This is not an information post, and not a lecture. There is neither archaeological nor scientific background here, and no reference to any authority, to any expertise, to any theory. It’s not about thinking either. So there is no point to plug-in your questioning machine, to try and understand, analyze, pre and post rationalize. Welcome in the field of pure observation, facts and consciousness. Let’s take a breath, and dive into this inquiry together. At each step, please take a deep look, for yourself and within yourself, to verify each assertion. Be all in, so that there is no doubt and no space, between yourself and what you will observe. And enjoy the ride!
What is life? Not our dream life, not life as it should be or as it could be, but life as it is. Your life. Our life. Our life is a series of experiences, which follow one another, in time and in space, isn’t it?
At the beginning.
These very first experiences of ours are sensory and emotional, aren’t they? The eye sees, the ear hears, the nose smells, the mouth tastes, the hand touches, and emotions spring up, usually in the form of a sound, a cry, a laugh. We are entering life.
The brain. Images and Feelings storage. Repetition and Escape games.
Very quickly, and without having asked for anything, our brain takes control and performs – in autopilot – the following tasks. First, she turns those past experiences into images. Then, she associates each image with a feeling. Finally, she stores these images and feelings in our memory. These images and feelings are thus classified, stored, preserved and maintained, so that they can serve our interests when the time comes. How? By associating each image with a feeling, our brain classifies our past experiences into two categories: good and bad. Depending on whether they gave us immediate pleasure or displeasure. Then, molded with the best intentions towards ourselves – that is concerned about our/her survival -, our brain decides to do everything in her power to seek to repeat good experiences [AGAIN!] and to escape bad experiences [NEVER AGAIN!]. So, when a new experience kicks in, our brain rushes at full speed into her library of memories, scans all these images and feelings associated with our past experiences, finds the one that seems the closest to present experience and drops her verdict in our head: “it’s good, go for it” or “it’s bad, run away! “. All of this is very obvious. To make it even clearer, let’s take a few concrete examples.
The label. First time we meet.
Whether unexpected or gallant or for a conference or for a job interview, how long does it take us to “label” someone? Barely 7 seconds tell us the studies. After 7 seconds, the dice are cast. For the most part. We can defend ourselves against it, but just look within yourself. How much a few physical traits, a simple tone of voice, the ressemblance with someone we already know and couple of words are enough, to make us sway one way or the other.
Look around you. Observation through the lenses of past images.
How much attention do we pay to what surrounds us? Consider a walk in the nature, or the repetitive route between your home and your office, or the air or land route that takes you to your holidays. May I ask again, how much attention do we pay to our landscape? We see the sky for a split second, and we say “it’s beautiful” or “it’s not beautiful”. We look at a tree, a bird, and it’s the same. We look at our spouse, our boss, and it’s the same. Why ? Because we don’t look at them intensively, in all their nuances, in all their splendor, in all their presence. In fact, we don’t look at them at all! We tell ourselves a lot of stories, that we already know all these beings, “by heart”, even, we sometimes say! We are no longer paying attention. Have we ever been? Have we ever looked at these people we say we love and at all these things around us? Other than by interposed images. We lock beings and things, despite ourselves, in the image box of our brain, and we no longer see them as they are.
The child’s gaze. Direct observation.
Whether or not you are a parent, you have seen it before. That look, that fascinating fascination of the child looking at everything around him, being one with everything around him. You were, yourselves, this child. This is how we all came to birth/earth. With a child’s gaze. The child who has not yet stored too many images or the grown-up child who has learned to let go and look at the world with fresh eyes. With this gaze, the child sees everything! He touches everything. Too often we say and his parents say “keep calm, you should not”. He freezes in front of the wanderer’s sad face and plunges his eyes into his. Perhaps he will reach out to him. Maybe he will turn to his parents and say “why is the man sad?” or “why is the man dirty?”. What will we answer him?
The never-ending fight.
So we live our life. Not fully as the sequence of experiences it could be. But as a relentless race for pleasure and pleasures of all kinds, on the one hand, and a relentless race to avoid suffering and fears of all kinds, on the other. And we reveal ourselves, in this frantic race in all directions, in multiple and permanent conflicts with ourselves and with others. Look ! Our race towards such pleasure collides with our race towards such other pleasure. Our race towards such pleasure collides with our race to avoid such other fear. Our race towards such pleasure collides with the race of another person, to flee his own fears or towards his own pleasures. What chaos inside, and outside! Please look within yourself, and look at our society. See our frustrations, our disappointments, our jealousies, our greed, our ambitions, our anxieties, our suspicions. This is very concrete, very real. This is life, our lives!
The way we go through life.
