Stop Trying To Be Your Own God
The Principles of Tao and Wu-Wei
It is not all that long ago since the people of Britain believed in the existence of God. The idea of a divine being, the idea that your actions hold moral consequences, that there is someone who is judging you from above — this all became a nuisance for a people who had lost their purpose in the world, a people who just wanted to sip champagne and watch their nation fall. We wanted freedom, natural freedom, sexual freedom, and God was spoiling our pleasure. Indeed, for most people in this country, religion is an irritating and even offensive topic of discussion.
And so, we received, on the back of Freud and Dawkins, another myth, one that would entertain our desire to be without moral consequence — this myth being that the world is purely mechanical. And now it is fashionable — for it is just a fashion — to believe that intelligence, love and emotion all reside in the human and that everything else in nature is merely blind and ruthless. We think of ourselves as separate from the natural world, as intruders and soldiers who are in a conflict against nature — against everything that is outside of ourselves. For we believe that we do not grow out of the world as the flowers and the trees do, but that we came into the world as foreigners who do not belong.
Ask anyone in the West to point to the place on their body where they think their consciousness resides and most, if not all, will lift their finger towards their brain. This is revealing of a culture which conditions people to think that the centre of the world exists in their mind. We have, therefore, identified ourselves with only one form of consciousness — that is, the ability of the mind to fix onto one thing at a time. But there is another type of consciousness, one which extends far beyond our conscious attention. The consciousness that breathes without our command, gives the pulse to our hearts and grows our hair — this is the real, deep self, because what you really are is the awareness of the whole being, the you that observes your thoughts. And this universal self has the capacity to focus itself onto anything it wants, for it is a singular expression of the universe, playing the role of a human being. Indeed, what deadens us most to the fullness of consciousness is the constant mental chatter within our heads, for we have divided ourselves between the conscious that wills and acts and the subconscious that regulates our organs and glands — or between what Eknath Easwaran refers to as the ‘knower’ and the ‘known’. We are, therefore, involved in a constant struggle to control and understand our subconscious with our conscious and logical self — it is no wonder we are all tangled up and frustrated with life.
The majority constantly torment themselves with fears of future suffering or the fear of being anxious or depressed or scared. Our primary concern is self-preservation and self-discipline. We fear not sleeping, but then we fear the fear of not sleeping and try not to think about not being able to sleep. Life is an endless process of trying to avoid the fear of being afraid. Now at this moment, the question arises, ‘How does one free oneself from this burden?’ But you ask this question because you want an instruction manual, a step by step guide on how to live or how to achieve eternal happiness. There must a science, a doctrine to life, or perhaps a magic pill that will end my woes, I hear you say. For you are a man of logic, a man separated from the world and, therefore, you cannot help but make yourself a judge, a critic of everything in existence, as God does when he looks down upon his creations. And so, you think you control everything, and in turn everything controls you, and you act as if you know what is best for you, all the while refusing to acknowledge that you might belong to something greater than your egoic sense of ‘self’.
We pride ourselves on our ego, a result seeking instrument, which is a useful tool if what we are looking for are things like food, water or money. But if we already have these things and we are comfortable, we will begin to search for states of being, such as happiness and contentment. And this is a senseless endeavour, for the ego must work purposelessly towards no real purpose, towards looking for results from itself — and this is a trap, as Alan Watts writes. The answer then, it seems, is that one should refrain from action that has a result in a mind — a spiritual result such as happiness, excitement or courage. However, this leads to a kind of restless stillness, a desire not to control oneself, an attempt to deliberately relax one’s mind — for we are wishing to live without the pressure for a result by desiring the result of being without desire. And still we remain in conflict with nature and ourselves, becoming more restless and hopeless the more we try to weave oneself out of the trap. Well then, where does that leave us? Is it really possible for me to live without desiring a result? Truth be told, it does not matter what I do, whether I choose to act or not act, whether I seek to attain an outcome or not, I will still be irresistibly and uncontrollably seeking a result.
It is the common experience of man to move through life feeling a sense of being cheated, that life is not quite fair. His heart feels empty, dull and mediocre, and his mind is clenched with fear — the fear of death, isolation and poverty. The world has weighed him down; his life, which was once exciting and full of promise and potential, now seems intolerably tedious. He has spent his time seeking information and wisdom, perhaps he studied psychology or philosophy, or maybe he has travelled the world, or maybe he spends hours each day meditating. If he discovers any shortcoming or flaw in his personality then he will seek to transform himself, to emerge from his wounds as a martyr of self-improvement. And he looks into his inadequacies, the things that he is not doing that he should be doing, and he builds his life up, he expands his career and becomes a leader in his community. The world he has created is comfortable and free and yet, still he feels incomplete; sometimes he wakes up feeling totally helpless.
In this moment when all hope crashes down, when the frustration becomes too much to handle, the man has no choice but to surrender and release himself into the void. For he has realised the trap in which he exists and how there is nothing he can do, nor anything anyone else can do to free him from himself, from his desire to preserve and to be dependent on certainty. A shift in his personality occurs: He stops trying to be his own God, he stops being self-absorbed, he stops judging everyone and everything, he stops thinking his life is already sorted out, and he begins to allow everything to flow, to be as it is without conflict or verdict. He returns to God, to the Tao, to the way of nature, to the present moment — the living moment, which is inclusive of him and not separate from him. Realising he controls nothing, he unclenches his fist and moves ahead lightly, as the angels do, trusting the business of his life to God or nature. Indeed, he understands that his life never belonged to him in the first place.
With the knowledge that he lives in a trap and that there is nothing he can do to unwind himself, he finds himself beyond the grip of the trap and he no longer desires any state of being. He has now become what David Deida calls the ‘Third Stage Man’. He has expanded beyond the first-stage need to depend on the material world, as well as the second-stage need to depend on states of being inside of oneself. He is now one with the spontaneous force of creation, the force of acceptance, the same force behind the pulse of his heart and the circulation of his breath.
There is no practical method or technique which you or I can use to become a Third Stage Man or to align with the Tao, the flow of nature — or Wu Wei, meaning ‘without exertion’ or ‘effortless action’. The striving for spiritual ideals pushes them away, and so long as we think that there is a method, that perhaps there is a chance, the entanglement and the frustration will continue to worsen. True experience of the Tao cannot be put into words, and the only knowledge to be had is the knowledge of the trap — of the prison we put ourselves in when we seek. And so, the way to realise the trap is by surrendering our life, as our ancestors did, to God, to nature, to non-separation, to the wholeness of consciousness.
“Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.”