Re-Discovering Joy and Creativity In Your Daily Life.

Via on Apr 7, 2011

(This article is the last in a long series of articles about Buddhist Spirituality. If you’re unclear on a particular point please the link to read more about that subject.)


“Do not try to become anything. Do not try to make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let be. When you walk, let be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.”

In short, be vulnerable.

In the beginning the ego was nothing more than a little known thought trying to make a name for itself. There was no role to play, nor was there any sense of identification. Ego was without credentials. There was just the vague experience of this-&-that. In other words, the ego had nothing to confirm its existence other than the sense of separation between itself-&-other.

The experience of this-&-that managed to divide life right down the middle. This single thought formed a perimeter around pure space, but we ignored the fact that this perimeter was transparent, by obsessing over the differences between this and that. On one side of the line was this or the sense of self and on the other side was that or everything else. This simple little idea set in motion the pattern of dissatisfaction that has plagued us for most of our lives.

Experiencing ourselves as this cut us off from life or that. This feeling of being disconnected gave rise to a chronic form of irritability. This subtle but inescapable form of irritability is pervasive discontentment—the belief that we are somehow broken or incomplete. This poverty mentality then transformed life into a search for some quick fix or magical solution.

Furthermore, the experience of this-&-that had no means by which to sustain itself. The experience was too vague or immature. It would expand and then collapse back in on itself, creating a ripple effect. This ripple effect was the fear that “I am not.” We continually oscillate back and forth between I am and I am not. Without any warning, we move from periods of great confidence and certainty into tumultuous periods of paralyzing insecurity and uncertainty. This paranoia is type of obsession that creates a gravitational center. As the experience of life begins to revolve around this center, life appears to be personal; that appears to be happening to this. This feeds the paranoia and fuels the ego’s endless pursuit for self-confirmation.

The whole enterprise of validation has been financed by this self-conscious brand of anxiety. Ego has been hell bent on trying to prove its existence by establishing some form of exclusivity or personality. Since the experience of “I am not,” the ego has been trying to become some-one or some-body. The process of validation is about establishing and securing reference points that vouch for the ego. This desire or incessant need to be some-thing rests at the core of all our troubles. Desire of this sort sets out to do the impossible. It tries to transform us into something that we are not.

The whole ego-centric endeavor is un-natural, and it is this un-natural effort that we have to let go of. A movement of the will that attempts to become someone in particular is a movement away from who we actually are. It suppresses our most primitive instinct, the need to be ourselves. It is an attempt to ignore our true nature, and such an undertaking is nothing short of psychotic.

Beyond all of the psychotic attempts to produce some kind of unique self-image still awaits natural joy or the simplicity of being. This simple joy is nothing more than our true nature, the essence of what it means to be a human being. It is the inherent capacity, which is owned by no one, but present in all, to never be the same person twice. Being is true spontaneity. It is individuation.

There are essentially two obstacles to simply being.

These two are effort and apathy. In other words, we can try to be ourselves or continue to ignore ourselves. Both effort and apathy are inextricably connected with the two primary themes in the embryonic stage of ego‘s development, separation and ignore-ance.

We will look first at the obstacle of effort. The true nature of mind is without beginning or end, and therefore lacks any kind of center. However, the ego serves as a sort of make believe center, and it is from this center that all effort originates. Ego assumes the role of overseer or foreman, and is constantly attempting to manage the environment. All ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be are manufactured by this center. Then, from the center, these fears and expectations are pressed out. The ego tries to earn happiness by manipulating the environment or coercing that into acting as it should, a quality defined by the fears and expectations of the center.

The problem is that natural joy is not something which can be created or produced. It is not the product of calculations or projects. It is not something which we can pursue; it is to be found in the absence of pursuit. In fact, it is all of our processes, calculations, formulations, and projects that disturb the mind.

The pursuit of happiness is a direct obstacle to the discovery of happiness. Trying to create a peaceful mind is no less absurd that trying to smooth out the surface of water with your hand. Any attempt on our part to produce a more serene or stable mind does little more than agitate the mind. Like Chuang Tzu said, “The sage is quiet because he is unmoved, not because he wills to be.” We should not try to restrict the mind or move the mind in any direction, but instead remain unmoved. This can be somewhat tricky because, any attempt to remain unmoved is still contrived effort, and therefore disrupts the mind. Simply allow the mind to be, and it will do so peacefully. This was Tilopa’s Six Words Of Advice to Naropa:

Don’t Recall.

Don’t Think.

Don’t Anticipate.

