Living and Trusting

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 18, 2012

The temptation to make pleasure the most important pursuit in life finds its expression in jaded personalities and conspicuous consumption.

True enough, many fall short of being conspicuous enough, but the underlying two-pronged intent nevertheless remains the same: get as much pleasure from life as possible while avoiding pain by any and all means.

By this way of thinking, life is mostly about getting not giving, having not caring, gaining not sharing, which is not to say that getting, having, and gaining have no place or value in a good life lived well. They obviously do.

Wherein lies the balance and what does trust have to do with it?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 12

I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to lose myself in a sybaritic lifestyle.

What would you do if you inherited a fortune or won a heap of cash in a lottery? Would it spoil your character? With tens of millions at your command, would you set yourself up to travel the world in style and get lost in luxury, indulging every pleasure imaginable?

Or would you end up losing it all like so many lottery winners of the mega prizes do?

The five colors
blind the eye.
The five tones
deafen the ear.
The five flavors
dull the taste.
The chase and the hunt
craze people’s minds.

Wasting energy
to obtain rare objects
only impedes
one’s growth.

Masters
observe the world
but trust
their inner visions.
They allows things
to come and go.
They prefer
what is within
to what is without.

(edited slightly by yours truly to reflect more inclusive language)

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

I respect the generosity of those who share their wealth, but I sometimes wonder: how many rich mistresses do you know who observe the world but trust their inner visions, who allow things to come and go, preferring what is within to what is without?

My Impressions of the Verse

The crux of this verse is found in the first line of the third stanza: Masters observe the world but trust their inner visions.

Masters (and mistresses) live with a clear distinction between change and changelessness, between the changing and the unchanging, between the manifesting reality and relativity of all things sensorial and the absolute nature that characterizes the source of all things.

In short, they put into practice this simple dictum: be in the world but not of it.

The five colors
blind the eye.
The five tones
deafen the ear.
The five flavors
dull the taste.
The chase and the hunt
craze people’s minds.

Thanks to habituation, too much of a good thing ceases to be a good thing.

In chasing after the objects of desire, crazed minds get lost in the hunt for madcap excitements fueled by insane expectations that bring periodic bursts of impatience and frustration. Wild-eyed and breathless, they remain in constant pursuit of the next quick fix.

Mindlessness replaces mindfulness.

Wasting energy
to obtain rare objects
only impedes
one’s growth.

This point is key.

Many identifications born of attachment can forestall or prevent the awakening of essence through personality.

From birth, we are conditioned into forming personalities to cope with expectation, causing most of us to become attached to anything that would have us maintain constraining, conforming facades of normality and success.

Cut off from the essence of who they are, confusing personality with individuality, many waste energy chasing after novelty and variety.

They never mature into fully individuated persons.

Masters
observe the world
but trust
their inner visions.
They allows things
to come and go.
They prefer
what is within
to what is without.

First the prescription, then the practice and preference.

Prescription: observe the world but trust your inner vision.

Practice: allow people, places, and things to come and go.

Preference: prefer “what is within” to “what is without”.

Let’s make this simple and easy: observe, allow, prefer.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

What is inner vision? What does it mean to trust inner vision? And what does any of this have to do with personal fulfillment?

The pineal gland contains rods and cones, just like eyes do, which suggests that this pine-shaped, cone-like gland at the center of the brain is the source of inner vision, but inner vision can also be viewed figuratively, as a sense of knowing that sees into the core of who we are.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned personality and individuality in the same breath, which are expressions of ego and essence, respectively.

Where personality is caught up in seeking and finding pleasure through novelty and variety, individuality blooms naturally and spontaneously in conditions that are ideal for its realization. Where the first is “of this world”, the second is “in this world but not of it”.

If inner vision is that sense of knowing that can be a witness to the bloom of essence in the world, then trusting this inner vision is about giving up the chase and the hunt long enough to observe, allow, and prefer the blooming of essence, with or without the demands of expectation.

As for personal fulfillment, you can never have lasting fulfillment until you’ve realized your essence.

With this essential context in mind, allow me to go deeper and elaborate on the nature of essence.

As far as I can see, I have only one purpose in life: to explore, express, and expand truthfully the loving essence of who I am as fully as I can.

The nature of essence is made clear by way of contrast, by looking at the ego and its identifications with the world. Resistance and reactivity could not arise in experience if these identifications were not opposed, challenged, threatened, undermined, denied, removed, or destroyed.

From birth to death, we all form attachments. It is in the nature of life to form attachments. Generally speaking, infants form attachments with mothers, children form attachments with parents, adolescents form attachments with peers, and adults form attachments with authorities.

We form attachments to ideas, beliefs, perspectives, systems, objects, outcomes, places, and persons, whether we’re aware of this or not. Interestingly, these attachments carry over from past lives to current lives, making it easy to pick up a skill or renew an interest.

The main concern around attachments is this: do they bring healthy and vital identifications? That is, do they serve life or death? If an infant forms a secure attachment with its mother, any ensuing identifications with the mother later in life are likely to be healthy and vital.

When attachments are made, the resulting identifications are healthy and vital if they reflect and serve both essence and ego (essence does not identify; only ego identifies). If they serve ego only, the underlying attachments are insecure and cannot be supported and sustained.

For example, if I win a million dollars, a part of me might not feel worthy of it. I might spend it recklessly. I might give it away indiscriminately. I might lose most of it before I’ve had a chance to invest any of it. My attachment to the money is insecure; it cannot be sustained.

Conversely, if I win a million dollars, every part of me might feel worthy of it. I might take a few days or even weeks to contemplate my desires in relation to my winnings before spending a single penny. I might consult a trusted financial advisor on how to invest it wisely. With the help of a friend, I might draw up a list of my favorite charities. My attachment to the money is secure and therefore sustainable over the long haul.

Wherein lies the essential difference in these scenarios? Why is my attachment insecure on the one hand and secure in the other? Is it just a matter of feeling worthy of the winnings? Or is there more to it than that?

Feeling worthy is that crucial feeling that the essence of who I am is enough (and good enough) to get along in the world, to go along and get along with others, to establish an identity that is worthy of my essence, of the unique way in which I uphold and express myself.

If my ego is the sum total of my identifications born of attachments – healthy and unhealthy – in response to expectation, then my essence is that part of me that guides my ego to make healthy and vital identifications with and from and for my healthy and vital attachments.

It’s the essence of who I am that gives my ego pause – to step back and contemplate my desires relative to my winnings, for example – or to guide my ego towards consulting someone who can help me manage my winnings over the long term by investing them wisely.

There’s a very real danger of digging a grave for essence below the surface of ego, of substituting personality for individuality, in a competitive (or cooperative) culture of entitlement and conformity that worships at the altars of technology and celebrity.

The world is full of people who bury the essence of who they are and appear as mere caricatures of who they really are. The telltale signs of this conditioning are obvious and legion: trivial pursuits; second-hand values and superficial interests; all manner of distractions, addictions, obsessions, and compulsions; displays of conspicuous consumption; unsavory characters and fake personalities. The list goes on and on.

This is not to diminish the importance of having a game face, of going along to get along, of keeping your cool and playing along where necessary. You do yourself a favor when you can ensure that your vital core energizes and magnetizes your game face, when you let your Being guide your having and doing, and when you let your individuality inform and inspire your personality – not the other way around.

Ideally, essence guides ego, so that individuality can inform and inspire personality, so that sanity can support and sustain identity.

If you’ve been looking for a formula to guide your life towards lasting fulfillment, this could be the one you’re looking for.

Next up: Living Autonomously

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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