Lately, I’ve been having a lot of discussions about metaphysics and enlightenment.
Part of this is simply the result of having a highly educated, intelligent girlfriend who enjoys rolling her eyes and arguing with me. The other part is reading a lot of Ayn Rand and Haruki Murakami. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention introducing the new girlfriend to the thrilling adventures of Jack Flanders and the philosophical content of that series.
So, intellectually, there’s been a lot going on and it’s segued into the holiday season and all my normal end-of-the-year drama. The dead were walking among us last week, and that included the figuratively dead … those people I’ve written off as being non-viable for any meaningful role in my life. That, in turn, leads to the omni-present question that seems to pop up every time I discuss metaphysics.
How can someone like me talk about the path?
First of all, I’ve never called to be a full actualized or enlightened spirit. Far from it, I find myself standing in the shadow of my own light many times a day. I haven’t met a lot of enlightened beings and I don’t expect to in this life time. The best anyone can hope for is to become light-giving and move a little further down the past.
I’ve got my demons. I accept them and work with them because I know they exist to help me become a more enlightened person. The interesting thing to me about this is that the demons that concern me most aren’t the ones people seem to think rule my life.
The demon I wrestle most violently with is my inability to forgive. If you injure me, insult me or even attack me without managing to cause any damage at all, I will remember that and I will hold it against you forever. I know that’s wrong. I know that it causes me more karmic harm that it does my enemies, but resentment is the one attachment I just can not seem to let go.
The simplest example of this I can think of is my work environment. I’ve been at my current job long enough know to build up a small store of resentment.
One co-worker (and I use the term loosely) betrayed me badly, with the full range of lies and hostility that comes with that. It was a deliberate act of betrayal which was thought out, planned ahead of time and executed … albeit badly and without measurable effect. I know this person’s karmic debt will be settled, that all her efforts in the end brought me no harm and that, truly, the only ill benefit I’ve suffered due to her actions is the karmic damage my own resentment causes me. I should forgive her and move on.
But I can’t. I will hate her until … well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Until when? Until I learn to let go of my anger and resentment? Until I find a way to forgive her despite the fact she doesn’t want to be forgiven?
The other betrayal, by another co-worker, is far simpler and far more complex because of it. I know he didn’t mean anything by it. He told a joke to an enemy. He didn’t know the person he was joking with was my enemy. He didn’t know I could hear him. He didn’t know the joke would offend me. In fact, more than one of my friends has pointed out, it’s the kind of joke I might have made about myself.
I won’t get into the semantics of why it bothered me. The more important issue for me is that it’s not an isolated incident. I’ve overheard a couple of other similar comments about me since then. Honestly, I know there’s no malice on his part and it’s not an intentional insult. It’s just his personality, the way he talks.
So I should be able to forgive that easily, right?
Instead of forgiving these people and moving on, my solution was to withdraw completely from the work environment and simply avoid any unnecessary contact with them. From a practical point of view, it is a practical solution. It produces the necessary effect. Rather than recognizing them as beings who deserve forgiveness or resentment, I simply do do not recognize them at all. I recognize the illusory nature of their reality and simply take away their power to annoy me.
But this is not at all the same as forgiving them.
And this is my point. I can write essays. I can give lectures. I can discuss and debate the theory and method of enlightenment for days on end. But there is a huge gulf between knowing the path to enlightenment and following it. There are moments when I can gleam like a beacon, giving off so much light … and then I manage to stand in front of my own light, living in the shadow that I’ve cast myself.
Perhaps in the next life, I will be able to truly forgive and let go of my resentment. In this life, I think the best I can hope for is to forgive those who ask and contain my resentment so that it doesn’t effect the manner in which I interact with them.
As to the question of how someone like me can discuss the path … I can discuss it because I am walking it every day. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes I may become distracted by attachments, pleasant or otherwise.
I like to think that spending a long time making the trip is giving me a perspective people miss from the windows of the bullet train.