Synopsis: Gunk on Your Glasses: and seeing clearly — it’s easy to not notice our distraction and ignorance
Sally Kempton is a regular writer for Yoga Journal, and her article in the December 2015 issue was interesting. It raised the issue of ignorance.
But this is not garden variety ignorance; it’s a profound not knowing regarding how the world really works.
Kempton mentions the Sanskrit word, vidya, which means knowledge, or wisdom. Adding an “a” to the front — avidya — means ignorance — not merely the garden variety, but at the level of totally missing the real picture.
I’ve been mulling about Kempton’s article for a day or two, thinking about how to use it for the blog, and as I sat down to write, I noticed that my glasses needed cleaning.
I got new glasses before we headed to Costa Rica this trip, and I don’t know why, but they are almost impossible to clean. All that happens is the “gunk” on the lens’ just seems to move around.
That’s as good a definition of avidya as I can come up with.
Now, this form of ignorance means that nothing you perceive is clear — is “as it is.” Your ignorance won’t (usually) kill you, but it means you live your life in a state of “off balance.” This type of ignorance causes a sense of pervasive unsatisfactoriness, which the Buddha called dukkha, which is usually translated “suffering.”
We suffer, Buddha taught, not because something is “making us.” We suffer because we refuse to see clearly. We suffer because we expect the world to be different than it is — that it ought to be as we imagine. We suffer because others are others, and therefore are not behaving according to our preferences, our script.
The alternative, vidya, doesn’t mean wisdom or knowledge in the sense of knowing it all. It’s not about being right. It goes deeper than that.
Our cultures each create a specific stew for us to swim in — they tell us the way it is “supposed to be.”
I’ve often mocked the North American version, and its endless stupidity regarding relationships and happiness, for example. I use a line about “cartoon bluebirds flitting about one’s head” to signify the “supposed to be.”
We also forget that we are programmed to think of ourselves as the centre of the universe.
Which only works haltingly if we are alone. As soon as one becomes two, the battle over the dominant universe becomes the norm. Unless we endlessly choose otherwise.
Avidya is thinking that any of these mental games are real, or true, or even necessary.
It’s funny, how difficult we make all of this. I remember finishing my counselling degree, and my supervisor said that my next step ought to be more self-reflection, in a 25-day residential program at The Haven. I laughed.
13 YEARS later, I showed up on her doorstep, physically exhausted, mentally confused, and spiritually dead. She smiled, and said, “Go to The Haven.” I did.
A few years later, I met a woman who is Chinese, and she called me an Old Soul. My little chest got all puffed up. Then, she said,
“We Chinese have a saying. Old soul… slow learner.”
Seeing through the illusion, the “gunk on our glasses,” takes persistence, and then a shifting. Because if you won’t, you simply see the same thing, again and again, only cloudier.
A few ideas:
1) We are not as we think we are
Nothing we think has an iota of validity. It’s just today’s version of a story I have been telling myself for years.
That little example, above, of my 13 year delay, is a perfect example. During that 13 years, I tried to prop up my beliefs about myself, and as things got more complicated, I blamed the situations and people around me.
Now, when I look back on that time, I see my confusion and blindness, and how I shifted my story, BUT this current version of that story is no more “true” than the other. It’s just a narrative.
The key, for me, then and now, is to see an issue, ignore my rush to story-tell, and then to choose to act differently.
2) Being happy is an illusion, as is being miserable
My mom used to work hard at being the sickest person in the room. I’d say to others watching her, “She’s happy being miserable.”
Seems senseless, this approach — until you watch yourself winding yourself up, making yourself the one who is hard done by, and then getting a tee shirt proclaiming your martyrdom.
There is no place or state of happiness. There is just “this,” and whether or not I’m fully engaged with “this.” If I’m not willing to be fully engaged, I would be best served leaving, and finding something or someone else to fully engage with.
3) It’s not up to someone else
The ride is yours, and yours alone. It’s not up to someone else to make it all better for you. Or to make you happy, or whatever, because, of course, they can’t.
There’s nothing more dysfunctional than a couple playing the “you complete me” game, or even worse, the “you hold me back” game. Both are excuses for not being self-responsible, and self-aware.
The other person is lost in their own illusion, or is in the process of waking up, but none of that is about you and your walk. Your job, endlessly, is to get over yourself, to see through the gunk you smear on your glasses, and to let go of your stories.
Because the gunk on your glasses is persistent
Take a look at the glasses you wear (even if you don’t wear real ones) and see how much cruft you’re looking through. Remember: because we are human beings living on planet Earth, we HAVE TO wear glasses. There is always (potentially) something standing between us and reality.
The idea that awakening happens once is nonsense.
It’s a moment-by-moment process of dozing and waking. If you choose to wake up in the first place, that is. Being awake is a process.
So, just start. Open your eyes, look around, and notice how often you are lost in your stories, blaming, making yourself miserable, and all to defend your erroneous belief that your version of reality is true.
Let it go. Have a breath, and see if you can cease winding yourself up. See if you can let go of being stuck, or staying stuck.
And then, do something different, have another breath, and another look.
Again and again. Until you die.
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