Saturday, 2 June 2012

On Thinking That We've Arrived (Or Not)

When I was a teenager, I yearned for the independence that being even a year or two older seemed to promise. I wanted to make my own decisions, unimpeded by adult intervention. I vividly remember the desperate desire to leave home, to put away childish things. The lyrics from Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit Baker Street seemed to sum it up: Another year and then you’ll be happy. Just one more year and then you’ll be happy. I wanted to be there, not stuck here.

The feeling that there is a destination to be reached, somewhere to get to, permeates our lives. Our societies are deeply aspirational; we’re encouraged to want more, bigger, better. We carry around within us an impossible-to-achieve image of the ideal self, and then we set about trying to create that self. No matter whether our route to this idealised perfection is via slimming products, make-up and haute couture, or affirmations, meditation or yoga, the movement is the same: we’re here, and we want to be there.

In my thirties, I embarked on an intense search for healing. Talk of being on the journey abounded, and I loved that idea. I saw myself as a traveller, making my way courageously through difficult terrain, guided by intuition and the maps that my fellow travellers – those many miles further on - had created. It was very clear; there was a path, and I was on it. At the end of the journey, I’d find the Holy Grail; peace, clarity, wellness, the end of suffering. I’d arrive home, my final destination. Occasionally, I’d have the sense that I’d made it. For a while, I’d feel calm, well, happy. Inevitably, before too long, I’d be off again, searching intently, longing to get there, to not be here with this – whatever this was.  

I felt that I shouldn’t be here in more mundane ways, too, particularly in relationships and social situations. Sometimes, it was possible to get up and leave, but on other occasions I was paralysed, unable to move for fear or doubt. One boyfriend memorably said to me, If you don’t fucking like it, fuck off. Eventually, I did.

Over the years, I began to encounter spiritual concepts. Words like oneness, awakening, and enlightenment entered my vocabulary. Like nearly all spiritual seekers, I frequently fantasised about enlightenment. I imagined states of eternal bliss and transcendence, a complete absence of any kind of pain. Most of all, I imagined awakening as being completely other than this-here-now. It felt like there was distance – sometimes a yawning void – between here and there. There was the place that others talked about in books and videos. There was the Shangri-La I wanted to get to, the end of suffering, the place inhabited by the Lucky Few. But how, exactly, was I supposed to get myself from here to there? I looked for instructions, prescriptions, suggestions, to no avail.

I would constantly monitor my experience for signs that I may be nearing the destination. Ooh, I’m feeling incredibly calm and peaceful. Maybe this is it? Oh my god, I must be so far off if I’m like this, irritated and upset. Like children on a car journey, the seekers’ refrain seems to be, Are we there yet?

One day, whilst walking my dog, I suddenly saw that there is only here. There does not exist. It is only ever a fleeing image, an idea which is happening here, just as everything else does. By conceptualising enlightenment (or happiness, or peace) as a state or place to be reached – by objectifying it – we create a separation that doesn’t actually exist. We place it outside ourselves, creating imaginary distance. We believe we have to find a way to bridge the gap, to get from here to there.

Recently, I looked for the self that shouldn’t be here. Taken through Scott Kiloby’s Unfindable Inquiry by one of my fellow facilitators, I touched on the pain that has been bound up in that life-long story, and sobbed. Sweet release. I saw - yet again - how the story of separation is created by belief. It is not that we’re in the wrong place. It is simply that there is nowhere else to go. We’re here. That’s it. We’ve arrived, whether we know it or not.

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