I had originally just written “why not?” in response to this question, but while I thought it was a brilliant description, I felt it might be a bit ambiguous to you, so I’ll use my most useful experience to illustrate why.
Firstly, can we all see that every question asked here is about the management of our existence? Everyone’s asking how do we get our ego from this struggle to that little oasis of peace?
Like a traveller on a trail people want to know how far the next rest stop is —how long will it take to get there, and what is the most effective and efficient route? But if we do this we’re all trapped in a cloud of thought. We’re all asleep. And it is time to wake up.
Because of my accident and the way I’ve grown up, I have spent much of my life quite confused by human beings. With precious few exceptions you all have looked entirely crazy to me, and I’ve been fully aware that many people thought the same of me, for the reverse reason.
I am aware that I look crazy when I sell a successful business at a young age to attempt a long-shot career in an unlikely industry that seems to have no connection to the rest of my life. To many it looks crazy that I take strange trips to unusual places and while I’m there I invest myself in seemingly meaningless activities.
People can see me like a temperamental, oblivious child in that I am mesmerized by what often appears to be nothing, and that I don’t care at all about servicing other people’s opinion of me. People particularly dislike that last part, but I faced death at five years old. That’s a lesson. I am here to enjoy the living of my life, ups and downs included. What you think is your experience, not mine.
Most of the people who come to see me are people are are not enjoying life anywhere near as much as I am, even if their conditions are much better. Very often they are struggling because they are so overly concerned with how others will judge them. So I’ll take temperamental, oblivious and childlike and I’d be okay if you did too.
Anyone who knows me well and is honest will know it is routine for people who’ve known me 10 years or 10 minutes to conclude that there is something strange about me and about my life.
Whether people judge me generously or harshly there is this nagging sensation that there is something different guiding my life. Moments fall from me like dripping water and despite all of the opinions about my life, that I live it in a profound and deep —and some might even say beautiful— way. I can love even in the face of hate. I can be free.
But my freedom means nothing to you. The gift I got from living this way was that I can act as a key. And today, as always, I offer myself to you. I offer to open a door. I offer to wake you up. But I don’t offer you a pleasant existence, I offer you everything. I can show you how to find your own rewards, but many won’t be wrapped in happiness.
There is an answer. Your dream of something better is founded in a universal truth that is so strong, so powerful and so meaningful that it can penetrate down into the recesses of even the darkest, coldest, most judgmental ego. That’s why you entertain ideas like these. You know deep down there’s a way out.
How long we stay alone is up to us. How long we suffer is our choice.
Think of how amazing it is. The door is always open (“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”) We only need to walk through the entrance and our life is transformed. And we can be religious or scientific, everyone fits in.
Our problems aren’t solved, but we can find a way to ‘join with God,’ or unite with the universe in a way that recognize our many layers of existence, and that recognizes our role in the universe.
We can learn to realize in a meaningful way what any physicist knows –namely that we are made of stardust and the universe is within us. We can learn to feel the stardust from which we are made. We are never outside of this truth. We are never separate or lost or lacking. We merely use our thinking to tell ourselves stories like that.
But today I am shaking you awake. Today you stop becoming. Today you have the opportunity to realize that you are already one with everything.
I have lead a privileged life. I awoke to a nurse at five years old as she worriedly clasped the crucifix around her neck and, without knowing it, she set me free: “They said you was dead. Where was you?” That was when I lost the rest of you.
That was when I returned to a childlike view and rejoined with everything. That is when I reconnected with the truth. Because I knew that I could die, I lived. But because you are afraid of death, you cannot. It is time to stop clinging. It is time to stop holding on to cherished beliefs. It is time to be free.
You cannot see another perspective and so you cannot comprehend other views, other judgments, other ways of shutting out the glory of existence with beliefs. And so I lived not knowing that while I was alive, others were merely existing.
I remember so clearly in elementary school when a teacher presumed a fear of death in everyone. I remember being startled beyond belief. Was she insane? Why would she say something so ridiculous? A fear of death? Who would waste their glorious time being, to instead tell themselves a story about time, about ending, about limits? It’s all so incredibly small. We are so much bigger than that.
I have travelled. I have met with glorious spirits on trains on buses on footpaths. I’ve floated with them on ferries, and jostled with them in lineups for subways. I have met them in boardrooms and hostels and on airplanes, and at schools and funerals and hospitals.
I have dove to the bottom of oceans and held wine bottles from another century. I have seen skulls and femurs and flood and war. I have held babies and comforted the dying and at risk of land mines. I have raced cars and flown planes and played instruments and sang. I have been happy and angry and sad and alone. And throughout it all I have been home. I have never been lost and neither have you. There is no outside. There is no separateness. There is only being.
I have had the great pleasure of knowing some remarkable human beings. Many have been famous or fabulously Earth-shatteringly wealthy. I have met people who have been to the bottom of the deepest mines and others who have seen our planet from space.
I have said yes many times. And yet there was one thing I had no knowledge of. I did not know existence. I did not know the plodding responsibility of managing an existence. That is what 99.9% of lives are. The Management of Existence.
Many years ago now, someone did something that impacted my life far more than they could ever have known or likely ever intended. This action was done by a good but struggling person and it was dark and ugly and mean and cruel and it’s entire reason for being at that time was to bring about suffering. And it did.
