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 that we can just ignore.
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 doesn’t concern us.
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 second skandha judges whether it’s friendly, unfriendly, or neutral. Finally, the third skandha labels and categorizes it. All of this happens 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 expanse 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. Out of the fifth skandha come action and projection based on the other four skandhas’ interpretation of the world.
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.
Buddhists 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 all based on our conditioning and memories. And everyone has different conditioning and memories.
You can see how it would be difficult to have clear, direct communication when we believe our own unique interpretation of the world – our projections. You can see how this could cause upset, aggression, and even violence. You can see how weʻve lost sight of our inherent nature: ALOHA.
Our own minds – not others or situations – our own minds are the source of our anger, fear, jealousy, judgments, opinions, revenge, insecurity, hatred, etc.
When we look at human behavior over the last 1,000 years, we see that the majority of people a thousand years ago lived in sync with nature or the flow of Life, ALOHA – call it what you want. But as time progresses, living according to ego gains popularity until the 20th century when it sky-rockets. Now, in the 21st century, weʻre addicted to being in our heads.
The world’s wisdom traditions all say we are now living a life of discontent, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, suffering, mental pain, anger, hatred, jealousy, misery, and confusion because we have disconnected from Source – we’ve traded our allegiance with ALOHA to one with ego and its projections.
Thankfully, though, these same wisdom traditions offer a way to experience a life free of projecting, free of suffering and full of happiness and caring for others and the planet: by simply reconnecting with ALOHA – reconnecting with the flow of the Universal energy. By doing this, we can experience a full cessation of suffering and experience all aspects of a good life and care for each other.
We’ve already lived in ego’s world of illusion all our lives and have figured out ways to navigate through it as best we can until now. And we’re ok, for the most part – we’ve made it this far. AND, now, we’re learning there is a way to reconnect with our inherent nature: meditation.
Meditation enables us to be fully mindful of one object in the midst of ceaseless thoughts, reactions, storylines, interruptions, noise, distractions, and emotions. In other words, meditation allows us to remain calm, cool, collected, and aware in the midst of chaos and distraction. This is called Peaceful Abiding, our original mind, ALOHA.
The more we connect with our inherent nature, ALOHA, the more we experience peace and harmony. The more we experience peace and harmony, the more we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. The more we treat ourselves with kindness and compass, the more we treat others and the planet with kindness and compassion.
ALOHA opens us to care for all things animate and inanimate as if they are beloved relatives – no different than how the Hawaiians of old lived.
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 – ego’s world – with caring, compassion, grace, and kindness.
Reconnecting with ALOHA, our inherent nature, is like a drop in a pond: as it ripples out energetically into the greater life-force energy, it 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; Rudolf Steiner; and Pilahi Paki.