“Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come! come!”
How did it all begin for me? This. This deep interest in finding out what life is about. This love of Truth. This spiritual search. In what cradle did it come to existence, in what fertile soil did it come to grow? I remember how acute the desire for change was as a young man. For this was all there was to it at the time. A big, raw, sincere desire to change, to be different. I was unhappy, dissatisfied with what I was. Surely it was the first seed, the primary cause of this journey. The path leading to that change in myself I had no idea about. I had to feel my way along, through random books, exotic places. Except for one intuition though, that there was something more to life than finding happiness solely through acquisitions, through changing the person that I happened to be. Otherwise I would have gone for it in a more acute way. Instead, I turned towards some kind of spiritual call, knowing nothing of it. I rushed into a tunnel of not knowing.
It is still happening now, this dissatisfaction being the motive, the necessary impetus for my search. Of course, I have come to know a lot more about it, about the direction, the nature of the search. At least I know where not to look, and with the help of so many books and pointers, my understanding has grown ever more subtle, and I’ve had occasional glimpses into my true nature. But where am I, really? Nisargadatta Maharaj used to say: “Until you realise the unsatisfactoriness of everything, its transiency and limitation, and collect your energies in one great longing, even the first step is not made.”
What if dissatisfaction was the most terrific gift offered to me? Spending my time pushing it away, hating it, will only strengthen it, giving all the importance to the ‘little me’. So the gift is just here, in front of me, and instead of discarding it, arguing about its shape, the colour of the wrapping paper, what I already know it contains, I am just curious, unwrapping it carefully to find out what it is, what it might contain, and be joyful about it. Just as all gifts should be received. The day will come when I find myself saying thank you for all the suffering that I went through, for all the traps I fell into. For it is thanks to them that I am now able to say that this is enough. Not that I have come to live the fullness of life, but at least I have come to accept and have a tenderness for it all,’ and in that process, have found the most precious and interesting friend ever, to be cared for and looked after and understood – not despised: my own self.
It struck me the other day, how longing appeared to be one of the most beautiful words in the English language. I didn’t really pay attention to it before. Yet longing contains softness, gentleness, and infinite subtlety. It invokes a waiting, a yearning for something, a desire. Not the immoderate or obsessive kind of desire, but this patient yet powerful sense of wanting something we feel is precious and endearing to us, but which remains to a certain extent unknown or mysterious. It also brings a deep and abiding sense of trust, of peace, even though we may never know the object of our longing. The very act of longing seems to have its own reward, its own gentle and enduring quality. It doesn’t project itself as waiting would do, with its peculiar tension, and is therefore not waiting for something to happen in the future. It is more like a threshold, attending to the moment, and already reaching it. It triggers an opening, a readiness to welcome all that is already here in our heart. And its very existence seems to assert that it is close to find a deeper realisation. This is what makes it so valuable.
But mind you, longing has also a feeling of sorrow attached to it, one with very subtle significance. Deep down, this sorrow is the expression of an impossibility. The separate me-suffering can never have the peace and happiness it is craving for when looking for it in the realm of objects. True longing, if it ever wants to be quenched, is never for an object. This is the ‘mother’ of all pain. There resides the sorrow, our sorrow, but there resides our joy as well, secretly hidden behind it.
Dissatisfaction is always, as in Eckhart Tolle’s story, like the beggar praying to a supposedly richer man passing by. Since I see myself as being separate from the world, I think that the objective situation I am in is responsible for my misery, so I go out begging for a better one, looking for more pleasurable circumstances, thereby forgetting that I am sitting on a pile of gold. Dissatisfaction is the pile of gold. It is at the core of any process of inquiry. In it lies a great gift. Not one that we find when we get away from suffering and flee towards better objects or future, but one that lies at the very heart of our dissatisfaction. And it doesn’t need to be an excruciating pain, it could only be a subtle wishing that things were different. A slight unease is a big enough pain when it comes to being peace and happiness. Jean Klein pointed, “Pain, suffering, grief, have their fullness in the background, and when they are examined with detached attention, they can not subsist and dissolve in their source which is perfect bliss. … In this way we could say that suffering leads to joy.”
“The harvest of my pain was its own peace and remedy.
As low as I had sunk, I rose, faith restored from blasphemy.
Body, heart, and soul obscured the path, until
Body melted into heart, heart in soul, and soul in love itself.”
So the questions remain: What is the nature of this gift? Who is the owner of the suffering? Is the begging, the resisting, all there is to it? And what lies beyond pain when it is properly seen and understood? To say more would be a step too far, one that can only be apprehended experientially, for it would open to the realisation of what we truly are. “Do understand that the mind has its limits: to go beyond, you must consent to silence.” says Nisargadatta.
So how is this possible? The very unhappiness that was at the beginning of my journey, that was responsible for my engaging on the spiritual path, was the way to a better life? The pain that has been repeating itself again and again, was the ultimate call, the very threshold, the golden way to peace and happiness. All this time, I have been busy with the outside, with wanting to remove myself from the situation, so engulfed was I in the belief of separation. Stay! It is happening right now, right here, in this furnace, and with the very pain that you happen to have. It is all about dissolving the beggar in you!
Text and Pictures: Alain Joly
Guests on this page:
– Sri Nisargadatta
– Jean Klein
– ‘I Am’, by Jean Klein (Non-Duality Press)
– ‘I Am That’, by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Chetana Pvt.Ltd)
– ‘Rumi: The Book of Love’ – (Translations by Coleman Barks)
– Back to Pages