Here is the first verse of a famous poem written, it is said, by the Third Patriarch of Zen:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences...” Yes! Life becomes sweet and easy when we drop our attachment to outcomes and particular circumstances.
Most people’s initial reaction to this idea is something like, “Surely that isn’t possible!” Some things that happen, they say, are good for me. Others are not good for me. It seems absurd to maintain no preferences about that.
On the level of the human animal I would agree. Would you rather go hungry or have something to eat? How could we not care about that? As humans, however, we have the power to transcend our animal nature through our awareness. On that level, I would say, we may live with no preferences whatsoever.
Let’s take a look for a moment at the notion of “good” and “bad”. What do we mean by these words? If we are being honest with ourselves, I would suggest, we will be required to admit that most of the time what is “good” is what we want or like, and “bad” is what we don't want or don't like. If we live in pursuit of what is “good” in this sense, and in avoidance of what is “bad”, the result will be that we divide life according to our preferences and resign ourselves to living in a small world where we are defended against pain. It is a wonderful thing when we are attached to preferences and get what we want, but this can only occur a portion of the time, even for those of us who live with great economic privilege. Much of the time we will not get what we want—if nothing else our bodies will age and we will eventually die—and if we are attached to preferences this can be awfully painful. This is the reason, I think, why so many people live such tiny lives: they are afraid of the pain of not getting what they want, and so they protect themselves by wanting only what they can control.
The trouble with living in a world of “good” and “bad” is that Life in itself is not dualistic. In itself Life is not divided into pair of opposites. We project duality onto Life and live as if it is actually there, but it isn’t. Life just IS. If we are to be in sync with Life, which is the only way to true happiness, we must also learn to just BE. A tremendous aspect of a mature relationship with Life is to embrace all of it and to avoid nothing. All that is “bad” or "negative" is just as much a part of life as what is seen to be “good” or "positive". We need to be present to all of it. We need to just be, no matter what Life presents.
Said in another way, we need to learn how to follow the Guidance of Life instead of our preferences. If we will only be still within our hearts and minds, if we will only get out of our heads and into our hearts, then Life will show us the way, step by step in every moment. This is the most wonderful thing there is, in my experience: will we be guided if we are willing. The effect of harboring preferences is that this interferes with the Guidance. If we can be made to want this or that, to be disappointed or ecstatic depending upon how things go, then our minds will be full of noise and we’ll be unable to hear the “still, small voice” that always speaks to us from within. If we are picking and choosing, trying to have certain experiences and avoid others, then we can be made to suffer in any circumstance. If we find the willingness to let go, however, and to follow wherever Life leads, then we will be happy and fulfilled no matter what happens.