Don’t try to figure anything out.

Don’t try not to do any of that.

Simply Relax!

There is an excellent analogy which compares the mind to pond water. If we were to go running out into a pond like a wild banshee, we would stir up all of the mud at the bottom. The water will then appear murky. No amount of effort on our part can get the mud to settle back down to the bottom. In fact, if we try to force the mud down, we will only further excite it. However, if we relax, the mud will naturally settle back to the bottom. Mind functions in a similar way.

All of our calculations and projects for happiness have caused the mind to appear chaotic or murky.  If we simply get out of the way the mind will, in its own time, settle and settle perfectly. The great master from the Thai forest tradition, Achaan Chah, beautifully articulated this in his meditation instructions:

“Do not try to become anything. Do not try to make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let be. When you walk, let be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.”

The most subtle form of effort is simply the notion of an observer. It is the attempt to organize the mind around some center. In fact, thats all effort is—an attempt to organize the mind, to varying degrees, around some central theme. In order to bypass this obsessive need to organize or control, there has to be complete surrender. Total simplicity. Simplicity or individuation, in this case, refers to the true nature of mind. The “true nature of mind” is the quality of mind when it has not been divided against itself in an attempt to control or force itself to look and feel a certain way.

There cannot be anything that is letting go, or anyone who is witnessing the surrender. Witnessing is a cunning attempt at organization. Leave no witnesses behind, because the witness is dualistic thought, and dualistic thought is subtle effort. Effort requires division. So, simply relax into the experience of the witness, and allow it to reveal itself as an example of awareness. Trungpa Rinpoche said, “You cannot attend your own funeral.” It has to be that kind of clean break, which means that no one can be trying to surrender. Trying to surrender is still effort, which is no surrender at all. It is a movement, from the center, to try and produce a more peaceful or enlightened mind.

All of this may seem odd or even contradictory, but as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, “Contradiction is nothing more than truth standing on its head in order to get attention.” We have to be willing to move beyond the limits of language and the faculties of reason, into the realm of simple awareness or wisdom.

Is all this nihilistic?

All of this talk about effortlessness may beg the question as to whether or not such an existence would be bleak or downtrodden… This sort of thinking is just ego-centric rhetoric. It is the ego attacking the validity of the assertion, in hopes of ignoring the experience the assertion is pointing out—the truth of egolessness. It is an argument of desperation, a distraction from reality. If any sort of depression or doom and gloom attitudes arise, it is because you have held onto the idea of nothingness.

Natural joy is not an experience of annihilation or nothingness. It is the realization of pure being. Besides how in sam-hill can you cling to the idea of nothingness? There shouldn’t be anything to hold onto or anyone there to grab it! Clinging to nothingness is like walking into a clothing store and asking for a coke. When the attendant says we do not sell cokes you reply, “Well I would like to buy one of your no-cokes!”

Not only is the realization of selflessness not dismal in any way, it moves beyond all concepts of pleasant or unpleasant, into the sphere of un-excelled bliss. Kukkuraja, the great Mahasiddha, once commented, “That when I realized dualistic thought I attained great bliss without effort.” Such an experience is in no way depressing or bland. Mind in its natural resting place is awake and joyful, not bland and lethargic. This brings our discussion to the second obstacle we face on the path to natural joy, apathy or lethargy.

There is an exhausting quality to the “vain repetitions” of discursive thought. In this case, lethargy is referring to this dull or far-removed quality. This dullness arises when we ignore basic awareness, and invest wholly in our mental commentary. As this inbreeding continues, generation after generation, thought seems to become more and more dull or retarded. This is so, because thought is several generations removed from inspiration or reality. Eventually, thought is so far removed from the source that we fall into a stupor. Finally, we find ourselves rocked to sleep by the tedious repetition of dualistic thought.

Original Mind is clear and precise. It is whole, complete. There is nothing that we need to add. All we need to worry about is arriving in the present moment. No more and no less. Simple awareness—beyond any notion of first hand or second hand knowledge—is a fresh reflection of the present moment. What appears to be “I,” is in reality just thought, and thought is nothing more than an example of basic awareness. That is why the Mahamudra lineage prayer says, “The nature of thought is Dharmakaya…” Thought is just as much a physical or biological event as the heart beating. So, what we think is the breath, is also awareness. What we think is sound, too is awareness. The same is true with sights, feelings, tastes, and smells. When we mistake thought for my awareness of an object, it becomes a type of hand me down or a second generation cognition that is dull or lifeless.

Original Mind is no hand me down!

