Someone emailed the following:
Modern life seems like one big competition made up of lots of smaller competitions. Our culture is full of competitions, contests, talent shows, music charts, award ceremonies, celebrities, interviews... it feels like everyone is judging everyone else all the time, largely on things we don't have the power to change. People are constantly competing for jobs, mates, money, success, competing to see who's the most beautiful, who's the most intelligent, the most talented.
At the same time, rates of anorexia, obesity, depression and all manner of conditions that come from a negative self-perception are on the rise, and starting from increasingly younger ages. The industries of escapism are booming, and it seems as though we're reaching a crunch point, where the way we see ourselves, each other and the world we live in is becoming an ever increasing source of distress and pain. What can we do? Must we suffer these things? Can we transcend things that are so deeply ingrained in our conditioned forms?
Is there a reason for us being born with the gifts or limitations we have in life? Are they the result of Karma from past lives? Are we given them as a cross to bear, or as challenges meant to teach us specific lessons in life? Or is it just random, do we wake up to find ourselves in these bodies for no reason beyond the fact that our parents didn't use contraception?
Also, from what I understand from having watched, listened to and read a great deal of spiritual teaching, what's called 'enlightenment' is more the dissolution of something false that obscures the true reality that is already present, rather than the attainment of a spiritual transformation. If that's true, should one focus more on dissolving their own mental constructs of ego and mind, and if so, what would you recommend as the best method?
I hope it's not too presumptuous to ask so many questions!
And I responded as follows:
Thanks for your thoughtful questions.
You may be right about us reaching a crunch point and I do believe it is possible to transcend all of the things you mention. And even prior to that it is possible to no longer suffer from them. Just by letting them be the way they are, the suffering dissolves (it was never real to begin with). And contrary to our beliefs, letting things be the way they are is the most likely condition under which the transformation can occur. Letting things be is not the cause of any change, but rather it creates conditions that allow our deeper intelligence to work. You ask what you can do, and it is to simply allow everything to be the way it is and yet also be as curious and present to it all as you can. It is this mix of acceptance and curiosity that allows the open flow of our divine intelligence and inspiration to move in the world. There is no nice neat formula to what this looks like, and so any transformation or healing of our distress and difficulties will unfold organically, and probably in a completely surprising and unexpected way.
As for a reason for all of this, consciousness does not need a reason for things. It just loves experience, so it tries experiencing anything and everything it can. If it is true that our consciousness is limitless and eternal, then it makes a bit more sense that it would be willing to try anything. Eternity is a very long time. If you have eternity, then it makes sense that you would find lots of ways to pass the time. And by the way, the playful creation of experience also includes all of the "reasons" you mention like Karma, lessons to be learned and also complete randomness of events. Again, consciouness takes its time to try it every which way. So it tries out Karma and evolution and learning. And then it also throws in lots of randomness just to keep itself on its toes!
You are correct also in your description of enlightenment as the uncovering of what is already here, rather than the attainment of something. However, I would suggest that there are two ways to approach this process. The first is the one you mention of dissolving the structures of the ego, and for this there are several wonderful forms of directed inquiry such as the Byron Katie Work or the Sedona Method. The second approach is the direct exploration of your underlying nature, and for this there is self-inquiry or the simple direct sensing of your self or the "I". It is not so much an intellectual inquiry where you try to figure out the answer to the question, "Who am I?" Instead this question is meant to direct your awareness back to the sense of I. Then you can just rest with your awareness on this deeply mysterious sense that "I am" or "I exist". As you stay with the felt sense of your own self, the deeper nature of it may reveal itself, although once again there is not formula for how this happens or how long it takes. You can just rest with awareness on your self and meet whatever unfolds. There are many dimensions to your deeper true nature including the ultimate absolute emptiness of Being. So this exploration of your true nature is truly endless.
These two approaches, inquiring into your ego structures and inquiring into your sense of "I", are complimentary. One is not better than the other or more important. And it is possible to combine them in an open-ended exploration of whatever is present right now. If your ego is being triggered and your sense of self is very contracted, then it makes sense to explore some of the structures of that ego to at least loosen them a bit. And in the space between reactions, it naturally makes sense to rest and experience the "I". The only formula is to inquire into whatever is most present in your experience right now. That is what needs to be seen and to be accepted and even loved. If you take care of what is here right now by experiencing it, inquiring into it and loving it, then once again the deeper intelligence of your Being will take care of all of the rest.
So there is no best way to inquire because they are all great! The only art or subtlety is in applying this loving inquiry to whatever is here right now including all of your fears, resistance and conditioning, and all of the depth and richness of the many dimensions of your true nature. And by the way, the point of this inquiry is not someplace called enlightenment that it gets you to. The point is the incredible richness of the inquiry itself. The journey is the destination. Even if you do get to an enlightened place, then the only question is "What happens next?" The unfolding continues even then in ever new and surprising ways.
I hope this helps.