I’ve been sick for the past few days. Needless to say, I haven’t been sticking to my commitments. I actually fell into quite a funk…this letter to my friend embodies how I’ve been feeling. Ironically (or maybe more obvious than ironic), writing it all out made me feel better, and I think I’m even feeling enough energy to tackle a project.
How go your travels? Are you feeling revived and finding your true nature?
I think I’m in a funk. To be fair, I’ve been sick since Saturday, and I suppose lying in bed for four days would dampen anyone’s mood. Would you think I was crazy if I said I think I willed it?
This happens to me pretty often – I’m really excited for an upcoming weekend. I have no plans or obligations, so I tell myself I can finally spend the weekend tackling my creative endeavors. Writing, painting, and just making stuff. Then something sets me off. It could be something as innocuous as knocking over a glass of water or as self imposed as thinking about my student loans. But this is just a hiccup, I can still do all the things I want. Until…I start feeling physically sick.
This time, it’s been a mysterious stomach ache that’s lasted four days. I’m in physical pain, so I can’t do anything besides plant myself in front of a screen and zone out. The physicality of the matter gives me a legitimate excuse to put off all the things I was so excited about just a few hours ago. That self destructive side of me sees an opening and jumps at the chance, slowly taking my mind from tired to dispirited to outright dejected. I wouldn’t be so suspicious if this wasn’t a pernicious habit of mine. One I can now discern as an incarnation of some deeper, more troubling fear.
Am I that afraid of failing that I have to put myself into a psychosomatic illness to avoid just trying? What am I even striving for that I’m afraid of falling short from? I just want to make stuff. I tell myself it’s just for fun, but I know a few layers down, there is this part of me that wants success. Craves it. Needs it to be feel validated.
I’ve been reading this book, The Great Work of Your Life (I highly recommend it), and I’m on Part IV: The Third Pillar: “Let Go of the Fruits.” The book is based off The Bhagavad Gita (another must read – and I think it’s free to download on your phone), and I’m now on the third and most important lesson regarding Dharma: letting go of the fruits of our actions.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of your work.”
This is the concept of nonattachment, perhaps the single greatest key in unlocking happiness here on earth. I’m sure you’ve heard or read that desire is the root of all suffering. “Clinging (or grasping) of any kind disturbs the mind. And this disturbed mind, then, is not really fully present to the task at hand. It is forever leaning forward into the next moment – grabbing. And, not being present for the moment, it cannot fully devote its powers to the job at hand. We find ourselves, at this point, right back to our old friend, doubt. Grasping, it turns out, is just another form of doubt.”
Good old doubt. Am I good enough? Is what I’m doing right? Is it getting the recognition it deserves? Wait…why does it deserve any recognition? Says who? I suppose it’s my need to find my sense of self worth in that work that says so. But how do I free myself from caring about the fruits of my labor? Especially when it comes to work, isn’t it the fruits of my labor that will get me that paycheck, that promotion, that livelihood? Given the way our society is set up, if we want to sustain ourselves doing what we love, we need some level of success. So is it realistic to expect that we could ever detach ourselves from the results?
This is something I’ve thought about a lot. Another form it comes in is striving to be better (with the pure intention of just wanting to do better) versus accepting where we are. I’m sure I have more to learn, but the way I’ve worked it out so far is that it’s okay to have some concern about the outcome. I mean if we didn’t care at all about the outcome, then we probably wouldn’t put in much effort. So, I think there can be some concern, maybe even a little hope, but the key is to not be disturbed if the outcome isn’t what we wanted. This is another key aspect of Buddhism: equanimity – a sense of mental neutrality regardless of whether something is good or bad.
Now, how do I actually do this? I have no fuckin’ clue. My whole life has been based on results…and comparison. Success has always been predicated on some sort of recognition that I am better at something than someone else. What grade did you get? What school did you go to? How much money are they giving you? What company are you working for?
How do I decouple myself from this form of self worth? I’ve finally come to know that I am good. I’m good enough. But how will everyone else know that if I’m not successful (and in our world, there is only one true measure of success – the dollar dollar bills).
I’m reading about Keats and how he discovered that poetry was his dharma. In the beginning, he craved fame too, but he soon realized that real fulfillment wasn’t about fame and accolades, but rather the experience of bringing forth the best that was in him. “He saw that the ‘immortality’ that is gained in the creation of great art is not immortality in anyone else’s eyes, but a transcendence of time through the outpouring of the soul’s possibility.” I think that needs to be repeated:
“He saw that the ‘immortality’ that is gained in the creation of great art is not immortality in anyone else’s eyes, but a transcendence of time through the outpouring of the soul’s possibility.”
Like, woah. Yes. A thousand times, YES! I see the truth in this. I can actually feel the truth in this. And as I’ve disclosed to you many times, I feel this sense of love and connection when it comes to the written word. So why is it that I can’t muster the discipline, nay even the simple desire, to dedicate my time to this practice? Why is it that I’d rather scroll through Netflix looking for a show that I’d settle for watching instead of picking up one of my books, or my laptop? Maybe it’s not all so complicated, maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe this isn’t my dharma. I don’t know…any insight you might have on the matter would be appreciated as always.
I think I’ve left you with enough meat to digest here, but I want to leave this verse from the Bhagavad Gita (Note: the threegunas (qualities) are tamas (darkness), rajas (activity), and sattva (beingness). All three gunas are always present in all beings and objects surrounding us, but vary in their relative amounts):
When a man sees clearly that there is
no doer besides the gunas
and knows what exists beyond them,
he can enter my state of being.
Going beyond the three gunas
that arise from the body, freed
from the sorrows of birth, old age,
and death, he attains the Immortal.
How can I recognize the man
who has gone beyond the three gunas?
What has he done to go
beyond them? How does he act?
Whatever quality arises —
light, activity, delusion —
he neither dislikes its presence
nor desires it when it is not there.
He who is unattached,
who is not disturbed by the gunas,
who is firmly rooted and knows
that only the gunas are acting,
who is equally self contained
in pain or pleasure, in happiness
or sorrow, who is content
with whatever happens, who sees
dirt, rocks, and gold as equals,
who is unperturbed amid praise
or blame of himself, indifferent
to honor and to disgrace,
serene in success and failure,
impartial to friend and foe,
unattached to action — that man,
has gone beyond the three gunas.