Today, I’m happy to share a guest post from my friend John Zhao. John was one of several writers this spring who took me up on my offer to guest write on the topics of spirituality, sexuality, or social justice. I want to thank him for his contribution, and I do hope you get something out of it:
“The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie. When you are dead you’re not able to do the work of the society. When you are fully alive you are constantly saying “No” to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interests of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict.” – Anne Wilson Schaef
Around two years ago, I was very unhappy with my life. I wasn’t within the realm of depression, but I was comfortably dancing around it. I had a general feeling of dissatisfaction. A feeling of “is this it?” A sense that my life to this point hasn’t really met my expectations: my grades were ok, but nothing spectacular; I had some friends, but no one very close; and I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. There was a longing for something more in life. At the time, I had interpreted this desire as a fundamental want to be loved. I needed someone or something to plug the hole, fill the void, and provide meaning for my life. This is a sentiment that our generation can relate to. And who could blame us really The media has bombarded our minds with images and ideas equating beauty, consumerism and sex with happiness. The digital age, internet (and specifically porn) has altered the neural pathways of our brain and fundamentally redefined human interaction. And lastly, emotional detachment has become mistaken as a sign of strength. Everyone and everything is telling us how to think. Happiness has become conditioned upon a narrow set of parameters that most people can never reach. Most importantly, our society has packaged happiness into a product to be consumed and depleted. It’s no wonder our generation is so confused.
“When we let go of our battles and open our heart to things as they are, then we come to rest in the present moment. This is the beginning and end of spiritual practice.” – Jack Kornfield
I vowed to change my life. I stumbled upon an article on mindfulness meditation. The benefits of meditation included increased focus/attention, increased quality of sleep, anti-aging, improved immune system, decreased anxiety, lowered blood pressure, and the release of positive mood regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. It sounded cool so I added it to my “self improvement” regiment. As the weeks went by, I began to quiet my mind. The thoughts began to disappear. And as I increased my effort, quality, and technique in meditation, I began to notice a profound shift in my experience of life. Color and meaning filled my life. As I meditated and looked deeper within, I experienced intense states of compassion, joy but also fear and uncomfortableness. Most valuable though, I gained an understanding of myself and insights into how to live properly. I had begun to walk the spiritual path. And as I continued walking, the fog of confusion began to dissipate around me. One particular experience provided me with a profound insight into love. When I began this meditation session I had a deep sense of loneliness. I felt like a lone star blanketed by the darkness of the night. There was a desperate need for connection. It felt like insatiable waves of tugging and pulling within my body. As I examined this sensation, I clearly identified it as a “lack of love.” As the tugging and pulling became more intense, I could not resist it any further. It had become overwhelming. I had to surrender. I had lost. As I stopped resisting, I began to accept the waves of loneliness. The moment I surrendered to the sensation, it began to change. The energy of the loneliness became transformed into a deep acceptance of myself. My mind became a vast ocean of tranquility and warmth began to expand through my body. What had originally been a sense of isolation, loneliness, and separateness within me became an expansion of acceptance, peace and love. I had entered into a state that one spiritual teacher calls “loving awareness.” As this loving awareness filled my sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings it filled my entire experience of the world with love. There was love for the bed I sat on, the air I breathed, and even the snoring roommate below me. This loving awareness is within us at all times. For me, it was developing the courage to allow myself to experience it. Modern society places conditions upon our being. It says you are not allowed to be happy and you are not allowed to love until some condition is met. Most of us go through life waiting for some event to happen before we give ourselves permission to express our love. I think that one of the reasons many people are desperately seeking for others to love them is because it provides them permission to love others back. We also create hierarchies of love. Love your family more than strangers. Love your countrymen more than foreigners. Love humans more than animals. These hierarchies exist because we fear that which is different and consequently unfamiliar and unknowable. And thus, every time we see something, we compare and judge out of fear. When we compare differences, we create separateness and boundaries: this causes loneliness. When we judge, we categorize certain things as fundamentally good and others as fundamentally bad. Inevitably, we will see these characteristics in ourselves. We will judge certain parts of our being as fundamentally bad: this causes shame and self-hate. The opposite of love is not hate; it is fear resulting from a lack of right understanding. Fear causes all our suffering and thus love conditioned by fear will always bring misery.
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.” – Osho
As we become established in meditation, we learn to clearly discern and untangle our moment to moment experience. We see our fear creating judgment. And we see that judgment creating self-hate. It becomes obvious. We can begin to come out of our confusion and ignorance, gain right understanding, and rid ourselves of fear. When we sit with our mind and body, we can attempt to confront our feelings of unworthiness, shame, hate, and fear in all its other disguises. We gain a capacity to finally familiarize ourselves with these fears and understand them. Every sensation that comes up, we meet it with loving awareness. We try to understand it. We surrender to it. We accept it. And we revel in the mystery of it. We see reality as it is, our place within it, and learn to skillfully relate to it. We learn to surrender ourselves to reality and accept all of it, with nothing left out. No trying to get rid of our flaws – because there really aren’t any. No trying to resist the sorrows of life – because they are there. We learn to embrace our lives, and unconditionally meet each moment with loving awareness whether it is filled with joy or sorrow. The difficulties in life are inevitable. Sure, you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
John Zhao is a senior at the University of Illinois studying General Engineering. He is interested in spiritual growth and a personal understanding of reality free from dogma, belief, and creed. Although he associates with no religion, he’s found himself heavily influenced by Buddhism. On campus, he serves as an Illinois Student Admissions Representative and manages FYXIT, a tech repair business. When he’s not out saving the world, odds are you will find him at one of Chambana’s fine drinking establishments. He can be reached through email at John at zondr.com