Is It Really "All Good"?
I received several comments in response to my last post (about the means by which we may skillfully navigate through life’s challenges) that all ran along the same lines. “It’s all good!” people said. They told me (in my words) that we are always where we need to be, all the time; that Life presents to us exactly what we need to grow up and awaken to our authentic nature in every moment. Given this, they asked, what need do we have to concern ourselves with skillful means? What reason is there to strive? An excellent question, I thought.
I agree with the premise, with one gigantic caveat. It must be remembered that we always and only experience ourselves.
It is a fact, in my experience, that we always face the challenges and opportunities we need in order to wake up to our authentic nature, but this only serves us if we are in touch with our natural ability to choose who and how we are. If we want real choice then those opportunities will be perpetually wasted as we circle round and round the same dysfunctional behaviors, backed by the same self-defeating paradigms. It also appears to be a fact that almost nobody remains in possession of this power to choose, having traded it for security or even survival as children during the process of their socialization. We were punished for being our authentic selves growing up: that is the method by which we were taught to conform to this confused and unhappy world we live in. We were forced to become some fabricated “me” instead in order to survive, and this required such ceaseless practice and determined effort that we eventually succeeded in forgetting who we truly are. We learned to identify with “the person we should be” instead, and so completely that nearly everyone actually believes that this fake person, this empty shell pretending to be “me”, is who they really are. We eventually lost the power to live from our authentic nature. What looks like “choice” to a fully conditioned human is merely this or that survival strategy, and in their essence these are all the same.
Consider for a moment the fact (at least in my experience) that we always and only experience ourselves. All we encounter in this life is who and how we are—that’s it. It may appear as if we experience outside things, but we do not, at least not objectively: we merely experience our experience of those things. Everything we encounter is simply our own mind operating, with all of it’s conditioned beliefs and assumptions, all its presuppositions, and all of its unexamined habits.
If this were the end of the story then we would be like robots, responding automatically and predictably to each stimulus as it arises. And in truth most people do live as automatons, imagining they experience freedom of choice and spontaneity, but in reality having none—but this is not the end of the story. It is possible to become aware of our mind and how it has been conditioned, how it has been trained to machine-like automation, and how we have lost touch with real insight and uncontaminated intelligence. If we cannot see the processes within conditioned mind then we are driven by them unconsciously, but if we can see them, if we can watch the mind function without believing the “reality” it presents, then we regain the ability to choose, and we may respond to the circumstances of our lives in a way that promotes real growth and change. In this state of open awareness Life will guide us towards maturity, and we will have the willingness to follow. Without it we are staring through the classroom window, oblivious to the lessons presented in the moment, and destined to face the same painful challenges over and over again.
I’ll illustrate what I mean with a couple of examples. Let’s say that I am a self-centered person (as we all are in our conditioned nature), exclusively focused on my wants and needs. In addition, let’s say I’m married and in the habit of ignoring my wife’s needs because they appear to conflict with my own. I would imagine we’ve all been here at one time or another. And let’s say she finally grows tired of being ignored and gives me the boot. I’m devastated, fractured, unhinged—and it most definitely could be said that I’m exactly where I need to be. I am experiencing the consequences of who and how I am; the way I have been has cost me my marriage, and now there is a huge opening to see into the self-centeredness underpinning the situation I’m in. This seems clear and indisputable. The thing is, had I chosen a different way of being, and in particular had I chosen to value my wife’s needs equal to my own, I would not be in this situation, with this growth opportunity. I would be somewhere else, with a different challenge—one, perhaps, on a higher evolutionary level. Or let’s say I nurture a belief that I’m incompetent and undermine my own efforts at work (sound familiar, anyone?). I bash my own achievements, I undercut my own efforts, perhaps I even sabotage results in ways I cannot see…. Then I get passed over for a promotion. I’m hurt, confused, panicked, depressed—and once again I am exactly where I need to be. Here is an opportunity to see through this belief in my incompetence and allow myself to succeed. That’s great, and if I need this circumstance in order to push me out of the security of self-defeat then it’s a good thing. And yet it is not necessary that I be here. I could avoid the opportunity, and all the pain it involves, by choosing to believe in myself instead.
It is useless and counterproductive, in my view, to say in response to disasters and disappointments such as these, “Well, I guess this is just where I’m supposed to be” or any of another forms of “It’s all good!” This is just to use optimism to avoid growing up. It is the same as to play the victim to who and how we are, as if we have no choice. We do have choice; that choice comes as standard equipment on every human, but we have lost it along the way. Life is about regaining that choice. We must pay attention moment by moment to see our blind spots, to examine the ways in which we gave over our natural freedom for a fake identity that keeps us safe but deprived of the life we are here to live. Any orientation to life that does not include the monumental effort required to escape from self-deception and reconnect with our natural intelligence is delusional, I would say. Does Life present us with opportunities to learn and grow in every moment? Absolutely! We just need to access through constant practice the awareness that will allow us to take advantage of them.