I’ve been thinking about this quote from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:
When we face things as they are, we give up the hope of something better.
On one hand this rings of defeatism. If we simply accept everything as it is, how do we act? In fact, all action is in the face of “things as they are”. When we eat a meal, it is in the face of hunger. When we sleep, it is in the face of fatigue. Obviously, giving up all effort and dying wherever we are is not the intent of the statement.
No, it is advising against the human habit of mental revolt against reality, the primary activity of ego. To give up the hope of something better is to stop dreaming of an alternate reality and instead to live in the reality that is, in the present moment, and to let the circumstances of reality alone inform action.
In daily life, I’ve found this reminder helpful in many small ways, and some not so small ways. Putting off some unwanted task, giving in on a craving for something unneeded and unhealthy, allowing anger to keep the compassion logic dictates from being shown – these are all the small acts of turning away in every day life. Likewise, turning away can lead to life-changing hypocrisies of the mind, such as spending life in an unhealthy relationship. So as an idea to keep at the front of the mind, to face what is and not turn away informs rightness in all steps of the eightfold path.
A recent personal example involves my work. I found myself obsessing over a new business idea, spending all my free mental moments developing it and turning it over in my mind. After a few days of this I saw that I was really just turning away from difficulty in my present job. I really needed to be putting in extra hours to overcome some unpleasant difficulties (thus some of the breaks in activity on this blog of late). I had no intention of giving up on the job yet – much too early – so the easy decision was to drop the “fling on the side” and spend that time focussing on the job at hand. Easy, that is, as soon as I stopped turning away and took a good look at the reality of my situation.
The range of this practice begins with simple awareness and ends with enlightenment – both are feats of facing what is and not turning away. How do you turn away from what is, in small ways and large, and what would it mean to face what is in each of these cases?