Recently, I learned some simple truths in a recovery centre, in a tiny rural village north of Thailand.
The journey to these simple truths was not a simple one. It was a journey through the underbelly of darkness, complete with open wounds held together by supermarket-grade sticky tape. I was free-falling into a deep abyss.
But, some residual ember of resilience helped me pack my bags and head to the recovery centre.
I went to seek refuge, and I left with a bag of simple truths. Here are three of them:
The ordinariness of being human:
The simplest of all truths, I realised, was that we are all ordinary. With ordinary battles. This is not to belittle your tragedy, your hopelessness, your illness, or your piling debts. This simple truth of our ordinariness reminds us that nobody gets through life unscathed.
But somewhere along the way, we built an emotional class system. People from a “higher” emotional class don’t believe in despairing, and those from the “lower” class are constantly wringing their hands and sucking their thumbs. It became “wrong” to feel and “weak” to be despondent. People aspired to be in the higher emotional class and the “be positive” movement took hold. We learnt to deny the existence of negativity via addiction or medication, learnt to or silence it with compassion or distract it with gratitude. But the ordinary human surfaces eventually, and tucking away the bad thoughts, with either vice or wisdom, does no one any good. Life brings both the good and the bad, and with it, it’s associated response of happiness and sadness.
So, acknowledge your emotions and recognise their impermanence.
Recognise your ordinary human response to life and allow it, its moment.
The ordinariness of accessing your inner self:
Most of us struggle to find the silence within. Apparently, we have 70,000 thoughts a day, so when you are trying to hear your silent voice, it is natural for a few of those 70,000 thoughts to jostle for attention.
Ordinary people are not equipped to empty their minds for extended periods of time. But, accessing your inner voice through mindfulness or mediation has a lot of scientifically-based benefits going for it. This brings with it a lot of noise from “experts” on the styles, music, chants, postures, clothing, aromas, et al that you need to access your core. But, finding your silence is nothing but ordinary breathing. You have been breathing since the time you were pushed out of the womb and haven’t stopped since. There is no right way or wrong way to breathe. Just breathe in and breathe out. Slowly and with focus on the breath. For just a few minutes every day. There is no mythical place you need to reach, no outcome you need to focus on. Fumble and start again. As with anything, you will get there—in your way, at your pace.
Don’t complicate the ordinariness of focusing on your breath.
The ordinariness of enlightenment:
Enlightenment (or nirvana) is the most transcendental term of our times. That state we “must” all aspire to reach for true contentment and peace. In the Buddhist context, nirvana refers to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been extinguished. In Hindu philosophy, it is the attainment of moksha; liberation from the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.
The interpretation of nirvana has always been ambiguous and the origin of its etymology is inconclusive. Achieving enlightenment has been mystified, divinified, complexified and commercialised to such an extent that for most of us, it is an elusive goal, unattainable without intense discipline and sacrifice. But enlightenment is as ordinary as an a-ha moment. It is that personal moment of realisation you have within yourself that makes you exhale. Loosens your tight fists and furrowed brow. Makes your step just a tad bit lighter. The more a-ha moments you have, the more light on your feet you get, and the more “enlightened” you become.
Now my simple truths, may not be yours. As my experiences, my struggles and my strengths are not yours. But penning them down here is my ordinary human desire to share.
Author: Pallavi Rensema
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Ben Duchac/Unsplash