Greetings again! I promised we would be dealing with this topic in my last post so here we go.
Making a Good Impression
Do you remember how, when you were very young, your mother would dress you up nicely whenever there was an event going on or when you had some kind of special guest? And how you always heard around you 2 phrases: “This will make a (very) good impression!” (before the event) or “We/You made a good impression!” (after the event). In thousands of years, people still are mostly not use to the fact that children’s brains absorb and process everything they see and hear, particularly when the example comes from mom and dad. And so we go on, all our lives, striving to make ourselves look good in front of parents, friends, authorities, work-mates etc. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be affable and good company or that we should be as anoying as possible; don’t get me wrong. But because of this obsession with impression-making which develops over time, we forget the importance of being authentic. We forget to be true to ourselves. In the process, we also repeatedly decieve others, because over the years we become adept at putting on a good show. But that’s all we become: a show, a mask. Some people put on such a spectacle that they forget all about what they really feel; and if they do know what they feel, they hide it. I’m not suggesting that if you want to kill someone you should go and do it, but if you really do dislike someone, tell the person; and tell him/her, quite honestly, why you don’t like him/her. It may be very beneficial even for the person you’re talking to; constructive criticism might encourage the guy to change for the better. But we often prefer the “nice” and “civilized” way and put on a big smiley face while in our heads we send them to hell. Naturally, there are situations when diplomacy is recommended; as I said, there is no one way to deal with all situations, but turning into full-scale hypocrites is definitely not the way to go. Same thing goes for work-relationships. We often try to make ourselves look better than we are (professionally speaking) instead of first reaching the required level and then putting on the show with fancy suits and so on. For example, if you are not usually punctual, don’t write “punctual” in your CV. First develop the habit of being punctual (it only takes 21 days), and then you can write “punctual”, because you actually are how you present yourself.
That’s just the very superficial part of the Game; now we move a bit deeper into the matter.
Now here’s a good question: some people see life as better than death and others say that death is better than life; why? People are equally afraid of living (as in “The world is an awful place to be.” or “Life is hell” or “Life sucks” etc) as they are of dying. You see, the main reason why a thief steals or a hit-man kills is simply…survival. They have to eat and need a house to live in. On the other end of the spectrum, people who believe in a literal Heaven that they’ll go to after death despise this life and say it’s nothing compared to what they hope to receive post-mortem; but even they are afraid to die. So, in short, people are mostly incapable of enjoying life and definitely do NOT want to die; so we cling to a life we don’t want (for whatever reason) and are afraid of something we cannot avoid. Now I ask you: is that any way to live? The sooner we understand that life and death are equally natural and that health and sickness are both normal, we can actually stop being afraid and start living our lives. Now, people aren’t inherently stupid in any way; it’s just the way they’ve been taught to think. But I tell you this: if you think the idea of serving God as entertained by medieval Christianity was stupid, you should indeed realize that setting survival as the goal of life is even more idiotic; you cannot survive no matter what you do; we all die sooner or later. Sounds grim, doesn’t it? If yes, that’s your conditioning talking again. Dying is as natural and as neutral (i.e. neither good nor bad in itself) as being born. As long as you think your “purpose” is to survive, you’re a slave to whoever promises to give you sugar-cubes. And that leads us to our next point.
People promise each-other many things: help, favors, money (on a more or less daily basis, i.e. in ordinary everyday life) and power, prestige and, last but not least, salvation (on a less frequent basis). All of these (and other similar things) I collectively call “sugar-cubes”. That’s what they are. They make life sweet, for a while… But then you realize (if you care to notice) that, if you’re not careful, you become addicted to these things. Now, one point must be made clear. These sugar-cubes are not “bad”; eating is natural and so is asking for assistance when needed. Power and influence are also neutral, in the sense that it depends what you do with these; they aren’t “evil”. It’s not these things in themselves that are to be avoided; but it is indeed advisable that one avoid psychological dependence on them. Recognize that sometimes they are available and sometimes not; if they are, good, if not, good. Train yourself to see the world as it is, not how you are led to believe it is; life is hell only if you make it so for yourself. It can be radically different. And one important aspect is mental discipline; by this I don’t mean exotic yoga exercises etc. I don’t know the first thing about yoga anyway. Mental discipline means simply 2 things: calm and attention. You could also call it “psychological indifference”. If you can combine these, you’re on your way to re-discovering reality; it won’t happen over night, obviously, but it will be worth it. The idea here is that once you accept the way of things, you can’t be forced to do anything and you are no longer afraid either to live or to die; there is a saying that “The wise man is sufficient for himself”. That is to say, he doesn’t beg; he asks for something if he needs it, but does not beg.
