I direct a fair amount of attention to the messages coming at us from that broader expression of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate called “culture” or “society.” One of my fascinations is attempting to see 1) whether I see and hear what I do only because I tune in to what meshes with my conditioning or 2) if my conditioning is so in sync with society’s messages that I’m receiving everything as intended or 3) if something completely other is happening and I’m missing the whole thing! I am blessedly, and not accidentally, popular-culture deprived. But, having been around for a lot of years and having seen many fads come and go, it seems to me that much of what’s current or trendy is just a veneer on old messages of “how you gotta be.” For instance, on the surface it would seem obvious that the requirements for survival would be different if one lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan verses South Central Los Angeles. Yes? But scratch the surface and I’m betting we would find that the real message is that regardless of your location, you need to fit in and be accepted in the particular patch you inhabit.
So, to continue with my wild projecting, I’m betting each person reading this got some version of what “dedicate your life to something you consider worthy” means. Few of us got that as a direct message, but the messages we did get—do something important, make your mark on the world, be somebody, fill in the blank— cover the subject.
These kinds of messages are perfect weapons for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate to use against us because they are so vague. What does “important” mean for heaven’s sake? How big a mark shall I make? “Be somebody” doesn’t mean me, does it? This is a beautiful set-up because the voice of self-hate will insist that whatever you do is not going to be big enough or good enough. There will always be someone it will point to who is doing something bigger and better, and as long as that person exists, well, I’m sorry, what you’re doing is just not that great.
So we are required to take our lives into our own hands, which is actually a marvelous thing. No one wants someone else, especially a disembodied voice inside the head, to be calling the shots for them, do they? (“Yes!” the voice will scream, but that’s to be expected.)
The Buddha taught us that we each have one person to save—ourselves. Each of us gets one life in which to do that. This one. He also, allegedly, taught that we will not allow ourselves to awaken as long as we are doing something we don’t feel good about. As Christmas Humphreys phrased it, “We are punished by what we do, not because of it.”
This puts us in an excellent position. We get to look—for ourselves—at what we want to devote our lives to, and then we get to practice not letting the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate have any opinion whatsoever about our choice. Each of us gets to decide that we will be a taxi driver or a school teacher or a stay-at-home parent; that we will work in a deli or as a librarian, politician, firefighter, road builder, or whatever... and the voices don’t get to cast a vote. Will they try? You bet they will, no matter what we do!
But the reason they don’t get to have a voice in the matter, aside from the fact that our life is none of their business, is that it doesn’t matter what we do; it only matters how we are. The real “thing” we’re devoting our lives to is a way of being.
We each get to choose how we want our life to be, to identify what we value, who we want to be, what we want to stand for, and we get to have a lifetime to practice that. To practice that. With no input from anyone or anything but our own heart, listened to in our quietest, most compassionate moments. With every breath we get to practice choosing what is dearest to our own heart.
That’s what’s possible for us.
We are very fortunate.