Original Mind is fresh. It is the accuracy and clarity of naked awareness. The true dignity of being human is not to be found in our cognitive abilities to think and reason, but in the capacity to move beyond ourselves and intimately experience the authenticity of Original Wisdom. Such insight brings with it a sense of wonder and awe, as it shatters the formed-conceptual mind. An attitude of astonishment begins to dominate our life, as the grandeur of Humanness is made evident. We cannot “figure out” who we are, because in that scenario we remain detached from the process as some sort of third party observer. The majesty of basic intelligence is to be found in our capacity to be ourselves! That is the difference between logic and wisdom: logic is disconnected and therefore dissatisfied, while wisdom is immediate and therefore unquestionable. Logic reasons that the stove is hot, which creates a mischievous type of curiosity. This curiosity then seeks out wisdom. Wisdom, the experience, in this case of touching the hot stove, is direct, undeniable, and unforgettable. It is knowing beyond all doubt.

Direct experience  is the only remedy for dullness. As we begin to transcend this mixed up network of thought we will come to realize that we are becoming more and more awake, until the final stage of awakening where there is no longer anyone around to experience it. As Saraha explained, “The nature of mind is that of space from the beginning. In the process of looking seeing comes to an end.”

Ordinarily we attempt to manipulate truth. We seek to force reality to conform to our own opinion of the world. This is insanity. The practice of insight is quite different. To practice insight, simply make yourself available. Open up and be fully present in the here-&-now, thereby allowing reality to speak for itself. Listen. This is sanity. Open up and look. Be vulnerable. It is only through vulnerability that we will discover that we have nothing to fear. In a vulnerable posture we will see that there is no need to compile some sort of report or formulate some kind of explanation. We do not need to be justified or explained. Insight supersedes our cerebral impulses to explain away our environment. It is direct. Wisdom brings with it dignity and confidence. There is so much power and intelligence that you realize there is no need to second guess yourself. You are knowing.

To rediscover basic sanity, we must observe the dynamics of insanity. We look at these brainstorming processes to discover where they come from, where they reside, and where they go. Who is it that initiates the commentary? Where is it that this observer abides? Where does the spectator go when the observation ceases? Is there someone who initiates the observation, makes the observation, and allows the observation to pass, all the while remaining apart from the experience? A type of Spinoza-Self? Can an observer be present if there is no observation being made?  Is the observer somehow separate or distinct from its environment?

We look into the nature of thought to discover that there is no one who is thinking. We discover that the “thinker” was really just one thought thinking about another thought. That is not to say that thought ceases to function, but it does mean that we cease to think. Through insight, the notion of ownership has been revealed to be a hoax, and as a result all controlling interests are simultaneously negated. In the same way that light immediately dispels darkness, wisdom instantly drives out confusion. At this point, “Chaos is revealed to be order.” It was all a misunderstanding. Through simple observation confusion is revealed to be wisdom! There is no one there to take responsibility for thought, and so heaven and hell are realized to be inseparable states of mind. Hell being the personalized experience of life, and heaven being life experiencing itself. When it is realized that no-one owns these opinions, we are able to recognize the natural beauty forever present in the eternal-now.

The seats are empty, but the stadium is full.

There is no-thing apart from mind, and this idea of mind is little more than leftover residue from our conceptual upbringing. The whole spectrum of experience (sight, sound, smell, feeling, taste, and thought/emotion) is the display of mind. As Asanga said, “Know that nothing exists apart from mind, and mind ultimately does not exist.” To say that this is not mind, but that is mind, is to become lost in multiplicity. If that were the case, there would be some external object, our experiencing that object, and finally the one who owns the awareness of the object. On the other hand, if we were to say that everything is mind, we would be left with some sense of a separate awareness which is observing and labeling it “the mind.” Once we realize that everything is a manifestation of awareness an infinite experiential reduction begins, which leaves us with mind-only. However, there is no one in attendance apart from Mind to identify “the mind,” so ultimately mind does not exist either, as there is no one there to vouch for it.

This brings us back to the beginning, back to where the whole thing started to become muddled. Back to Pure-Life. It is at this point that we simply rest without seeking anything. Our aimless wandering comes to a screeching halt, because all divisions of self & other have dissolved into a unified stream of energy which is centerless. The path of meditation ends in utter simplicity—a fullness of being that is devoid of neediness, as it is whole or complete. Restlessness and discontentment disappear, as the heart has found its natural resting place. Such a Mind is joyful or content.

