Some of us spend a lot of time and money looking for a philosophy, a concept, a belief, a way to make our lives more bearable.
We take yoga, martial arts, meditate, pray, hang out at Starbucks looking for that “something” that will bring peace and reduce stress.
Some practise the Golden Rule, others the Categorical Imperative while still others go deeply into the esoteric teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, Christian mysticism or the Kabbala of Judaism, all searching for the secret weapon to go one on one with life.
Others keep searching, sampling the buffet of spirituality, looking for another morsel to satiate the insatiable hunger, to fill the void.
“In every heart sits a great homesickness,” said Rabbi Seymour Siegel.
Our search to overcome that homesickness is defined by our society. We in the Western world were taught that we could have everything. We’ve learned that isn’t true. We also know that even if it were, it wouldn’t help because the more we get, the less satisfied we become.
If having things – a new car, a super-sized digital TV, a new house, a new relationship – was the answer, we would be the happiest people since Eve bit into that apple.
The one worthwhile lesson Hollywood teaches is that fame and fortune don’t ease the gnawing at our innards – and that’s not a new discovery by movie stars and high-tech billionaires. It was ever thus.
In the Age of Faith, Will Durant quotes Caliph Abd-er-Rahman III, who ruled Spain for 30 years in the 10th century.
“Riches and honours, power and pleasure have waited on my call, nor has any earthly pleasure appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness that have fallen to my lot.
“They have numbered 14.”
That’s not much of a payoff for having everything, but it does prove once again that looking outside ourselves for the answer is not the answer.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most quoted American ever, said the purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man with himself. “There is really nothing external, so I must spin my thread from my own bowels.”
Harry R. Moody put it this way in the Five Stages of the Soul:
“the struggle is the way… As we see in the folk stories and scripture, the angels and demons of nature appear to us as beggars and genies as well as fountains of darkness or light; little things can be enormous things; the world is not what it seems.”
That’s a recurring theme, from quantum physicists to New Agers, mystics and meditation teachers.
Moody interviewed meditation teacher Natasha Noor, who spent time with many of the sages of India, and she echoed those sentiments.
“The world is not what you think it is at first glance. It is an illusion; it’s something else. One picture of reality has been superimposed over another. You have to refocus your inner eyes.”
Democritus, one of the first Greek philosophers, agrees. “Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
The Buddha said the same thing a few hundred years earlier: “With our thoughts we create the world.” And, of course, Proverbs said it just as eloquently: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.”
If they – and the creators of the Matrix trilogy, which said the same things in the language of science fiction – are correct, we should be careful what we think and when thoughts we don’t like erupt from our unconscious, should we not try to discover what prompted them?
We have been shaped by beliefs we don’t know we have, beliefs crammed into our minds by well-meaning parents, priests and politicians.
Challenging negative beliefs is not an easy or quick task. Rooting out the cause of a thought is as demanding and backbreaking as ripping out dandelions after a spring rain. But with persistence and diligence, we can have a green lawn.
As we stuff the dandelions into the compost, we should also remember that the only difference between a weed and a flower is a judgment, just as we judge that some thoughts are good and some are bad.
The people in the know, such as the Zen master Joko Beck, meditation teacher Eckhart Tolle, writer Wayne Dyer and countless others, suggest we simply observe our thoughts, and not get emotionally involved with them, just watch them pass like clouds across a blue sky.
With practice, we will be able to intercept the thoughts that create tightness in the chest and knots in the stomach and eventually see them as clouds, sometimes flimsy, sometimes cumulus, but just drifting by.
Peace will come when we learn not to judge ourselves, when we can live that old cliché: “It’s mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
We can start by slowing that river of thoughts by using our teeth as a dam, by keeping our mouth shut. This dictum is underrated, maybe because we first heard it from mom.
Her lesson: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
In other words, shut up. Silence is indeed golden.
The flood of thought will abate, with time and a little dental work, and we will no longer have to defend the indefensible, and we won’t have to man the ramparts of an ill-chosen stand.
Unlike writers, Zen masters didn’t need 1,000 words to make a point; they cut right to the heart of the matter.
“If you wish to know the truth, only cease to cherish opinions,” said Seng-Ts'an, the third Zen patriarch.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.