If we hadn’t seen it before, this pandemic and current politics have made it glaringly clear that we need a new paradigm of thinking in the world – what we’re doing is NOT working – the new model MUST be focused on humanity and the care of our planet.
Life is no bowl of cherries to begin with: the world is topsy-turvy with so much aggression/violence/ and disregard for life, each other and our planet. The world can feel like it’s getting away from us. This makes us feel restless and fearful – especially as we grow older.
On top of that, if we’re honest with ourselves, our lives are a recurring cycle of suffering with a smattering of happiness. In other words, we experience glimmers of happiness in between disappointment, discontent, and downright emotional pain. In the prologue of the movie, “Deadpool,” the main character says, “Life is an endless series of train-wrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness.”
When ask, “What’s the problem with the world?,” indigenous cultures answer, “You have severed your connection with Source.” Source being Source Energy; the conscious, intelligent, benevolent life-force energy of the Universe; ALOHA.
Pulling from Buddhist psychology, we learn there is a source of all this suffering in the world: the five skandhas and the ego personality created by them.
The story of the 5 skandhas (the 5 heaps or aggregates) is the story of the formation of our ego personality and how it influences the interpretation of everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel, sense, and think according to what it believes is true. That “truth” is derived directly from the conditioning we absorb from society, authority figures, family, and friends. Since the formation of ego, our lives have not been ours per se – not authentically ours, anyway.
The story begins at our birth – before ego forms – with openness and spaciousness. At birth, the human infant has no sense of self. She is pure Being. She is her being without knowledge, language, or self-consciousness. Our most fundamental state of mind, before the creation of ego, is such that there is basic ground, basic consciousness, basic freedom, basic trust, and open space. This is the natural resting state of the mind: open, fresh, alert, aware, and pure (unadulterated by conditioning).
So before ego begins to form or fixate, there is relaxed, open spaciousness; we have no sense of being separate from everything else – we experience life as oneness. We experience pure wonderment and curiosity. We dance in the openness. You can see this in the expressions of infants.
But then there’s a moment when we realize “I” exist – separate from oneness. The memories of pain and pleasure begin to coalesce and from that a separate sense of self arises (ego) because we identify with our memories of pleasure and pain – we no longer remember we’re a part of everything else. This is the first skandha: “Form.”
Pay attention to when you feel separate from others or the phenomenal world. Are there times when this is more pronounced than others?
The next skandha of ego is called “Feeling.” Here, we react to the world, we feel what we like and what we don’t like. We are constantly deciding if things in the world are 1) for us and something we want; 2) if they are against us and something we don’t want; or 3) if they are neutral, things that don’t effect us and we can just ignore them.
In the first skandha, there is a sense of separation: me, separate from the world. Now, with the second skandha, we are wondering if that world is going to hurt us, or if it is something we want to seduce and hold on to, or if it is something irrelevant and we can ignore it.
Touch into this second skandha for a minute and how it is operating in your life all the time: constantly picking and choosing. Is that someone I want to know or someone I want to push away? Is that situation not something I want to be involved in or is it something good for me? Is that sound something I should be concerned about or something I can ignore? We spend a lot of time ignoring the world around us. We spend a lot of time grasping and attaching to parts of the world around us. And we spend a lot of time trying to fight away or push off experiences and people around us.
As you see with each skandha, there is a layering of defense mechanisms. There was, oh! I’m here, I’m separate. Now, there is a reacting to the world around us – is it for us, against us, or something I can ignore?
The third skandha is “Perception.” It’s not enough to decide if things are good, bad, or neutral. The third skandha brings in intellect to name, categorize, organize, and conceptualize each and every thing in the world around us. That’s a desk, that’s a bed, that’s orange, this movie is dirty, that person is sinful, the sun is hot, etc., etc., etc. We’re perceiving and naming everything around us to better get a fix on our place – or where we fit – in the midst of the phenominal universe. Like a submarine pinging device, we are constantly sizing up other things and people to confirm our existence in the world and our place in the hierarchy of the world as created by ego.
The instant we see or hear something, there is pure space, openness. Then the first skandha jumps in to identify it as separate from us. Next, the third skandha labels and categorizes it. Finally, the second skandha judges whether it’s friendly, unfriendly, or neutral. All of this in a nanosecond. See if you can be aware of this happening in your daily life.
