“Why didn’t you start with this topic this is a much nicer, more positive topic?” Well hopefully you will soon see why I started discussing death before discussing life. As we have explored above, most people go through life clinging to ‘things’ (e.g. nice house, car, TV, computer, make-up, clothes etc.) and ‘conditions’ (e.g. Ill not be happy unless I have this job, this group of friends, this relationship, these sorts of holidays etc.) and most of all they cling to the self because they fear change and they fear the ‘ending’ of ‘the self’. However if we are now thinking that actually change is inevitable and has more positives than negatives, then we need not cling to an idea of the self and an unchanging world. If we are not busy clinging then we can really live.
It is important here for us to consider the concept of the middle-way. Namely that extremes are best avoided and a middle path can be found in all things. The reason I mention this now is you may have thought when reading about change being inevitable, that avoiding change would therefore be either not possible or not desirable. Certainly it is better to go with the flow of the river of life rather than trying to swim upstream struggling against the current. However it would not be the middle-way to just go along with every change that came your way with no discernment whatsoever. This would be by way of being a ‘doormat’ to everyone else’s whims and totally apathetic about changes brought about by society, groups, individuals and the world around you.
In the environment around us we can see that a certain kind of firmness is needed. In physical forms if there were no firmness between one ‘object’ and another everything would just merge. If your skin and bones did not keep you ‘solid’ in relation to the world around you, you would just collapse into a big gelatinous mass and merge with everything else.
There must be some resistance to change otherwise there would be no form yet in resisting change you have frustration and suffering. The answer is to understand that this is the nature of change, not to cling to it and let it flow. This then ceases to be a problem and is beautiful. The fact that things are always running out and disappearing has some hidden marvel in it and seeming notions of permanence bring out the reality of change in a poignant way.
As Alan Watts points out the problem is we have one sided minds, we notice the wave of life when it is at its crest but not when it is at its trough. But you cannot have a crest of a wave without the trough just as you cannot have a peak of a mountain without the valley but we do not notice the valley as much as we notice the peak because high is considered to be good and low bad or at least unimportant but it is clear that every crest is followed by a trough.
You cannot have space without solid or solid without space but the divisive mind ignores space and thinks that its the solids that do all the work. When walking through the countryside you may find yourself admiring the trees now fully in leaf, how solid and green the canopies look. But with a little more thought you notice the ‘space’ above the tree where the dark green outline of the tree meets the azure blue of the sky. Looking further up you realise that without the space above the trees there would be no shape, no outline, no form to the trees. Without the space around the trees the trees could not be.
Conscious attention ignores intervals/spaces such as night, death, darkness, not being, the silence between notes in music all because it thinks they are unimportant. However these are essential aspects of being, you do not have one without the other just as a saw would have no teeth to cut without having valleys between one tip and the next tip, that is the way ‘being’ is made up.
So here we are floating down the river of life going with the flow. Occasionally with a deft movement of an arm bringing ourselves closer to the left shore to look at an interesting sight there, then later with another deft movement flowing nearer to the right shore to see what we can be seen. Now the river starts to flow faster and suddenly we see that we are heading towards a large rock in the centre of the stream. Do we just keep going with the flow embracing totally the change and allow ourselves to be dashed against the rock, when we know with a small movement of our arm we can avoid the collision? Of course not, we act without hesitation change our course and we are past the rock in a flash.
So you are told things are changing in for example your social group or at school, university, at work, in your family (wherever) and that you must therefore now do X, Y and Z. But you feel unable to do X and you feel Y is simply wrong and you do not know what to think of Z! Do you just go ahead and do all of these just because you are fully embracing of change? No. This would not be the middle-way nor would we be doing others any favours were we to just go along with things we feel are wrong.
Interestingly going along with things that you feel to be wrong or unacceptable not only harms ourselves and any others who the actions may be directed toward but also those who have ‘suggested’ this course of action as well. So in such instances ensuring that there is a change of course from that which is being suggested is essential not only for our own well-being but also for the well-being of all around us, including the instigators.
We are made to feel by society that we must play a particular role as an individual, our identity is therefore a social institution. When we are young we can take on many roles and may behave differently with nan and granddad to how we act with mum and dad and different again with our friends. But later on we are ‘taught’ that we should settle on a single role a single personal identity. We are made to believe that we have a ‘real’ self, somebody who we really are and whom we have to find – to find yourself, to settle down, to grow up means to fit into a role.
Some people who are troubled and seem to be ‘misfits’ in society often have been unable to find their ‘role’. But the role you play is a social construct as you cannot be an object to your own consciousness, you are a subject to your own point of view. So you can only become an object to the extent that you adopt the attitudes that others take toward you. Other people are mirrors, for through how they respond to you, you begin to learn what they think of you and therefore ‘who you are’. We all tell each other who we are, so the identity that we have in that sense is a social identity.
But in addition to this we have an idea of the ego, the feeling that inside us there is an ‘I’ centre that receives experience and directs actions. This is the inmost ‘myself’ often viewed as ‘soul’ or a chemical function of the brain. This sense of a separate ‘I’ from all other ‘I”s is an illusion as this is not the way we are functioning physically. We are functioning as beings that live in such a close relationship with everything else there is no way of separating ourselves from everything else.
Without air you could not breathe so you could not be without plant life which helps create breathable air also you could not exist without nourishment which is provided by plants and animals. Without the farmer we could not eat nor could we without the people who make the tools used by the farmer and so on and so forth (see how far you can go with this there is essentially no end to the interconnected chains where each link is dependent on the other). So the real ‘I’ is everything. Fundamentally what you are is everything so relax, don’t worry.
As Alan Watts says, your ego is a game and society plays a strange game with egos. The first rule of which is this game, is not a game. This game is ‘serious’ so great social institutions like the church and courts are places where one ‘must be serious’. So we need to realise that it’s a game but still play the game, knowing it’s a game and enjoy doing it. As such we find that we do not need to or wish to take things ‘seriously’ yet we can engage with things sincerely i.e. genuinely as opposed to serious which tends to mean grave and solemn. So one can have sincere laughter, sincere play, sincere love but hopefully not serious. This is not mere semantics but an important distinction which needs to be clarified.
There is a sense in which the Universe is a game, not in the sense of one-upmanship i.e. having to beat someone or something (some people mistakenly live life this way) but in the sense of improvised music and free play. But the point of music is not the end of music otherwise the best musicians would play the fastest or just play one final crashing cord and that would be it. Just as with dancing you do not aim to end up at one particular place in the room, the whole point of the dance, is the dance.
But this view of things is not brought to us in our means of education and societal expectations of ones ‘progress’ in life. Instead we are presented with forms of grading through never ending stages. You start school in the infants, first year leads to second year etc. and then you need to achieve certain grades to do well and go to junior school and this is all aiming towards some unspecified ‘good thing’. Then one needs to do well and achieve certain grades to be in good standing for secondary school. Once again certain grades are needed to go on to University all to help you achieve this ‘great thing’ but it is still not here yet.
Then you go out into the world of work and become a sales person, call centre operator or whatever and you have got targets to meet and that ‘great thing’ is still coming, its coming that great thing the success you are working for. Then you get to 40 years old and you think ‘oh I’ve arrived’, except you realise you don’t feel any different to how you’ve always felt. There is a big let-down as you feel there was a hoax (and this is probably a big factor in what is called a mid-life crisis). There was a hoax, a dreadful hoax they made you miss everything. We thought of life as a journey a pilgrimage that had a serious purpose at the end, maybe success or heaven at the end, whatever. But we missed the point all along it was a musical thing and we were supposed to sing, dance, paint, write etc. while the music was being played, being sincere in our play.