My favorite Buddhist lecture I ever heard started with, “You will never have it all together.” Our whole lives may be spent trying to grasp onto an inherent reality, some thing some it that would finally be our real lives…The day that we could finally relax and enjoy ourselves… The day that we could finally be happy… The day when we would have it all together… The day when we would have enough money or security… The day when we would finally have the relationship we want… The day we could finally appreciate ourselves or another… As long as we harbor these some day stories there may be a sense of unconsciously deferring to this reality.
When other more chaotic, uncompleted, raw, messy, out of control, groundless realities present themselves to us, we could deny them, ignore them, neglect them, negate them, take them for granted, fight them, pretend they are not happening or plan them away, all because these realities are not the real reality we are waiting for some day. This is how we keep the dream of some day alive, because if we accept now, it is to some extent the death of the some day story, since being here means we are not in the past or future. Some day I will be enlightened… Some day I will be thinner… Some day I will feel free… There is some where I could go, something I could do, some place I could move, some person I could be with, some job I could have, something I could own, some amount of money that would give me a sense of satisfaction, completion and concreteness. It may not always be there as an overt reasoning, it may be more subtle than that, a silent story we are working towards making real. But there is the reality in front of us.
Because we are not relating to this reality as the ultimate reality, the real reality, because we are not relating to this reality as the moment we have been waiting for, we experience it in a half-hearted way. And because of that, this reality is less satisfying, less sparkly and less joyous than it could be. So we become the architects of our own dissatisfaction. We disassociate from the moment (the only place satisfaction could come from) for an alternate reality that we tell ourselves would be better. This makes the moment taste worse than it would otherwise, it ends up being just the aftertaste of the moment instead of the first bite. It is the peripheral vision of the moment instead of the eye-to-eye. It’s the half-hearted version of the moment, instead of the whole hog. It’s the dress rehearsal of the moment instead of the real thing. It’s the unintended cost of the ultimate reality fantasy, it robs the juice from the moment we are in (which is our attentive, appreciative, awareness). Why do we do this?
Buddhist teachings say we do it because we are ignorant, we literally have no idea how to be wholeheartedly in the reality that we are in; we refuse to relate with it, we keep trying to find one that is not like the real one, a different reality that doesn’t have the messy ambiguity of non-duality and all the imperfections and flaws we read into this flux we are actually in. Buddhist teachings say we do it because we literally don’t know how to be with what is; we are ignorant of how to be present, so we don’t even realize exactly what we are missing out on. Being present is a skill that has to be cultivated, and we may plan to do that some day. And then there is the fact of irrefutable, non-negotiable death, which suddenly shows up on our doorstep. Death puts a twist on our plan. It interrupts the some day strategy. There is no more some day… once death comes. What does it leave us with? Just now. But we don’t really have now so that is a very scary thought. Suddenly, the place all our happiness was is gone (it was stored safely in the some day story). But now, there is no more thought that maybe it is going to be ok some day. It simply is not, death killed some day. There is no longer the possibility that the grass is greener on the other side… The grass is just gone. There is no longer how we are going to be when some day comes, it’s too late. There is no more second chance. Death forces each one of us to be right where we are, right now, with things exactly as they are, whatever we didn’t too, it is now too late. Whatever we were going to do, is now too late. All we have is now and the mixed up relationship we have with it. But we do have now. It is an intense gift. Hopefully, it is one that we know how to utilize. If not, it is important to learn right away.
Excerpted from Living in the Charnel Grounds, by Pema Khandro