You can see how, as ego develops, we’re adding more and more concepts to our idea of the world. In the beginning, in spaciousness, there was very little if any concept of anything. Then in the first skandha, a huge concept appears called “me.” I appear: there is me, and there is world – that’s it. In the second skandha, there’s another layer of complexity: it’s not just me and world; it’s me, world, good, bad, I can ignore. In the 3rd skandha, we have an added layer of conceptualization. Now, we have names & categories. The world is crystalizing: more shape, more form, more specificity, more “safety” in this open oneness of space. Sense of self is responding by becoming even more solid.
The fourth skandha, is called “Mental Formations.” This refers to yet another layer of complexity and concept of defense mechanism. Here, we add an entangled flood of emotion and notions that are rich and charged with energy: we have emotional experiences.
We’re not satisfied with just categorizing and judging things, we now need to have the charge of emotional experiences to have a full-blown ego experience. Our emotional experience with the world infuses our conceptual experience with heightened energy and leads to a very strong sense of: I am here, the world is there. These emotions are then categorized by the second skandha as good, bad, or indifferent.
You can see that if your thoughts, words, and actions are habitual products of the five skandhas, it could be very difficult to have a direct connection with relaxed spaciousness, with the life-force of the Universe, with ALOHA. We’re getting further and further away from our basic nature: pure Being, Isness. We’re becoming so serious about things. This is why many people turn to meditation and other ways to work with themselves: because we feel trapped in the constant reactions of the skandhas: wanting, not wanting, ignoring, perceiving, naming, conceptualizing, and infusing strong emotion. This way of being is challenging, maddening, and painful.
The fifth and final skandha is called “Consciousness.” This skandha pulls all the other skandhas together to create a whole and real sense of self – the personality with which we identify.
OK, so we begin with pure space, ego arises and, for the sake of feeling safe, ego creates a solid world out of what we see, hear, smell, taste, sense, feel, and think. Then we live the rest of our lives in that way. A world of an illusory experience made purely by our analytical/conceptual mind, the left-brain hemisphere, our ego. And as we know, in that world we experience discontent, pain, and suffering peppered with moments of joy.
You can see how living from ego could be the cause of the world’s problems.
We say the world of experience made by ego is empty because ego doesn’t really exist – it’s only a collection of tendencies and events. Therefore, from that perspective, how our mind interprets what we see, hear, smell, taste, sense, feel and think doesn’t exist either. It’s empty – simply a world of illusion.
Can we find a balance between the two places in our mind: that made from ego and that of our origin – a balance between being in the world as well as being of the world? Yes, most certainly. And we have to – for our own sanity and for the care of ourselves, others, and the planet.
We’ve already lived in ego’s world of illusion all our lives and have figured out ways to navigate through it until now. And we’re ok, for the most part – we’ve made it this far. AND, now, we’re learning there are skills that can help us recognize and acknowledge the pain and suffering that is an inherent part of ego’s world then not let ourselves get pulled in by it; instead choosing to rest in equanimity.
We do this through meditation. Meditation is the vehicle that leads one to experience the natural resting state of mind – in other words, one’s origin: a mind that is open, fresh, calm, alert, aware, and pure (unadulterated by conditioning) – and strengthens our ability to acknowledge then transcend the pain and suffering of life. Many have described this as authentic joy.
The more we practice meditation and begin expanding into the experience of our original state of Being, the more we are able to navigate through samsara – through ego’s world – with caring, compassion, grace, and kindness instead of being dragged helplessly into it’s game.
Through meditation, one reconnects with Source; Source Energy; the conscious, intelligent, benevolent life-force energy of the Universe; ALOHA. As a result, one is naturally lead to understand, appreciate, and love oneself; thereby, guiding one’s thoughts, words, and actions toward creating peace and harmony for all sentient beings and the planet. As a result of that, one is brought into alignment with unlimited abundance, health, and joy. This way of Being, like a drop in a pond, ripples out energetically into the greater life-force energy and encourages others to do the same.
If you are tired of the discontent, suffering, and pain of samsara, consider joining us on The Path of Meditation that Leads to Living ALOHA.
*Taken from various sources, including Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s talk, The Frozen Space of Ego; Sean Murphy’s article, Get Out of Your Head; A.H Almaas; and Rudolf Steiner.