There is an anecdote about Alexander the Great which I find entertaining. You all know that he was a great conqueror whos empire stretched all the way from Macedonia to India. Until de died (at 33 years of age) all he did was fight, fight, fight. He even said “My only regret is that after I finish conquering this whole world, there is no other world for me to conquer” (Talk about ambition, eh?) Based on this, a story circulated in Antiquity. Alexander once met Diogenes, who was relaxing under a tree. They started a short conversation and at one point the king said: “After all the earth is united under my command I will finally be able to relax.” And the other answered with a smile “I’m relaxing right now!” “Ah, said Alexander, but you’re just a beggar.” And he received this reply: “No, Alexander, YOU are the beggar. All your life you were dependent upon the recognition and praise given to you by others, dependent upon the need to satisfy your wish of dominion over nations; you were never free of your ambitions. All you did was to seek after the service of other people. You never stood on your own two feet even for one moment”.
Maintaining a calm mode of perception and paying attention leads to, among other things: acceptance of what is natural, seeing all people as equals (you will have neither friends nor enemies–you will not treat the people you get along with as “more important” than others), you will no longer have a kind of quasi-superstitious reverence for authority (but you will, insted respect the representatives of authority as human beings) and you will no longer be bound by love and hate. You see, love is just another sugar-cube (at least in the way the word “love” is commonly understood–this one’s for later). You become both dependent on the one you “love” (or rather think you love) and at the same time you become blind; you take sides with that person regardless if he/she’s right or not. And when you realise the person was wrong or when he/she does something you don’t like, you get angry and frustrated. On the other side of the coin, when you hate someone you don’t care what he/she does: it’s always wrong.
And that leads us to our final point.
Why So Serious?
A big part of people’s problems derive from the fact that they take their plans, wishes, opinions etc. as serious things. Of course, living life automatically assumes having plans, wishes etc. But let me try to ilustrate what I mean by :serious”. You want a pizza. You go get one. On the way home you run into a guy that takes your pizza; you take that pizza very seriously–>you fight for it (in the worst case scenario) or you get very angry at having lost your pizza and remain angry for the rest of the day; if you don’t take it seriously, you will regret the loss of your pizza for maximum 2 minutes (or you won’t regret at all) after which life will go on as usual.
One key to this is the realization of impermanence. Friendships, objects, people etc are all impermanent. One day someone likes you, the next he gets angry with you; one day you have a computer, next thing you know a short-circuit messes it up. And so on. Accept what happens. Of course, I do not mean to say that you should be like a vegetable and do nothing. Take precautios and be prudent; it’s perfectly rational to do so. Here’s another thing: it is as natural for things not to exist as it is for them to exist. Did you ever look at it this way? Everything changes all the time. That is the meaning of impermanence: perpetual change. And there is nothing “unnatural” or “evil” about it. Could you imagine things NEVER changing? This is what I mean by life being a game: we pretend that only certain things should happen, while we believe others, which are equally natural, should not. And because of this, we perpetually fight to have things just the way we want them, despite the fact that our idea of what is normal goes directly against reality. Look: sunrise and sunset, the cars outside, the wind, walking from point A to B, all of these (and everything that happens) is continuous change; all motion is change, all of existence is a permanent string of infinite changes. Absolutely everything that is going on at any given moment, from your blood-flow to the rotation of the Earth around the Sun is change. Why consider it evil? Marcus Aurelius wrote:
“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life!”
Now the reason why I quote good old Marcus is because when people hear a quote like that they think whoever said it just has to be either completely nuts or completely out of touch with the hardships of life. This man, however, was one of Rome’s last real emperors (before Comodus, Calligula and Nero came along). He had to fight wars, take care of finances and the other things that come along with a throne. He went through all the hardships you can think of.
One last note on taking things seriously. Modern science tells us that the Universe will, one day, end. Different specialists have different theories about how that will happen, as you know, but they all agree it will happen someday, somehow. So even if we manage to colonise the Universe from one end to the other, the whole show will dissapear. My favorite theory is that there will come a moment when, because the Universe is expanding, gravity will get weaker and weaker, until even atoms will no longer be held together (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy; after that, the Cosmos will be “re-created”, as it were–see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclic_model); in other words, this Universe will dissipate in the exact manner of smoke. So before you go off making a lot of trouble for yourself and others, ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you’re honest, you’ll see it isn’t.
Note: After it’s disapearence,
To be continued…