the other side of ignorance

"What lies on the other side of ignorance of seeing things as good or bad? The ease of of experiencing life clearly, without delusions. And what lies beyond that? Awakening…The spiritual life finds its ultimate resting place in awakening, it ends in awakening, there is nothing beyond it."

So the buddha states (in the Culvadalla Sutta, MN 44) that awakening is not only achievable, but offers a sense of security, or 'foothold,' for one who lets go of interpreting life in terms of preferences and agendas. This could be seen as an effective response to the existential question of how to establish a purpose for life: the ending of following one's innate, default survival settings, along with all the ideas about What's Best for Me, while turning one's attention to deeper and more meaningful pursuits.  

The challenge of the spiritual life is returning to the fundamental experience of the present moment in and of itself, "without regard to the world" (i.e. previous experience and concepts). So wisdom is not transcendent in the sense it floats above real experience, for it is very much present and aware of the shifting flow of feelings and emotions. Awakening happens by putting aside the obligation to filter raw experiences in terms of what feels easiest right now; in observing and touching life we allow for some experiences to be difficult and challenging; spiritual practice offers no inoculation from pain or discomfort. For example, we may feel uncomfortable during this situation or that circumstance without seeking a way out, an escape, nor the need to avoid the same encounter in the future. A conversation can make us feel uncomfortable without it being mishandled or "on the wrong track." The practice is to feel the discomfort arising in the body and mind running away or adding more views and opinions to life.

During mindfulness practice, when we become aware of the breath, body impressions, moods, inclinations, mental energies that lie beneath the narrative mind, we peer onto an endless flux of impressions and sensations; and to our surprise we discover that the safest place of all is simply being with the moment, rather than in abandoning it in favor of a dissociative fantasy. 

The "truth" or "wisdom" is not something one can hold or add to life, something we can carry around and slip into when things become unpleasant; the other side of ignorance isn't more ideas but fewer concepts, and an ability to put aside ideas when they get in the way of observing and feeling what's really happening. Besides seeking a 'lasting truth' via what The Buddha called 'A thicket of views' (suppositions) only leads to a lot of time spent distorting what's real to make it fit our ideas. 

So the spritual life isn't a remove from life, but a return to it, in the form of a receptive opening to our actual present experience, an ongoing process of developing vulnerable relationships with others, rather than remaining distant and emotionally armored behind a wall of ideas. The accomplishment of letting go could be seen as renunciation of needless stories and views; a putting aside of habitual story telling and returning to the actual flavors of human encounters. 

Such an engagement certainly problematizes our reliance on asking "Who Am I Really?" as it becomes increasingly difficult to separate an identity or core self from the complexity of experience, the ceaseless flow of impressions, body awareness, perceptions, ideas and on. And so once again the spiritual path lies in the putting aside "This is who I am," clinging to this or that idea or behavior as 'true self.' Building an identity (sakkaya-ditthi) is not a source of clarity, but rather that of stress and denial, for it inevitably involves overlooking any mental event that doesn't 'fit:' If I conceive of myself as kind fellow, any selfish impulse or thought has to be repressed or justified, rather than simply acknowledged and released. How much easier it is to let go of the fruitless search for true identity, relaxing into an awareness that doesn't need to identify this or that as 'inherently mine.' We can view urges, behaviors, ideas simply in terms of flowing content, universal to the human condition.

So the experience of awakening doesn't need to be an end in itself, but a manner of being in the world without reliance on My Story. Its a mindset from which one can respond to life from a set of aspirations that transcend personal agendas, allowing instead for care, self-expression, exploration, integrity. Such a practice isn't the purview of retreats or seclusion alone, but rather an endeavor that's valid throughout all of life's engagements.