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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

While running on the treadmill, I noticed a woman, who had newly joined the gym, at the adjoining machine. She was middle aged and perhaps never been to a gym before. As the instructor got her started at a very slow pace, she strongly gripped the metallic handlebars in front of her. Interestingly her daughter who had accompanied her, saw her slow movement. After a while, she encouraged her mother to increase the pace and let go of the handlebars, as she was hardly exerting herself. The woman shook her head, uncertain of herself. It was evident that she felt she would be swept away by the pace of the treadmill if she let go, have a fall and injure herself.

As I watched the drama unfold on the treadmill, it occurred to me as the perfect analogy for how we live our life.

We are born vulnerable in an uncertain world. Whether we are prepared for it or not, life’s treadmill keeps moving. Often the pace is quite overwhelming and frightening. We look for certainty and security by holding on to the handlebars of an educational qualification, a job, a marriage, a family. We make great effort to follow the moral and religious codes prescribed by society. Trying our best to be a good person – son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, friend or citizen. Hoping to be in the good books of all concerned. Believing that this will provide enough financial and emotional security against the uncertainty of life. And yet, in spite of so many anchors and endeavors to secure ourselves, life sweeps us of our feet. There is fear of a relationship breaking up, of losing a job, of children leaving home, of old parents dying, of unexpected illnesses – essentially the treadmill of life moving faster than our capacity to run with its pace.  And, the other side of the coin is, if life’s treadmill moves at a slow same pace, we suffer a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness, with nothing to challenge us. Either way we suffer.

What then is the solution?

Probably the solution lies in being solution-less. We want a certain answer, theory or direction of how to live. Hoping that will secure us. Perhaps that is at the core of all the insecurity we experience. We are always looking for answers and anchors outside of us – books, gurus, parents, philosophies, power, position, money, codes of conduct – and yet it does not rid us of our misery and anxiety. On the contrary, it magnifies our suffering. We cannot match up to the ideal society or we ourselves have set for us. Our current reality is far away from the ideal image of ourselves, of how we wish our life to be. There is always a desire to be more successful and achieve more in all areas of our life – material or spiritual. Our lives are ruled by, what “should be”, what “could be” or what “should have been” or “could have been”. There is never an acceptance of What Is.

No, this article is not about living in the moment or harnessing the power of now, recommended in many books as a panacea to overcome human distress. This article is about exploring what stops us from letting go of the handlebars and embracing whatever life brings – pleasure or suffering.

“Suffering is an ingrained part of existence” declared the Buddha 2500 years ago. The sight of an old man, an ailing person, a corpse and an ascetic moved him to find the way out of human suffering. Not that we need a Buddha to validate human suffering. We all have suffered at some point or the other. Loneliness, emptiness and rejection contribute to greater suffering in the contemporary world, than they ever did during Buddha’s times. Just as the Buddha did, we too seek a way out of suffering in our own unique ways. After all, whole of life is a pursuit for happiness and completion. Whether one stays in the thick of things and pursues worldly success or chooses to opt out and seek moksha – an imagined state of eternal bliss. The pursuit remains the same. Fulfillment of a desired goal in the future.

What would happen if we stopped pursuing anything?

Would we become vegetables? Would there be anything to live for? How would we know how to direct our lives? Who will pay the bills? How will we survive? Is it even possible? Isn’t it normal to desire pleasure? Isn’t it natural to avoid suffering?

The whole idea of not wanting is so alien to us, that it immediately brings about much resistance and questions. The idea of “becoming something” and “achieving something” is so culturally ingrained in our system, that we do not know of any other way of living. Perhaps there is something for humans to learn from nature. Nothing in nature is trying to become, it simply moves according to its own unique intrinsic nature. Of course, it can be pointed out, that other than humans no other beings have the freedom of choice, of exerting their will power and the capacity to think.

Choice, will power and thinking are all synonyms of the same activity.

What if I were to tell you, choice is an illusion. As illusionary as the person who thinks he chooses. Neither truly exist.

I wonder what would be the answer to the following questions, if one were to avoid falling back on our conditioning that there is a God, everything happens due to the law of karma or some planetary configuration. If one were to drop for a moment, whatever our special brand of religion, culture or philosophy has taught us. The You that I refer to in these questions is, whatever you think of yourself as a separate independent identity.

Where was the “you” before you were born? Did the “you” choose you to be born? Did the “you” choose where you would be born? Did the “you” choose your genetic coding? Does the “you” regulate your inner body functions? Did the “you” arrange for life giving forces of food, water, and sunlight so that you may survive ? Where does the “you” disappear when you are asleep?

The existential answer to all these questions is a simple unknowing Silence. It is foolish to trivialize life by using borrowed concepts to explain it. Life Simply Is. Existence Is. The only thing that cannot be disputed is that I Am. I Exist.

Yet we choose to overlook this simple fact of our existence and live in an abstract world of theories, philosophies, knowledge, check-lists, plans, images, assumptions, beliefs – passed on to us from the past. Is it possible to drop all of it? Yes, absolutely all of it and live. Simply Live!

Live as though we are already complete, just as we are. Not seeking something to better us. Live as though spontaneous self-expression is our birthright. Not seeking the right conditions to do so. Live as though our feelings are the only authority of our reality in the moment. Not seeking anyone’s permission to feel our natural self – no matter how wild, evil and impure it may seem. Live as though life is made of many colours of love, hate, joy, sadness, lust, care, jealousy, compassion and all these colours belong to us. Not seeking to become white by hiding the black. Living as though life is a river and we are simply flowing with our destiny. Not seeking to live in the illusion of controlling the flow of life. Living with full abandon, sucking the juice of every living moment – be it joy or suffering. Not seeking to make second-hand meaning of our experiences or understand life.

We suffer for self-expression, as much as we suffer for choosing not to express. We suffer being lonely all by ourselves, just as we suffer being lonely in a crowd. We suffer being in a meaningless job or a relationship, as much as breaking away from it. If suffer we must, then why not suffer for something that gives us life. That takes us closer to our natural intrinsic self.

Finally, two sentences that sum up everything.

Let go of the handlebars.

Give life a chance!


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