We live a life driven by our senses, our emotions and our thinking. I was talking about autopilot before. That’s what we’re doing. We pursue images and feelings. We run away from other images and other feelings. Which our brain has chosen to create and store in our heads to help us survive in this world. Thus, when we take pleasure, physically, intellectually, spiritually, we take pleasure through images and we suffer through images. Was there real cause for pleasure or suffering? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know. We won’t know and, to a certain extend, our brain doesn’t care, since she has her nose plunged into her/our library, from which we brought forth images and emotions of the past.
The story of life. Our character.
This is how many of us experience life : a story written by the child they were, who faced challenges and reacted as he could. A life whose outlines are invariant, like a spell cast on ourselves, like a self fulfilling prophecy, which strengthened basic traits, slightly adjusted others, and basically did not change anything. “We are as we are” we say. And “he/she/i won’t change. It is her/her/my character ”. Yes it is. It is a story, full of characters, full of pages, full of images. A hidden story. A mega blind spot. It could be a mega joke, if the consequences wouldn’t be so tragic. And so, when we first suffer from one painful experience, we suffer thousands of times afterwards from this experience painful memory, our brain trying to ensure the continuity of this categorized “negative” past experience to avoid other new experiences of this kind. Like I said, it would be fun, if it weren’t for infinite sadness. And, in our whirlwind, in our misalignment with reality and ourselves, we also carry others into this disastrous dance, our loved ones and colleagues, who are usually not much better equipped than we are to weather storms.
So, the 7-year-old. Who sees his mother blooming with a man other than his father. Image: “the gentle eyes of her mother facing this man”. Felt: “negative”. Fear of losing the unity of the family cocoon, sadness towards the father, hatred and total loss of confidence towards the mother, extreme jealousy towards the third party. How much did I suffer from these emotions that day? How much stronger has my brain stored these images and feelings with the greatest care in my memory so that they will never be erased and always keep me alert to avoid feeling such unpleasantness? and how much of the opposite of the discount effect that occurred? Rather than suffer once, I have suffered thousands times. I did.
The importance of education.
Rather than putting all of my energy into observing and loving, I put all of my energy into this endless thoughts’ struggle. Nobody could explain this to me before. And I have reproduced this pattern over and over again, not just with my mother, but by extension with my partners, with my family, with my friends and with my professional comrades. With gigantic effects within me and around me. One day, I was leading a retreat in Kerala with a group of western kids and adults including my mother, my brother, my partner and our kids. I bumped into this old homeless guy who introduced himself as a doctor. Amused and curious about this incongruous meeting, I told him I love my mum, who was present right next to me, but that we had our issues, like anyone I said. He looked at her intensely. Then he steered at me, and smiled like an innocent child. He said Forgive and Forget. And he left. To forgive, of course, my Christian education and the road traveled since – I was 33 years old then – invited me to do so. I even thought I was an expert in forgiveness! To forget, on the other hand, I was naked. I didn’t know the concept and it could not resonate at all neither inside my brain nor inside my heart. I have since discovered the beauty of it, and I work today to cultivate it every day, like a garden. This article is a fruit of this garden session.
The time it takes. Clarity. Energy.
It took me many years and a couple more big crisis after this spot event, to realize what it’s all about. Don’t trust people telling you “it takes time”. Cause it doesn’t. It takes a minute, not even, it takes a second. When you see it, you see it. It’s like a fire. Big Bang! It sounds like an explosion, a very large amount of energy liberated within a very short amount of time! We call it clarity. The same occurred to me when I became vegetarian. It took me time to deconstruct my conditioning, yes. And the only reason why it took me so long, is that I spent and we spend our life surrounded by the wrong messages, the wrong education, the wrong teachers. Properly guided, I promise, it goes fast. Very fast. It is a matter of willingness. Of growth mindset.
Your best and only guide.
If you are firmly decided to go deep, within yourself, you have the best coach you can ever dream of, at your fingertips: yourself! You don’t need more. You shouldn’t seek for more. If you are serious about this very matter. Take care of yourself. Take control of yourself. Visit yourself. Discover yourself. It is a never ending journey, and such a rewarding one, which will very soon revert into the others’ discovery, which in the end is just one and the same thing, and which is even more rewarding. You will transform. They will transform.
Limits of thought.
Only reasons stop you. We have seen that, however brilliant and well-intentioned the brain is, the functioning of thought, which is built exclusively on the basis of past images and feelings, is very limiting.
To go from home to the office, to cultivate a garden, to build bridges and buildings, to invent a vaccine and to drive a horse or a train, the brain works perfectly and the arts and applied sciences are rich in an infinite number of extraordinary achievements, glory be to the brain!
