Ignore the illusions. Ignore the temporal things, the stuff of this world, and keep your eyes on those things that really matter. You’re not born for the purpose of having the greenest lawn. You weren’t put on this earth so that you are the one in the office with all the newest clothes. Your true meaning is not buried in the neatness of your closets, the shade of nail polish you’re wearing, or how tight your abs are.
Get real. No, I’m not being snotty (although I could be if you crossed me). I mean it, honestly and with all my heart: GET REAL.
But what is “real?”
Henry David Thoreau, one of my all-time heroes, talked a lot about the insanity of owning things. He made the point many times over in his Walden that owning things–property, clothing, houses– or even paying too much attention to the conventions of society–burdens our souls. “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”
Even thought Thoreau is one of those old, dead, white guys that has never seen the year 2014, I think there’s something to what he had to say. He was a man of personal conviction. He believed in true freedom. And he worked a good bit of his adult life trying to figure out what true freedom actually is and how one comes to find it.
Thoreau would say that true freedom comes from living simply. The Bible tells us that we are “not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” and says that if we “live according to the flesh,” we will die.
To me, flesh equals anything not spiritual.
More contemporary, new-age spirituality teaches a similar message, using different concepts. Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now, says that my ego is my sense of self, which needs to identify with external things in order to feel whole. My ego needs to be petted and soothed constantly, in order for me to be content. I console my ego with the right possessions, the right job, a high social status, a hefty dose of knowledge, the right college, an acceptable physical appearance, and a good family. The more of these things I have, the happier my ego is. The happier my ego is, the happier I think I am.
Until I realize I’m not. Not happy at all.
Until I realize my ego is an illusion. It is not ME. It is the false part of me, the devil on my shoulder, the siren luring me into the jagged rocks. The old saying, “money can’t buy love” applies here. And a contented ego does not make a content person. Why? Because I am not my ego. I am not my new Ford truck. I enjoy my truck but realize it doesn’t define me as a person. I am not my house. My house is large, messy, and the doors are always welcome to those who want to come in but I could give it up and I’d still welcome those people into my life. I am not my belongings, thank God, since most of them are falling apart. I am not my relationships, although here is where I think we have the possibility for the most truth. I am not my thoughts, which can become dark and negative at times. I am not my habits. I am not the food I eat. I am not the activities I join. I am not the places I see. I am deeper than all of these things. I am a part of everything but more than everything. I am a piece of God.
Thich Nhat Hahn, the beloved Buddhist teacher, tells us that the Holy Spirit–the breath of God–is not reserved for Jesus and the Buddha but rather is for ALL OF US. “When we are in touch with the highest spirit in ourselves, we too are a Buddha, filled with the Holy Spirit, and we become very tolerant, very open, very deep, and very understanding.
Jesus said to his disciples that people had to turn from selfish (ego) ways, take up their cross, and follow Him. “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it,” he reminded them. “But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News [the Truth], you will save it.”
Most interesting about this passage is that he continues, asking the pointed, revolutionary, completely unconventional question to challenge his followers: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
Back to today.
You know I travel a lot. But I haven’t given up many of the outer trappings of life like so many of my fellow family travelers have done. I know lots of families who have sold everything they own, save for maybe a set of photo albums or an old afghan knitted by granny, to travel the world. These families have reported that they never felt so free as the day they walked away from it all.
Some people I’ve talked to haven’t given it all up literally but they don’t identify with the stuff of the world. They enjoy ice cream but they would not morosely suffer if they learned they’d never have ice cream again. They realize they need shelter but they also know that overly outfitting said shelter at Bed, Bath & Beyond is beyond what they need and also can become a burden on their soul.
I know that the material world is an illusion. I feel it in my gut. We think we identify with the stuff of life: the table we shopped for every so carefully or the outfit we needed for that party. But, in the end, it is all illusory. It all falls apart, decays, rots, tears, or spills. The day you realize you are not the physical world surrounding you, you are not your flesh, and you are not your job is the day you wake up to freedom. Because if you aren’t the things that fall apart, then YOU can never fall apart. You can never die.
Seek your self. Just don’t look for it in the stuff you touch and see and do. No matter what set of religious guidelines you follow, you can see the Truth is the same in all of them. You must ignore worldly illusions, die to self, and give your ego up completely, in order to truly live.
Listen, I love you all. I know it’s difficult living in this world of plenty (read: world of sometimes too much). A double-edged sword it is, where we can enjoy so many privileges on the one hand but be completely unhappy on the other. So many of us are trying so hard to be happy by buying the newest gadgets or taking just one more vacation or upsizing our house or remodeling that last bathroom. But we get the gadget, take the vacation, sign the mortgage, and close the door on that new bathroom–and find we’re still just as miserable as we were before. Why? Because these things are not important to our souls. Because these things are not us. Because these things are illusions.
I fall into the same traps, often. Often, often, often! And I’m tired of spinning my wheels. I need to leave this strange place we call modern culture and find the way that’s actually good for me and my family. Who’s with me? Please tell me I’m not alone.