003: Learning to Join the Dance of Life

003: Learning to Join the Dance of Life


We seem to be like flies caught in honey. Because life is sweet we do not want to give up, and yet the more we become involved with it, the more we are trapped, limited and frustrated. We love it and hate it at the same time. We fall in love with people and possessions only to be tortured by anxiety for them. The conflict is not only between ourselves and the surrounding universe; it is between ourselves and ourselves. For the intractable nature is both around and within us. The exasperating “life” which is at once lovable and perishable, pleasant and painful, a blessing and a curse, is also the life of our own bodies.  Alan Watts – The wisdom of insecurity: A message for an age of anxiety

In the modern world, there is an immense focus on maintaining outward appearances, establishing financial security and external societal status. Perfection only lasts for a mere moment, yet the striving we do for this can be limiting, painful and arduous. Consequently, suffering continues to run well and truly deep into our society. In trying to maintain an external facade, we become inwardly impoverished and lack meaning in our lives.

Alan Watts’ (1951) message to the world in the words above speaks to a perennial dilemma that our societies have faced throughout history. The conflict with the outside world, as well as oneself, becomes be a lifelong battle. Indulging in this book recently has been both a pleasant and painful journey. Drawing on Eastern philosophical ideas, it speaks to the wisdom of accepting what we do not know, and cannot know, to find something truly worth knowing. I am invited to contemplate on the following contradiction...why do humans seek security in a universe whose very nature is transient? Like Zen Master Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253) observed during his mother’s death...the wisp of smoke rising from the incense offered...we can see that everything in life lies is momentary. However, we still try to fix, pin down and define things in life...organizing the world through labels, concepts and complex systems. What suffering is this causing me?

My time in Vancouver has afforded me the opportunities, time and space to experience the tortuous nature of attachment to this way of experiencing the world. Whether it be attachment to ideas about the world, behavioural responses, or ways of attending to pain, there is certain safety in being fixed to things. Being in a different city does has shown me the deepest-rooted parts of myself that I bring into unfamiliar situations. Some are beneficial and effective to my flourishing, others, not so much. Having lived in a big city for my whole life, my conditioning has shaped me into someone who was constantly thinking about where I needed to be in the future in comparison to others, being able to have a competitive edge to do this successfully, typically guarded with people’s intentions and a feeling of disconnection with nature. Now living in a slower paced city with small town ambience, my previous social conditioning and how it's defined my identity has hindered my ability to fully experience life as it comes. As I encounter a myriad of new ideas, people and experiences during my time here, my filter of opinions and beliefs obscured how life really is. It impaired my openness to the world, making me feel confused with who I am, reluctant to change, and discomfort with my new surroundings. How do I overcome these challenges?

I have been learning to shift from being product to process-oriented and appreciating the journey that I am going through. By embracing the inescapable flux of life, I bring my mind, body and spirit back into the present moment. Watts (1951) emphasizes an 'opening of the eyes' by seeing things as they are, not by how they are named. This can bring about a type of seeing which is filled with awareness, free from social conditioning and judgement. I am constantly re/inviting awareness into the present moment, for that is all we have. This requires me to let go of judgements and preconceptions in the moment, shifting into a mode of seeing and being things as they are, as they move, as they blend together and create the dance of life.

This is a continuing endeavour, being constantly engaged with un/dis/re/covering life in the present. As much as I try to put this into words, there will always be qualities which fail to be captured by language. Like wrapping water with paper and string, the impossibility of fixing our thoughts and experiences is a blessing and a curse, the quality of transience which continues to conquer our desire for security.

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