It would not perhaps be fair to place too much blame on Taoism, Zen Buddhism, eastern spirituality for a lack of contentment that remained my constant companion, but the depersonalization I absorbed from eastern ideas mirrored my sense of disconnectedness. Intellectually, I may have found comfort in eastern ideas, especially Alan Watt’s idea of the individual ego as fake or illusory. My unsettled sense of self and inability to feel authentic enjoyed Watt’s disparagement of the ego. I suppose that ideas of every persuasion have their abusers.
We suffer not only from the pain of a wound but pile suffering upon suffering because of not wanting to suffer, and for wanting to be anywhere but where we are when we are suffering. What a leap from simply suffering, with a seemingly endless rippling effect.
Suffering can move us through, relocating us to some new way of seeing, even if reluctantly, and makes us more aware that we are alive, not able to go about the day in our usual fashion. We sometimes ask, why me? We find the limits of our control, over both ourselves and others. All the more so in proportion to how much control we are accustomed to assuming we have, or would like to have, both over ourselves and others.
In eastern thought, I think the aim is to be one with life and to live without desire and attachment in a way that conflicts with the separateness each of us knows in our lived, historical, and perceived individuality. Oneness or unity may be inviting, or a vision of a reality beyond us, or desirable, as selflessness promises the release of the tension felt in the ontological fright of being alive now, but will never erase our knowing that we were not always alive and won’t always be alive, which is, in all honesty, an inescapable reality of our individuality.
It is in the day to day living, leading one day to our death, that truly makes us alive and aware of our separateness. It is as persons, uniquely moving through time and space, in relationship to all else, that we create or discover meaning. Michael Meade says, “there is no way not to be who you are and where you are right now.”
There is an inherent tension in being alive because we know we weren’t always here and we know we will die. How baffling, how terrifying it is to know that we are finite, and yet to be given the awareness that transcends our personal historical time, and more space than our single lives occupy. We live multi-dimensionally through the bounty of memory, images, time and space and with whatever powers that influence us.
During the time I was attracted to eastern thought, the thing missing most from my life was both an understanding and acceptance of what it is to be “in relationship to”, whether to others, or to myself. Running away from my individuality was an attempted escape from fear and conflict that I experienced with others.
To be in conflict, both internally and externally, created a desire to move beyond the uncomfortable limits of personhood, and perhaps attracted me to reach for something that relieves the tension and conflict of being-in-relationship. Who wouldn’t enjoy the security and wisdom that an infinite and omniscient being has? A worthy striving, or unstriving, however one imagines the path toward that state of being. And before I understood clearly that there are limits to knowledge, I believed that it was just possible to achieve such a state.
Looking at the mess that being finite, limited individuals has wrought, I wanted something else, some other way to be. But, what if our lives as individuals are God’s idea of extravagance and necessary because relationship is part of the motion of the universe? The mess is okay, but wants something from us.
Many a disillusioned westerner will do anything to run from or disidentify with the mess of the world and especially the burden of history. The danger being to reject western culture without enough reflection to know what is that is being rejected.
And so, a tone of complete rejection of Western culture dominated my thoughts and studies for several years. Little did I understand at the time how common was my thinking even when I was feeling the pangs of my own personhood trying to be born.