Category: The End of Suffering

One key to understanding and practicing is to take a meditative stance that allows one to reflect both on scientific findings, metaphorically understood, and on the ideas and imagery of Zen

The death of tragedy

Wisdom is the recognition of which activities, attention and language realise freedom from suffering and which activities, attention, thought, focus and language trap us into replicating rigid patterns that recreate suffering. Differentiating between them requires a strategy. This strategy can vary enormously from individual to individual and throughout time. After all, the context of one’s understanding is utterly dependent upon the conditions and history that have led to the current situation. One size most certainly does not fit all.

Imagine a situation in which you would be utterly free of suffering, now and ever after. This situation is only possible if you release all attachments. It is not a state most people would even desire, since it requires that there is no attachment even to loved ones. It is, in a scientific understanding, the achievement of absolute entropy, when the exchange of information becomes nothing more than potential, never realisable because the distance between potential points of exchange has spread too wide. This is the state towards which we are, in any event, headed, albeit in the long term. Who would voluntarily choose to pursue a strategy that led to this state being realised even a moment before all other options had been explored? It is a kind of anti-state. Nothingness. And yet…

And yet living so that this is the state to realise, to release into, has some extraordinary effects. For a start, the emptiness that this state implies is not emptiness but potential. Entropy is not the end. It is pure potential. A point at which nothing more can happen and yet at which all potential exists. Flat calm. Think of it as a metaphor rather than as something that you can imagine (it is unimaginable). Then zoom in on this little human life and see what would happen if you put this understanding into practice.

Firstly, imagine that you understand, fully, that the implications of existence are the inevitable end of entropy. Imagine that in the context of conscious existence. See if you can imagine the death of each entity, each relationship that had any level at all of awareness of itself. Human death may be the easiest to empathise with but the more creative among you will also be able to visualise how it might be to be a whale, a seal, a fish, a worm, even, or seaweed: all driven by the urge to avoid annihilation. Imagine all the ways in which annihilation can potentially occur, even the kindest, the gentlest still being an end, a cut-off point. Then see how different the relationship to this point is when there is any level at all of acceptance, of realisation, compassionate and considered as relational, that the acceptance, the release from holding, allows this process to unfold with more ease, and it is just this ease that allows relationships to flourish in the moment to moment awareness of the exchange, taking joy in its temporality, knowing that it will pass but making an art of the impermanence and setting, as a resonant pattern, the very idea that each connection holds briefly, casts a shadow hunched or dancing, and is gone. To the idea that there is no point in making an effort to release into this free flow of interchange, it can only be answered that if it is the right way because it frees not only my own attachment to suffering but also that of all my relationships, then it justifies itself by the same logic of its recognition that impermanence is necessarily the state we’re in. Why make impermanence a hell of attempting to hold things in a rigid state when that resistance only causes suffering? And when the opportunity to draw one’s life into the liberating pattern of letting things interact exists as a potential at every moment? And to the idea that insists that this asks too much of us, there’s only this to say: resistance is, in the end, more work. Investing all that energy in keeping a hold of things when you could be appreciating the free interchange between yourself and any other relationship, that’s suffering.

In practice, what might this approach mean? I’m disinclined to give guidelines since already, those lay rigid patterns around which ideologies can be built and guilt at not having done enough builds itself quickly into a prison of inadequacy and doubt. What it means in each individual case will emerge individually. For this person, it might mean giving up the urge to accumulate wealth. But for someone else, if the wealth is accumulated in ways that involve free exchange of information and which allow that person to invest in restoration of natural systems of interchange, like biosystems, then this might also be how the meaning of this approach pans out. Developing an ability to watch where one’s own conditioning has created vulnerabilities and then working out how to develop strategies to draw one’s awareness into a broader arena around those strategies so that new possibilities for how to respond begin to emerge, that is the way of liberation.