Simply, if we turn our gaze in another direction, within ourselves, we have seen earlier the extent of our incessant personal struggles. And if we look outside again at the state of our planet and our relationship to nature, living things and others, we see that ourselves, and our society are degenerating. There is no value judgment here, no theory and no prediction. It is just the reality as it is. And, if you need to, please continue your observation so that it is no longer a conviction, because we are not discussing ideas here, but a simple fact : we live in permanent conflicts, within and without. There is nothing wrong here. We just look at the world as it is.
Note: a person I have the privilege to accompany with whom we were discussing this very serious matter told me recently that thoughts are like a pair of glasses. And that his were red. And that, as long as we are aware that we were wearing glasses, that what we see is not reality but a projection of reality, and that other people wear other glasses, blue or whatever color, and therefore see life differently, we are touching the essential. Because, he added, at this stage 1. he did not believe that one could live without a pair of glasses, 2. it was necessary to choose and wear one pair 3. the red ones were his, and he had become accustomed to them and won’t throw his glasses for any reason. I found his observation and testimony of such humility, of such accuracy and of such beauty that I allow myself today to share it with you, by thanking its author to have kindly offered us these few words.
Here, almost everything is said, when we realize that our thoughts filter reality, not giving reality a direct hold, a direct chance to be seen. At this stage, our thoughts very rightly add “you can’t do without me, look, everyone is doing the same way.” That is so true. However, because we are serious, because it is about our inner and outer life, and because of the chaos that we see there, both at the level of individual and at the level of society, it is our responsibility to continue the investigation by looking within ourselves whether an alternative is possible or not.
Can our chaotic life come to an end? Or, to put it more positively, can one lives a life without conflict? We have found that it is our frantic races, pro-pleasure and anti-displeasure, which are at the origin of these contradictions and these constant struggles. And we observed that it was our thinking that built this racing mechanic. So, then, the question becomes, is it good and useful – for us and for all – to let our thoughts rule our internal psychological affairs and our relationships in society? The answer is obviously no, given the results!
Simply, we have to admit we operate this way because we have been taught it, because it has always been the case since, and because we have accepted this reality as immutable, never having taken the time and the opportunity to think about the possibility of ‘an alternative. Now, we are here, with our inner world and our outer world being up side down. So we have the courage to question ourselves. And we now ask ourselves whether it is absolutely necessary – indispensable – for our thoughts to intervene in our internal affairs and in our relationships, and whether there is another possible way.
Free yourself from thought.
“Cogito Ergo Sum”. “I think so I am.” You already know, for those who have already read me elsewhere, my caution in the face of this assertion. We wonder what would happen if we were free from our thoughts. And, if I don’t think, am I no more? And, if I don’t think, am I dead, Rene [Descartes]?
To die today.
That’s it! Let us have the courage and the faith to return to the battlefield. Do we just know what death is?
Physically, we have a good idea. Since procreation and throughout life, the body comes together and breaks down and comes together again, cells are born and die by the millions and more, and it all falls apart, and that’s it. Stardust, as Hubert Reeves would say, DNA molecules grouped together for the occasion, and which disassembles, we heard at school “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.” That’s clear enough, for now.
Spiritually, my pleasure in hearing great stories and my respect for any believers compels me to be modest and cautious. Let’s just say that nothing has been shown, in the sense of demonstrated, when it comes to death. Resurrection on the third day, reincarnation in bat, heaven and hell. In other domains, this could be called fantasy. This is not the point to make now and that comment doesn’t mean either that it is wrong. It just remain as it is. In the hands of Gods, and in the hands of the believers. What we could add, as an investigation path for those interested, the history having been written by hands of flesh, bone and blood, human, were they guided by the hand of God, it is not entirely excluded that our human internal fear of death, on the one hand, and our appetite for pleasure, on the other hand, of driving and/or of saving the crowds for instance, have not inspired prophets in their writings. Here are a double wink, one to Coluche, him again, and his heroine “c’est la foi qui compte, moi j’compte pas les fois“, as well as to Voltaire “l’univers m’embarrasse et je ne puis penser, que cette horloge existe, et n’ai point d’horloger.“ to express their faith, and to echo mine.
