Monday, April 03, 2006

Turning Inward

March 30th, 2006

It is only when we have given up trying to find happiness in our external lives that we begin to turn inward in earnest. Until then, there are only glances in that direction.

Our outside experience holds many avenues for pleasure and joy, satisfaction and pride. These things are actively pursued by the ego, and are indeed found and experienced. This is how the exploration of ego consciousness proceeds. The physically-focused attention looks outside of the self for sources of pleasure and happiness, as well as pain and unhappiness, anger, fear and envy.

So the exploration is one of focusing our attention on the world outside of ourselves. We observe it from afar, in other words, not realizing that we are viewing ourselves. We have simply placed it “out there” so that we can experience and explore and evaluate ourselves from a different perspective, in a different way. We experience ourselves symbolically, through our observance of - and interaction with - our environment and each other.

This game, if I may call it that, eventually wears thin. Like an aging child who grows bored with the trains he used to play with, or the dolls she used to dress, we eventually lose our fascination with the outside world: the work, the responsibilities, the conflicts, the dramas, the relationships, the tragedies, the risks, and eventually even the rewards.

At some point, the payoff for all of that effort begins to decline. One works harder and harder to find happiness, and finds it less and less. They have worn out, in a sense, what the physical world has to offer. Like the little girl who sneaks into the candy store and eats all the candy she wants, and on the way home someone offers her a piece of candy. And she finds that she does not want it. She no longer desires candy. Even though there was a time, not long before, when candy was all she thought about. Now she has had her fill. She has had quite enough.

So that time arrives when one realizes that the rewards of the outside world – money, security, admiration, pride, winning, accomplishing – no longer hold the allure that they once did. They offer nothing new, nothing fulfilling. There must be something else, another source of happiness that doesn’t come from the outside. Why do most of history’s well-known spiritual leaders and messengers and prophets live a simple, uncomplicated life? Why are they humble, and often without possessions? What do they know that the rest of us don’t?

It would appear that the common thread is the realization that lasting happiness springs from an internal source, not an external one. So while the populace is chasing its collective tail, working hard and paying bills and struggling to survive and acquire and accumulate, the option is always there to cease relying on the outside world as a source for anything whatsoever.

This turning inward is the definitive milestone on the spiritual path. It is as if we are ducks on a pond, and eventually each of us will stop plunging our head underwater in search of precious morsels of food and choose instead to flap our wings and learn to fly. Each of us will, at the appropriate time, realize that those precious morsels of food have ceased to provide us with what we truly seek. They were a distraction all along, though a purposeful one. But what have we learned?

What have we learned, holding our attention so firmly on the circumstances and events and people and objects in our lives? And is this learning related to our turning inward? Do we begin to look inside as a result of what we have learned by looking outside? It would appear so.

In this case, the difference between one who has found internal and stable peace and one who has not lies in whether one has had enough of what the outside world has to offer. As long as you view that there are things you can do and/or have that will make you happy, then you will focus your attention and your intent upon doing or acquiring those things. You are the duck who stays on the pond because that is where the morsels are. The morsels are still enticing, and so you float upon the water and you peer below, waiting for another precious find.

The happiness that one finds in the outside world can dissipate quickly and can sometimes be hard to find, and so it is cherished and pursued and bemoaned when it is lost. The duck can grow quite hungry as it floats on the pond, peering intently into the water. Where is that elusive morsel, that kernel of happiness that I have tasted before and love so much? I want to experience joy. Why am I not?!

Ah, the game of life. It is mesmerizing and addicting. We have all resided within the throes of that addiction for a very long time. Are we ready to look elsewhere for that elusive joy and peace that we have tasted from time to time but not nearly as often as we'd like?

Are you wondering whether your life will ever be the pleasurable, conflict-free existence you wish it could be?

Have you finished chasing your tail?

No hurry.

Take your time.

We’ve got eternity, you know!

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