Destroy the World, Save the Earth

I’ve got to apologize for going so long between posts. Sometimes what I want to share here in this space feels so personal, or so difficult to put into words, that I end up not doing it at all.

Something that’s been on my mind the last couple of weeks is “the world” vs. “the earth.” There’s a big, big difference between the two, and probably the easiest way to distinguish them, is simply by realizing that the world is not real. What do I mean by not “real?” Well, take a look at the earth, for contrast. Look at your friends, spouse, kids, your cat, dog or parakeet—those are real. Look at yourself. Feel your skin, your clothes, your headache or your peace. That is real. They are there. Go outside, see the cars, the grass, the sky, birds, clouds, bushes and asphalt. Real again. Better yet, give yourself a nice, total immmersion experience of reality—go canoeing in a park, or mountain biking, or swimming in the ocean, with a minimum of thinking or conversation. You’ll start to get to know the difference.

What’s not real? Everything that exists only in the mind. Chances are, as soon as you start talking with someone, conversations will turn to things that have no basis in reality. Whether someone or something is “good” or “bad.” Whether something “means” something else or not. The past. That’s right, the past happened, but it is not real. Past sounds like passed for a reason. The future is obviously not real, but we devote inordinate amounts of our thoughts to it.
When you feel stress about the future, you’re feelings are real enough, but their cause is unreal. There’s some profound truth in the trite workplace sign “FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real.”

But there’s a lot more non-reality to become aware of. Our very identities are pieces of the past we esteem and carry on with us into the present. If you ask my name, I’ll say, “Jon.” That’s a real sound, but how does it become a shorthand for me? I could have been named Douglas, Vladimir, or Akhbar. And if I so chose to, I could change it. Ask my nationality, and I’ll say “American.” What I really mean is that I was born in a part of the earth where people had agreed to recognize an organization of people as having some authority over them, and by agreement, this organization was known as the government of the United States of America.

But look at a view of the earth from space, and there are no lines drawn, no square patches colored blue, pink, or yellow, and no names written upon the land. There’s no “United States of America” there, no “Switzerland,” and no “Iraq.” What’s real are the nameless landmasses with their nameless forests, plains and deserts and the nameless oceans, lakes and rivers.

I am not my past, my name, my family, my upbringing, my country, my religion, my ideas, nor my thoughts. Neither are you. Kind of makes you wonder why all the fights about names, families, lifestyles, countries, religions, and ideologies, doesn’t it?

Meditation is an opportunity to begin stripping away the conditioning, the associations, and shared hallucinations that comprise “the world.” What are you, there in the dark, with eyes closed, with no name, no past, no future? What is that? It’s worth getting to know, because that is real. That is you.

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