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Two Possibilities Paying Attention to What Is...or to What Isn't

| Nirmala | Suffering

Two Possibilities Paying Attention to What Is...or to What Isn't

Published on
07 May 2000

In every moment, there are two possibilities. One possibility is to have all of our curiosity, attention, and passion focused on what is happening. The other is to have that same curiosity, attention, and passion focused on what is not happening, what is not present, or what we think should or shouldn’t be happening. In every moment, the question is: What are you giving your attention to? Are you allowing what is or going to battle with it, trying to change it in some way? 

When our focus is on what is, our experience of what is opens up and becomes bigger, richer, and more complete. But when it is on what is not (the past, the future, or any thought about what is), our experience of the moment contracts and becomes narrower and full of suffering and struggle, because inherent in a focus on what is not is a struggle with what is. 

When we look, we discover that most of the time we are in opposition to what is and oriented toward what is not. Life is mostly about how to make things better and get more pleasure or how to get rid of things that are painful. We are constantly evaluating our experience, looking to see what’s wrong with it and how it could be improved. We tend to be focused on what’s wrong with the moment or on what could be added to it to make it better. As a result, our attention becomes very narrow and our awareness limited. 

Once we see how much time we spend struggling with what is, the tendency is to go to battle with that—to try to fix that tendency to try to change everything. But that only changes the content of our struggle: Now we are struggling with our tendency to try to change things. We suffer over the fact that we are suffering. 

The other possibility is to just notice how much you suffer, without trying to do anything about it. Just allow the fact that you don’t allow much. Just recognize that that is the way it is. This struggling with what is, is just what we were conditioned to do, and this conditioning is also a part of what is.

Once we stop being in opposition to what is, it is possible to see how all our struggling comes from the idea of a me. Without the assumption that something is my experience, there wouldn’t be much point in trying to change anything about the moment. Our effort and struggle to change what is only makes sense if there is a me. It is all in service to maintaining the idea of a me. In fact, the struggle is the me. When there is no struggle, there is no me. All of our suffering is the result of having and maintaining an identity.

Once we realize this, the tendency is to try to fix this—to try to change our belief about who we are. We focus on getting rid of identification, which is focusing on what is not again. We are still suffering because we are at war with our tendency to identify. Instead of accepting what is (our tendency to identify), we are oriented toward how we think it should be: I should know better than to be caught in identification. I should know who I really am.

Another possibility is to be really present to this tendency to identify without making any effort to change it. If that’s what is happening, then that’s what is happening. You just let it be that way. You can even be amazed by it all, including the fact that there is a sense of a me. You see how unreal this me is, but you don’t struggle to be rid of it. There’s no longer an assumption that something is wrong that needs to be fixed.

When it's finally okay for the moment to be just the way it is—including the fact that we identify with a me and therefore battle with the moment—then more of our experience can be recognized and included in our awareness. If we are willing to be present to and allow our identification and whatever else is happening, then it's also possible to notice something beyond identification, something beyond our struggle and effort to maintain a me. What that something is, for lack of a better word, is Being.

Along with awareness of identification and the struggle and suffering inherent in that, is an awareness of the larger ground of Being in which everything is happening. When we see that all the me is and ever has been is a lie, but we don’t turn away from that awareness or judge ourselves for it or try to get rid of the me, then we can notice that, along with the struggling inherent in the me, there is a beautiful, rich Presence, or Being, that is allowing everything, including the experience of me. We come to see that the me’s struggle is only a tiny percentage of our entire experience and that this struggle is happening in an ocean of allowing. This allowing is Being.

When we are allowing, we include in our awareness what it is that is allowing, and that is Being, which is who we really are. This realization can be a jolting experience or a quiet one, since Being is actually very familiar. Every moment of allowing has actually been a moment of experiencing Being.

(From the book: That Is That: Essays About True Nature


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