Once you’re really good at knowing how to see through the illusion it’s fairly easy to see when other people still see it. They just say things that don’t make sense. You say to them, what colour is enlightenment and they confidently answer that it is… seven? No? Four!? No?
When I’m teaching someone there’s this really fun moment about 6-10 hours into the procesas (in a few cases quicker) where they finally answer what colour is enlightenment? with less excitement than their previous guesses. Instead they sound like they just found the keys they were looking for in their own hand when they say something like purple! Which colour it is doesn’t matter to me–that’s up to them. But I know when I hear someone who has pulled back the curtain.
The other day I had a particularly excellent session with very compassionate, sensitive man who is facing the sort of decision which alters the direction of your life quite drastically. We all end up in these situations in life and none of us likes them. But it is possible to have a good attitude about that challenging time.
Like almost everyone, the main barrier I must overcome is this idea of some form of heaven or nirvana or state of enlightenment in which we somehow avoid the suffering associated with our current way of viewing our lives. But even after you know how to see clearly you still suffer, you just know how. Remember, the Buddha said the end of suffering is the acceptance that there will always be suffering.
The reason my student can’t move forward is that he wants to take that step in the fictional land of no-suffering. So I must first dispel the existence of such a place and then demonstrate why that’s okay because the world is remarkably beautiful anyway.
Based on what he had told me I essentially asked him if he believed the universe was infinite. He felt confident it would be. I reminded him that if it is infinite it needs to contain all things, both those defined as good and those defined as bad. He didn’t love that idea but agreed it made a kind of yin and yang sense.
I asked him if he could imagine the universe as an undulating ocean of specific colours. Like a game of paisley tetris, different colours would move in the ocean like blobs of coloured ocean. I asked him to imagine that all of the feelings he was experiencing as his personal life, was in fact just a movement through that ocean.
Imagine a magical string that winds through every single experience in the universe before joining itself in a loop of infinite being. In reality there is no time and everyone is all one person. What we perceived as our life is in fact just a divine glow moving through a section on that infinite magical string.
Now imagine that the string is winding its way through a blob of one particular colour of the glowing ocean of light. The individual that is experiencing that colour might imagine itself as happy. When the glowing light on the ribbon wound through another colour the glowing light experienced fear, or another colour would be sadness, or compassion, but each individual lifetime is simply a narrative told to an individual sense of ourselves, by an individual sense of ourselves, as an entertaining explanation for what we’re feeling. It’s like when your dreams try to make sense of what’s actually happening to your body while you sleep. You don’t interpret it the same way that you would if you were awake, and yet your explanation makes sense within the dream.
As weird as all that sounds, I knew my student was understanding me when he changed my metaphor. He suddenly stopped walking and said it wasn’t really a string. It was more like a giant infinite Mobius Loop–a never-ending surface. He added that, as the Mobius Strip wormed its way through the universe it would pass itself in the form of the people we meet. (Because we’re all one strip no one’s approval or lack of approval is personal.)
So egos get upset because they perceive the strip has two different sides whereas the enlightened person will keep track of the fact that it’s a really just one long single-sided Mobius Loop! And that was the moment he truly understood in a profound way what yin and yang really are. We just think something’s wrong when we see the “other” side of the strip when in fact the whole point of a Mobius Strip is that there is only one side!
Brilliant. He nailed it. Separate but united. There was no heaven to find, no place where there are no tough choices. There was where he was on the strip, and the compassion he could feel for everyone (including himself) in any situation because now he understood they were other faces of himself–they were ultimately all one and his job wasn’t how to figure out who was right and who was wrong–it was to accept the yin and yang of existence as viewed from an enlightened perspective.
We’ll spend a few sessions reinforcing his understanding of that discovery, but his door is now open. He can now tell the difference between his personal sense of reality and the larger truth that his reality sits within. He’ll still make some rookie mistakes implementing what he knows, but now he knows it. As long as he stays conscious of what he and his life really are–which is a collection of ultimately judgment-free experiences–then he will continue to become more and more aware of this greater truth. In doing so he will receive a peace far greater than the one he previously imagined would reside in heaven. All he needs to do now is practice what he knows.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organisations around the world.