Seriousness falls away and we discover what it means to relax. In the same way that no one is worried about having their third eye poked out or their second head chopped off, we no longer get upset with life, because it is obvious that there is no central persona to feel threatened or needy. When it is discovered that the world is not happening to you, because there is no you, the whole experience ceases to be personal. Life is revealed to be naturally joyful, not stressfully overwhelming.

The very essence of awakened activity was captured by Achaan Chah when he said, “We reach a place where the heart tells itself what to do.” Life speaks for itself. We go into a natural free fall once self-will ceases to divide itself against itself, by exerting its force upon itself. This free fall is the uncensored pressing out of our human nature, which spontaneously emerges, when the paranoid rebellion of dualistic thought has been quelled, and thought is revealed to be a intelligent and creative expression of life. We stop trying to act like some-one or some-thing, and reflect our true identity. This is individuation. Such a reflection is never the same. It is always original.

Natural joy is true spontaneity. It is not the product or result of anything. It is the spacious point of convergence where the ground, path, and goal pour into one another. Simply get out of the way and allow the fullness of being to flourish. This capacity is already present within each and every one of us. There is no-thing that we need to do in order to produce Natural Joy.

“To practice natural joy is to practice no-thing. To meditate on natural joy is to meditate on no-thing. The attainment of natural joy is non-attainment.” Just take a seat on your cushion or wherever. Simply present, aware. Without trying, do no-thing and be no-one. No more and no less. Effortless.

About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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14 Responses to “Re-Discovering Joy and Creativity In Your Daily Life.”

  1. yogiclarebear says:

    Benjamin,

    You suggest that the notion of the “observer” is a form of effort. I agree and understand your platform, regarding. That being said, the “witness” concept is one that I think has been touted as helping people out of various stages of ego-un-awareness. In your opinion, can or should the “observer” idea be used as a tool at times, maybe initially in the stages of developing an ego-awareness, with an open understanding that the tool itself may eventually be a roadblock on the path of further wisdom?

    • BenRiggs says:

      I do not think of it as a tool so much as just a stage of involution… We move through the coarser levels of consciousness, and finally find nothing more than a simple witness, but then the simple witness must answer the call.
      Well, I guess it could be used as a tool to move through coarser levels, but even then it must be discarded, and I balk when thinking of using it as a tool, because it could then become a crutch we a reluctant to let go of.
      It is a subtle form of thought that has to be realized as such, which is what I mean when I say it has to answer the call. Where does this witness reside? How is the witness different from that which it is witnessing? In order to have a witness there must be an event, are the two not inseparable? Different dimensions of the same thing?
      Ken Wilber is the greatest proponent of the witness that I am aware of, and even he admits that we must let it go.

  2. Marc Duby says:

    Brilliant. Thanks.

  3. Shane McCollum says:

    Thankyou Ben for your guidance. ' Whisper words of wisdom, let it be'…….

  4. Well done, Ben. Love the quote you included: “Do not try to become anything. Do not try to make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let be. When you walk, let be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.”

  5. Jiivadhara says:

    Then, there is nothing to teach either. Life is doing what it is doing? I think if people would not suffer, they would be able to do just that. In the meantime, as long as people suffer, they need to do something to cultivate – even if it is nothing at the end.

    Imagine, all the yogis walk a path only to find out at the end that there is no path and never was a path. It's a paradox how we behave. While freedom is always here, we continue to manipulate and construct spirituality according to our attractions to make us feel better and then, a bit later, this is NOT IT either.

  6. yoga freedom says:

    This is AMAZING and exactly what I needed to read and be re-re-reminded of this morning. Thank you!

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  11. BenRiggs says:

    As I mentioned (or at least tried to say :) in the article, letting go is not an action. We so often think what can I do to let go? We stump ourselves trying to figure out how to do something that we cannot do. Often times when talk about letting go, it would be better called "rebellion." For example, we let go of a sick relationship, but there is a hint of resentment, a residue… We are still clinging to the relationship, just from another angle.
    Letting go is a consequence of seeing something for what it is. When we see the totality of the sick relationship, we just let go, because we see how we created the situation.
    You get very close to touching on an interesting point here: Who lets go?
    No one lets go. When that is revealed the sense of self is released! Liberation. :)

  12. AnnetteVictoria says:

    If no one lets go, does letting go actually occur?

    Thanks for an incredibly insightful article. (No pun intended.)

  13. BenRiggs says:

    The only thing that is being released is the idea that there is something to let go of or someone to do the letting go… In short, the illusion of control COMPLETELY dies.

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