Most of my life has been spent sifting through what is ok and what is not ok; to do, to think, to say. As if some axe would fall if I got it wrong. Living in fear, in terror of straying from some imagined salvation, some way to keep me safe and protected.

Truth is, I’m always safe and protected in this moment. My ‘unholy alliance’ against the present has seen me in a constant state of argument with what is. My ideas of how things ‘should’ be; ideals, concepts, grand schemes to which I subscribe, all robbing me of my natural state of peace that is, and has always been, present beneath the surface, in the present moment.

How do we belong?

The acceptance and unacceptance of certain actions, thoughts and deeds is what defines society and culture. There are lots of different ‘sets’ of these as we can see in nations, religions, cultures. Different organising principles. We are all of us born into a particular arrangement of these. Some of us with confusing intersections and interplays between various ‘sets’ of beliefs or concepts about ‘reality’ to challenge our navigation through life.

We have to survive, so we learn the rules of the particular ‘set’ we find ourselves in so that we can. An externally imposed structure that we must mold ourselves to if we are to thrive. Totally natural, and with a price to pay. Not every ‘set’ or construct of reality is the same, so the more we move about the world, we’re constantly bumping into different expectations of how to belong that are unsettling and require constant adaptation and tradeoffs. It’s interesting to pause here and consider that it’s only relatively recently that many have had the opportunity to travel and be exposed to other cultures. Before that the majority of us were born into a culture that we stayed in for our whole lives.

An imposition of culture

Colonisation was nothing but the imposition of one culture or set of beliefs about reality onto many other different cultures. A dominant, superior culture (or so it was seen) at the cost of the lives and well-being of many ‘others’. Finally, we seem to have arrived at a point in time where there is a little less arrogance (not across the board, but generally, or perhaps only in pockets). We can begin the difficult and uncomfortable work of recognising the impact and error that such blind superiority and arrogance has caused and start to find another way.

Colonisation is a topic for another blog, but for this one I want to return to the personal. It is of course related. The visceral terror of making a mistake that will cost my belonging to my tribe hangs like an axe over my head. I notice that my natural response is overridden by my conditioned response a lot of the time, most of the time. It’s a practice, and takes an ongoing vigilance, in trepidation, to even hear and acknowledge my natural response. It is so buried beneath the layers of conditioning. And, it’s a tough gig. It feels like an act of treason to even listen for it.

The space between the past and the future

But, it’s there. I find it in that little space between the past and the future. The more I visit that place, the brighter it shines. When I say ‘it’s all ok’, I don’t mean that there aren’t things that are wrong, that mistreatment doesn’t happen and that humans aren’t capable of horrible deeds. It’s more a shift in perspective that has a lot to do with our relationship with time. Once something has happened, nothing will change that. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Each and every present moment gives us a fresh slate to start again, a new opportunity to extend the present, rather than the past, into the future.

Carrying the past

Carrying the past can cost us dearly with emotions such as shame, anger, resentment, guilt. None of these emotions do anything positive for our mental health or general well-being. But somehow, we think they do. That somehow our self-recriminations, or pretending that things didn’t happen, or holding rigidly to the belief that things should have happened differently, are worthy pursuits. We carry the past both by ignoring it, so that it remains unintegrated and the lessons are lost, and by letting it define us so that we miss the opportunity of freedom in the present moment.

Our moment to moment authentic experience holds the keys to our release. I spent about 20 years trying to run away from a past experience that I hated, that I didn’t want to define me and that I would much prefer to deny and forget. Only now, in my sixth decade, am I beginning to make peace with that experience and to integrate it into who I am.

I notice I do this when people hurt me too (or, when I imagine they do). Vmmp, up come my defenses, the judgements proliferate, an ongoing internal conflict about why they were wrong and I was right goes on and on interminably. I’m stuck in the past, caught again.

A new take on ‘the last judgement’

A new take on ‘the last judgement’ is the last time I resist or argue with reality. The last time I think that things should be other than the way they are. The last time I think someone should be different than the way they are. The last time I think that my idea of what is right makes someone else’s wrong. That moment, will be the one that I am liberated.

In the meantime, I just keep noticing the threads of judgement running throughout my life, knowing that they come from a need to feel protected and safe that feels constantly threatened in the world I live in. I just keep telling myself when these judgements surface, ‘it’s all ok’, everything is just how it should be, in this moment, for no other reason, than simply because it is. It’s a counter-cultural position to be sure. In the currency of what our culture values, inner peace does not rank highly.

Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

— Alan Watts