that can disable us for a time.
The great religions have taught us that this is bound to happen, but there are those we are journeying with who can help us. They are on our “path” for a reason to help us find the way.
Reaching out to others is key. Talking or thinking through the mess can help, but ultimately the action of knowing we are not alone is the key to finding the way.
In Buddhism, the Buddha who was in the depths of depression worked his way out of it by seeing the “four sights.” He saw an old man and realized he was going to age. He saw a sickly person and realized the idea of suffering. He saw a dead body and realized he was going to die. After seeing these disturbing sights, he lastly saw a holy person and realized he could work his way through suffering by becoming holy in life.
In Christianity, Jesus is constantly pointing to the need for others. He announces to his disciples that they are to reach out to others who are in need of healing – spiritual healing. In other words, they were the first healing psychiatrists and through his teachings they were able to help those they encountered to heal by recognizing the “true self” or “Kingdom of God within.” Identifying our spiritual needs is the oxygen that breathes new life into us. False perceptions are the carbon dioxide that we dispose of.
Both the Buddha and Jesus worked through the pain and suffering in the world by participating through their act of love to give knowledge and hope to others. They breathed life into the world through teaching about compassion, empathy, faith, hope and love through service.
What we do with that new life oxygenated by the power of understanding is anyone’s guess, but it makes life that much richer and that much more of an adventure as we all journey to understand our place and the enriching sights and experiences along the way.