To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Imagine that you have just been shot high up in a space capsule to orbit the earth, along with your fellow astronauts and ample provisions. You keep on falling, falling and falling, but you never hit the ground.
The rocket has taken you on a trajectory where you are moving forward as fast as you are falling, so that you follow the curvature of the earth.
You are weightless with gorgeous views of the planet, and you can go on like this for years and years. You could soon feel like a prisoner, that everything worthwhile in life has been removed from you.
You don’t really matter. You just get to float forever, with every day 90 minutes long. Every several capsule days, you need to do a work out to keep your muscles from atrophying.
Your experience would not be much different than the above lines of Shakespeare, where we strut and fret our hour on the stage, and then are heard no more. The tomorrows keep on coming, and yet nothing really changes.
As Werner Erhard liked to put it, “Life is empty and meaningless.” James Joyce said much the same thing when he wrote that “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
In Buddhist philosophy, our lives are inherently cyclical. First, there is spring, then there is summer, then there is fall, and then there is winter. After which, there is spring again, summer again, fall again and winter again.
We are born, we grow up, we enter adulthood, we enter maturity, we grow old, and then we die. Only to be reborn, grow up yet again, become an adult yet again, mature yet again, grow old yet again and die yet again.
In Buddhism, the object is not to go to heaven, which is considered only temporary, or hell, which is also considered temporary, but to pop off the game board.
The solution is always to awaken from the phantom nature of the world and your life, this endless wheel. You can then breathe a sigh of relief…”Whew!”
This suggests the marvelous depiction in Groundhog Day with Bill Murray as Phil Connors and Andie MacDowell as Rita. Bill Murray plays a jaded weatherman for a Pittsburgh TV station having to cover Groundhog Day in the remote town of Punxsutawney in dead winter, an assignment he dreads and despises, even though he must do it every year to keep his job.
Early on, Phil is oblivious to Rita, the station’s new producer, who is a young, unspoiled beauty. He wants to get this over double time, but is frustrated by the sudden snowstorm that comes in, forcing Phil and Rita to stay an extra night.
Phil sets the alarm, and wakes up to a new day that is an exact replay of the previous day except for the chance to modify his reactions. This goes on day after day until Phil opens up to the power of gratitude, and starts to play with the options available.
Phil finally “gets” it, and everyone and everything is transformed. As if they realize that they've got wings and they can fly for the very first time.
1. Life is inherently a drag.
2. This discomfort is driven by our craving and clinging.
3. By stopping craving and clinging, we can breathe a sigh of relief.
4. The way to stop the craving and clinging is through a conscious life.
Nearly everyone has heard of the Four Noble Truths, but few people in the West have closely examined their meaning.
Buddha doesn’t actually say in the original Pali that life IS suffering. He merely says that life CONTAINS suffering. You don’t elect to live on this planet without getting a certain amount of discomfort and frustration along with it.
Siddhartha got subtle: it is not just unwanted circumstances that spoil the fun, but circumstances that we very much want but are afraid of losing. Thus, anything that happens entails the possibility of dissatisfaction.
Everything in our lives is conditioned, and our habitual response to life is conditional. When people are lovely towards us, we are nice. When people are obnoxious toward us, we get nasty also.
Siddhartha had the phenomenal insight that our experience of circumstances comes out of our craving and clinging, whether for a delicious bar of dark chocolate, or an exotic, all-expense-paid vacation in Bali.
Stop the craving and clinging, the inner resistance to continually changing circumstances, and you can actually relish your life.
Buddha came up with an elaborate eight-step formula to accomplish this, but in essence, it all comes from the first step: Right View.
See things as they really are, and you are free. Realize that everyone and everything is a projection, and take ownership of it as YOUR WORLD.
When Werner Erhard spoke about life being empty and meaningless, he did not neglect to add that it is empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless.
WE, OURSELVES, bring all the meaning to life as creators within or own creation. We can take the attitude that we are victims in a thankless rat race, or we can realize that life is a precious gift. Buddhists affirm that a human life is the only one that allows the possibility of enlightenment.
What if this world is actually a playground for each of us to create our own story? We have everything we need to craft our own work of art. Everyone around us is here to partner in the endeavor.
What if the object of the game is to wake up to our divine self, AND to make it all interesting, we unconsciously place every barrier imaginable to a full realization of who we are?
Related article: Your Preconceptions Mask Enlightenment
The Buddhists maintain that samsara, the wheel of suffering (dukkha), IS nirvana, the sigh of relief. As they put it, “Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.” You can’t have an inside with an outside. The two go together perfectly.
When we realize our True Self, we will find ourselves in heaven, with hell far behind. It is always our choice.
To exit endless suffering, start getting creative with your experience. Try the following steps:
We need only think of Nelson Mandela, who became President of South Africa and champion of the free world.
Nelson learned his greatest lesson, starting in Robben Island, through 27 years of prison. He made his cell his home, learning to befriend the oppressors.
Eventually, one by one, everyone fell in love with him. When Nelson was released, the old apartheid system collapsed. As President, Nelson ushered in an era of reconciliation between white people and black people.
Are you this magnificent? You might eventually surprise yourself. Try it and see!