My one word focus for 2012 is “faith”.
A highly personal word that surely holds varied meanings depending upon the individual.
In essence, faith – to me – means remembering that material reality is like a dream.
Until we wake up, we’re still in the dream and there’s an automatic pull to believe it’s real. It takes considerable diligence to retrain the mind to remember the illusory quality of existence.
Transforming understanding into realization
I might understand intellectually that material reality is impermanent; indeed it’s constantly moving and changing at a sub-atomic level. I may understand theoretically that nothing exists independently; everything is interdependent and arises due to causes and conditions. And, I may see that nothing is singular; everything is composed of parts and therefore can never actually be found.
In the same vein, I know there is no lasting, permanent self. “Self” is just a label we apply to this conglomeration of parts that appear to be “me”. These arms, these legs, this brain, this heart. This ever-changing mindstream of thoughts, emotions, perceptions and fleeting experiences.
But once I take a look, can I really find this self? Is it in my arm? My leg? Does self exist in a passing thought?
I “know” life is like a dream. But how deeply do I know? How fully does this awareness inform my way of being and acting?
I feel fortunate to have this budding understanding, albeit an intellectual one. Most people consider their life and being as very real, solid, and extremely important. This grasping onto the self and material reality as real and permanent is what leads to suffering.
When you know that life is like a dream, you can lighten up on yourself and others. A sense of compassion, ease, and spacious is born. You can simply observe the dream without getting so caught up in the drama. The drama will – no doubt – suck you in from time to time. But then you remember and come back to the present moment. You decide to spend less time in the past, which is gone. You begin to let go of anticipating the future, which has yet to come. More often, you are right here, right now. You are traveling the road to freedom.
“Always recognize the dreamlike qualities of life and reduce attachment and aversion. Practice good-heartedness toward all beings. Be loving and compassionate, no matter what others do to you. What they do will not matter so much when you see it as a dream. The trick is to have positive intention during the dream. This is the essential point. This is true spirituality.
~ Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in Life in Relation to Death
The “dream” is an analogy. It doesn’t mean life is a dream or that it’s not real either. Traditionally, it’s said “neither existing nor non-existing.” So embracing this dream-like quality isn’t free license to indulge in selfish or unwholesome behaviors. Due to interdependence, what we think, say, and do matters. It has an impact that is indeed either helpful, harmful, or neutral.
This is not “blind” faith. It requires investigating your mind and the world around you and deciding for yourself: is it real or like a dream?
Dzigar Kongtrul explains the inter-connection between external sources of faith and internal faith.
“Most traditions assert that faith finds its origins in an external source. But because faith depends upon our recognition of something positive outside of us, how could it come from an external source alone? Our ability to recognize something greater than ourselves, and value it as a genuine experience, says something about the power, potential, and goodness of our own mind. It says something about the subjective mind—the recognizer—and it’s capacity to isolate something external and use it to transcend its own small-mindedness. This means that, when we have faith, we place our trust in our own natural intelligence. This natural intelligence has the innate ability to discriminate between something that supports our well-being and something that does not. It connects us to the positivity in the world around us: it brings us to the spiritual path, it brings us to our teachers, it allows us to identify the goodness in ourselves and others.”
~ Dzigar Kongtrul in Light Comes Through
I can invite external support into my dream-like life to help me wake up to the illusion. I can follow a spiritual guide, embrace spiritual teachings, and be inspired by the community of practitioners who are also dedicated to waking up. I don’t have to go it alone.
Most of the time, I feel like the lion pictured above: completely asleep and fully engaged in the dream as though it were real. But, I know we’re all caught in this same dilemma of taking life and the self so seriously. Realizing this allows me to have compassion towards myself and others, while continuing to chip away at all the ways I freeze perception. Remembering to celebrate every single glimpse of freedom, keeps me aimed in the right direction.
My aspiration this year is to deepen my faith. My wish is to spend less time grasping at illusion and more time living lightheartedly with clarity compassion and ease.
How seriously do you take life? Would it help to see its dreamlike quality?
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