People pursue many paths in life. Those paths tend to differ based on the continent/country we live in.
In the poorer parts of the world — Africa, South America, South Asia and the Middle East — eking out a life of subsistence is, unfortunately, as good as it gets for many.
Here in America, it’s mostly about achieving some kind of financial and career success so we can enjoy the finer things in life (good food, car, house, etc.) and some level of notoriety. I’ve written extensively about the fact that pursuing the finer things and notoriety spring from our egos and as such can never lead to lasting contentment.
A life path that works
What’s a path that does work? And by work, I mean a path that leads us to inner peace and a feeling of being at one with the universe/God or whatever your belief system is.
There are various ways of expressing what that path is. This one by Eckhart Tolle might be the best and most eloquent I’ve come across:
“The secret of life is to die before you die — and find that there is no death.”
Let that sink in….
The key here is what it means to ‘die before you die.’ Specifically, what needs to die before we die?
The ego is what needs to die
The ego. That illusion we create early on in life that defends us from perceived external threats. The critic. The complainer. The worrier. The “fearer.”
As I’ve written about several times, the main job of the spiritual journey is the shedding of our ego. How we shed the ego is a multifaceted topic, but suffice it to say that it’s about letting go of ourselves. And getting quiet inside — through meditation, mindfulness, prayer, chanting and other spiritual practices — so that we can actually observe our egoic selves which then facilitates our ability to let it go.
Once we let go of our egos, what’s left? In other words, what’s left after we ‘die’ while still living?
What’s left is our consciousness. Our soul. Our Atman. Our spirit. Our true self. Our ‘deep I’ as Eckhart calls it. It’s the God inside that we all are that is shrouded by our egos, until we let the ego die.
Who we are when the ego dies
When we get to this place of dying before we die, we love completely and unconditionally. We exude pure compassion that seeks nothing in return. We don’t get jealous or greedy or envious or petty. We don’t hold grudges.
Some reading this may respond with, “This is crazy. That’s not human. Part of being human is being jealous, petty and all the rest. I like being human, warts and all.”
We can do better
But that’s precisely what the spiritual path is about: Transcending our humanness. The bottom line is that humanity can do a lot better than we think.
Before embarking on this spiritual stuff my attitude was that human nature is what it is. There’s nothing we can do to alter it.
I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve seen that when we do the daily work, the chopping wood and carrying water of the spiritual path, we can transcend our humanness. We can become less angry, selfish and all the rest.
It doesn’t happen all at once. At least for the vast majority of us. It’s gradual and incremental.
But the more we do it, the more we die…before we die.
And what of that last clause in Eckhart’s statement: “…and find that there is no death.”
Finding there is no death
This is where it gets as deep as this stuff goes. What he means is that once we clear away the egoic gunk that obscures our soul, spirit, etc., we realize that we don’t actually die.
How so? Because that energy/shakti/chi that comprises our consciousness/soul is as timeless as it is indestructible. The more we realize that that energy is who we are, the real us, the more we realize that this life on Earth isn’t all there is.
It’s about sensing, not knowing
Granted, this isn’t something that we can know, like knowing that Louis XIV was the king of France. The higher plane of spiritual matters like these can only be sensed. Intuited.
But I can tell you that the more I practice, and consequently the more I clear away my ego, the more I sense the divine and eternal nature of that energy/soul within. Which makes me feel like Bill Murray in Caddyshack, after relating that the Dalai Lama promised him eternal consciousness:
“So I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice.”
And you can, too. We all can! We can all die before we die.
We just need to commit ourselves to the work that gets us to dying before we die. Which doesn’t mean we need to quit civilization and live the rest of our days in a desert cave.
No. Go on with your life as a teacher, accountant, photographer, periodontist or construction worker. Enjoy life with your kids, your spouse, your friends.
Just commit to getting quiet inside and letting go of your ego.
So you can die before you die…