So far we’ve looked at two aspects of seeing things the way they really are. The first was to see the connectedness of all things, to see that separate things and events are mental events and that, in reality, everything is one interconnected thing/event. Though it might be convenient (even essential) to chop the universe into separate things and events, all of this happens in the mind.
Though we need to create these mental divisions in order to navigate our life, when we mistakenly assume that these divisions are intrinsic to reality, we create suffering for ourselves–especially in the sense that we begin to feel as if we are one of those separate things, and that we are separate and alone and at risk in a dangerous world. As the poet A.E Housman put it, we feel “separate and afraid, in a world I never made.”
In reality, everything is connected and flowing along like water in a river. We mentally chop it up in order to help ourselves navigate our way through life. There’s nothing wrong with doing this. The problem isn’t dividing things into this and that, but forgetting that things aren’t really divided. We’re just doing it, in our mind, as a convenience.
Seeing this aspect of reality “the way it really is” allows us to feel a connection to everything else that is quite real–it IS the way things really are. Experiencing our unity with the rest of existence at least mitigates the feeling of isolation and separation we feel as humans. Since this involves seeing the interconnected onenessness (to use the New-Agey term) of everything, you might say that this is the positive side of the coin–the aspect of existence that most people idealize and would like to see as it really is. Few people would say, “Ugh. I don’t want to experience my oneness with everything.”
On the other side of the coin we have what people generally don’t want to see as it really is, the side of the coin that they perceive to be a source of suffering and pain. What’s on the other side of the coin? That all things in this world are impermanent and ultimately fall apart or end, and that we exist in a huge matrix of cause and effect relationships over which we have little control and which sometimes causes things to turn out in ways we don’t like.
We would love to escape from the fact that the things we love or want, even if we do get them, are impermanent. We naturally become attached to people and things, and inevitably those people or things go away, fall apart, or end. But there is no escape from impermanence. It’s build into the human condition. And, it’s painful.
We also often don’t like what we experience as a result of all the cause and effect relationships we’re caught in, because much of it we have no control over. As a result, we inevitably end up, at least part of the time, either failing to get what we want, or getting something we don’t want.
So impermanence and cause and effect represent the side of the coin most people don’t want to look at or acknowledge. Many who seek spiritual awareness, for instance, mistakenly think that spiritual awakening is a way of eliminating this “negative” side of the coin. Most of the new Western spirituality is based on this “get rid of the negative” type of thinking. Isn’t there a contradiction in the idea that we should be negative about negativity? What a rude shock it is to find that as you become more aware you also become aware of the parts of the universe you don’t like! [See parts 1 &2 of this series for a more complete treatment of these "two sides of the coin."]
In this post I want to personalize the idea of seeing things the way they really are a bit more by looking at another aspect of this other side of the coin and asking you whether or not you can see yourself (and accept yourself ) as you really are.