Scientifically, not placing myself on the side of the experts, I understand that certain transhumanist visionaries think of eternal life and preach and work in this direction. I don’t see any contraindications to this poetry. I appreciate the visionary and daring nature of this project about which I know nothing. I also appreciate all the dangerousness, continuing to pass, overstep or surpass the essentials, life, consciously or unconsciously. Anyway, technically this project will surely take on a new dimension when our star, the sun, goes out. By then, if God gives us life, our friends and their followers will surely have figured out how to make us travel beyond the Oort Cloud. In the meantime, attempts to extend life on Earth are having a rather sad effect on me, I have to say, similar to wrinkle creams. Because, if I respect and salute the concern to take care of oneself, I nevertheless believe that among us who are all approaching a little closer to death every day, this fear which animates the majority of people echoes the fact of not not to have lived, other than in a dream, other than in a film, through this succession of images and feelings which are only a pale copy, and distorted one, of the real beauty of the living. Getting old is beautiful. It is a chance. It is a part of the path. Getting old in better shape goes with physical health, yes. And we should keep on trying to decrease and prevent any body torture of course. Now, mental health seems to be far worst shape than our body, considering the disorders we’ve been discussing so far. Reason why I urge you to take care of your inner self too!
Psychologically, many of us fear death, don’t we? When it’s not ours, it’s someone else’s. When it is neither one nor the other, we are usually afraid of a god and his wrath, or at least of a father – an expression of power what ever it is – and of his judgment. Afraid of suffering, yes. More than anything else, we are afraid of the unknown. Our thoughts, and the cultures that have succeeded one another and which are an immense aggregate of thoughts, have therefore dressed death in dreadful images. We got used to it. We got used to our lives. So mediocre in some aspects, so sad, so chaotic. We clung to what is fun about them. And we fear more than anything to leave this life, this territory of the known, to advance in the desert of the unknown, we call death, in the desert of unknown territories.
To lose everything.
We are not ready to lose what we have. See how our kids become crazy when they’re loosing one of their toys! This is just an expression of what we built into them, and into ourselves of course. See how difficult it was for me to make the decision to sell my family house. All these souvenirs. My elder kid’s sadness. And what if I’m dying and they do not even have our house to regroup? We prefer to keep the disastrous consequences of our current condition, of our current live, rather than deconditioning ourselves and discovering another world, another reality. We see this in a plane crash, in an earthquake or any catastrophe of this kind. We are so attached to our belongings that we gather them in an attempt to save them at all costs. We would jump in the water with them. We could go into our tomb with them. Right? Again, nothing wrong. We just consider how attached we are to those things. So, the perspective to lose everything? We do not even think about it! Of course! Our brain is wired on the past, on what we already have. So it becomes totally overwhelmed to the perspective of loosing it all. And yet, to die means to lose everything, which is not acceptable for our thoughts which made their kingdom of the past, of the known. They then wonder and drum in our head “why so? why take such a risk? to confront such a void? has such loneliness? has such suffering? are you crazy?“. And the same goes for the couples who are opposites and who nothing more unites except a piece of paper, a routine of constant brawls and a few scattered moments of pleasure. But, still, why taking the risk of leaving each other? It is the same for our job. How many people suffer like hell at work and know vert well that it is not for them, and still spend months and years enduring, finding themselves a whole host of reasons to stay. Stay. At all costs. To keep it all, our place, our salary, our rank, our attachments, our experiences, our past, our ambitions, our pains, our pleasures,… our loved ones, too. To preserve it all, for belonging, for possession, for attachment, which is completely illusory. Because we keep nothing. In the end. We die and we have to lose everything. Not learning how to get used to it makes the perspective of this end sound like hell. And not learning how to get used to it leaves us away from the experience. Which could be enriching, don’t you think?
What is left when you lose it all? The unknown.
“Nothing goes to waste“… You remember? When we die for something. What is left of this thing? Nothing… No picture. No feeling. No a priori. No prejudice. No automatism. And Everything… Cause everything is therefore to be re-created, to be re-felt, to be re-discovered. Not a “re-” of repetition, of reproduction, like a pattern, Which is the “re-” we are used to. We leave a situation, an object, an relationship, and we rebuild some kind of exact same pattern, same relationship in another place. When it could be a “re-” for re-enchantment, re-new, re-volution, re-ality, re-birth. A transformation of a new kind and, to be more poetic, a metamorphosis. That is life, in short!
If we knew how to die to our past, to our attachments, to what we accumulated, if we could not be satisfied with a fake life made of accumulated images created by our brain and heated by our thoughts, if we could see the world as it is, without our inner and outer dilemma, with the eyes of a child, perhaps we could re-learn how to live, how to exist, how to love.
Our brain, freed from the weight of memory, can then float freely, beyond the known, in the immensity, and create a new world, interior, and exterior, without division, without conflict, without ambition, without jealousy, without hate, without greed, without envy, a world of peace, love, and freedom. The fun will not be gone. It will just have a whole different flavor. And, as the other would say, we will not give him the scoop, nor lock him in a cage, otherwise love will run out the window again. Sounds too good to be true. I know the feeling. Just look. And give it a try. Consider anything, any object, you’re so attached to. Thanks him/her for the ride, and tell him/her goodbye. And see what happens.