That said, like a gift in the ugliest wrapping paper ever, it offered me the chance to experience the management of existence first hand. It taught me how to suffer more in the way that egos suffer. It was a temporary theft, and it literally stole my life. It replaced it with existence.
I was suddenly thinking about my life rather than thinking about thinking. I had gone from being the security guard assigned to my ego, to actually joining it.
Like a frog who does not leap from water that is slowly brought to a boil, I lost perspective and my life became a memory and not a verb. And the responsibilities and the obligations and the requirements of existence temporarily blinded me to the absence of life. I got to experience the ‘treadmill!’
Without knowing it I was experiencing a course in a spiritual university —I was learning how to appreciate who I had been before my accident. And the juxtaposition of life to existence was what brought the former into such clear focus. It gave me stronger contrast.
I don’t want to pretend that I suffered like many of you have —so many lives on this Earth are so much harder than mine. Plus I never lost complete connection with the knowledge that came as a result of trying to answer that nurse’s question when I was five. But I came to know suffering well enough to be much better at showing other people how to escape it.
Life is not a set of events. Life is a flow of experience. Events are placed in time, and they are relative. So when I designed and built the beautiful home I live in, my dear brother questioned my choices. I had painted my walls green. He lovingly tried to talk me out of it.
“You should paint them white,” he said. “It’ll make it easier to sell.” Sell?! I was still awake then, so I knew he was bonkers-crazy. Sell? I hadn’t even moved in yet! Why was I going to make choices for some other person who would own my house in some distant time?
What my brother saw was my financial existence. He saw my house as a financial asset, but that’s an abstract thought. It’s worth thinking about, but it should never replace our awareness that, in day to day living, it’s my environment. What good is more value when I sell if I didn’t make the most of living there for all the time I’m there?
On a day to day living in reality basis, my house isn’t a place with a value. It is and always will be an environment that contributes to and influences a flowing movement of my life experience.
Have you heard of the Shackleton whisky? Over 100 years ago Ernest Shackleton embarked on an adventure to reach the South Pole. And among his supplies he carried bottles of scotch. Not just any scotch. Scotch that was before the world was impacted by ego. The water and grains in those bottles had never experienced the quiet rain of radioactivity that fell after each of more than 2000 nuclear tests and two offensive attacks.
It had been distilled by a connoisseur who regarded the flavour of good scotch with the reverence of a priest. To an ego such a person seems crazy, but to someone clear-headed it’s easy to see that it’s an example of a person that has glimpsed the glory of life and they are swept up by their desire to share that experience. Even as a distiller, they are true artists, and their canvass is our palate. What the bottle’s worth is a separate issue from the reality of drinking it.
Whether someone designs a car, or points a telescope at the sky, or if they build a computer or a construct a math formula or blend whiskey, true artists are attempting to expose to others the remarkable, amazing truths that inform their actions.
True artists aren’t trying to impress us with their achievements. They are attempting to share the glory of the universe with each of us. They don’t want us to see them, they want us to see ourselves. They want us to taste and smell and feel real life, and so long ago just such an artful priest placed a liquid message in a bottle and he, with the unwitting help of Shackleton (and another modern connoisseur), sent it travelling through time to today.
The original distiller wasn’t interested in pre-nuclear water or labelling success. Like the composer of an instrumental song, he was merely attempting to join drinkers together in a place—a psychological or spiritual location. He was attempting to convey an experience.
Just as a song can be written by Mozart and played today, my friends and I were able to share in a taste experience with brave, adventurous men from another century. Whether you like whisky or not isn’t the point, but can you see the marvelling of time and space travel in this story?
We may have been separated by more than 10,000 miles and 100 years, but our experiences as contemporary people were in common with those of sailors of yesteryear. Our experiences were shared.
With tremendous thanks to the gentlemen I was with that night, I put that glass to my lips and I tasted that experience in a very focused and open way, and in doing so I woke up. I woke up to realize what being asleep was. Thanks to the juxtaposition of my suffering existence, and the authenticity of the spirits in that bottle, I was awakened and reminded of what my life had been prior to me being tricked into existence.
In doing so I instantly knew that I now had the final piece of a puzzle that I was unaware was even being built. I could now see the whole picture. As well-intentioned as my efforts have been, they have been partially blinded by my lack of appreciation for the subtleties of existence vs. being alive.
Now that I know far better what it’s like to live like most of the people who come to me, I have even more useful answers to give. But you don’t need to wait for chance to deliver salvation like that. That was a mistake on my part, just a useful one. You have stay conscious of the fact that you are free.
An ego’s life is not good enough. It’s not deep enough, profound enough or worthwhile enough. I am grabbing you by the lapels and I am screaming at you to wake up.
Our lives are not some desert that’s populated by the odd flower or sunset or mountaintop. Our lives are a wonder each and every moment. But we cannot appreciate that if you are blinded by thoughts about managing out existence. Yes, things need to get done, but it’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop thinking. It is time to Be. It is time you tasted life.
Stop thinking about defending yourself against disaster. Stop trying to stave off death. Live instead. Accept the suffering of life as the Shackleton adventurers did, and in doing so drink deeply from reality. Because far from being locked away by the responsibilities of your existence, we are all free to dive into the reality of appreciation. And I look forward to meeting you there.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.