Playing with assumptions.
This story is one of a number to challenge assumptions about ourselves and reality. Each is inspired by a real-world scientific or spiritual genius (Einstein, LaoTzu, Ramana Maharshi…), and is presented as a visit to a game world in which that thinker’s message is re-imagined in unconventional form.
Welcome to slumberfo9ey’s World, where you question things you’ve always assumed to be facts, the unseen beliefs that determine your experience of the world. After pulling those assumptions into the open air, you experiment with alternatives, even if, at first, those replacements clash with all you’ve taken to be true. As you face whatever comes, you exercise courage and curiosity to remain open. In your vigilance, you come to recognize that all this effort isn’t yours, and you surrender your claim to it and its fruits. You realize your true nature, and with that, your journey brings you home.
This world isn’t inspired by a great sage. Or, perhaps better put, it’s inspired by many. I’m but a player of the game, yet I’ve lived in the worlds you have visited. I’ve learned from and grown in them. Now I stand, as the saying goes, on the shoulders of giants. Or are those giants — their light — now in me?
You jump in and don your hard hat. I’m here with you.
“Where’s your helmet?”
Since I won’t be digging, I don’t need one.
“Where are your quotation marks? What’s with the pajamas and slippers? I’ll be digging?”
So many questions…. I’m writing in the first person, so I don’t need quotation marks. Also, it’s my world, so I want to be comfy and ready for a snooze whenever I need one. You’ll be excavating foundations and identifying what, if any, repair and replacement is necessary.
“What foundations am I repairing?”
The ones your experience of the world sits atop. As you dig, please put the assumptions you unearth in this barrel. In that box, place anything you find that you can indisputably know. Is that okay?
Good digging! I’ll bet you’ve worked up a sweat. The barrel’s pretty full. Anything in the box?
“With each thrust of the shovel into the earth, I find all I can indisputably know is What is Happening, in this moment. But I can’t capture or contain that, in a box or anywhere else.”
“But I found a lot of assumptions. There were too many, so I only bothered keeping the ones from right at the bottom, the ones the others rested on. Where did you get that cup of coffee?”
Want one? Piff! There it is. Magical worlds have their advantages. Here’s my idea for what comes next. Could you take one assumption at a time from the barrel, say a bit about it, and then describe an alternative to it? It doesn’t have to be an alternative you think is better than the original, but it might be. You’ve learned a lot from all your world visits, so this should be fun. Sound okay?
What’s your first item?
This may be the king, the defining theme. The good in me is separated from, turns its gaze from, the bad. A well-defined, durable me is separate from and navigates within an external, arbitrary, and hostile world. I’m independent of and compete against other actors in that arena. Heaven is remote from earth. Separation is the source of the overriding force in life — fear.
Do you have an alternative to that?
As a person, I’m an integral thread in a complex, continuously changing whole, a natural system. What happens with me is because the whole is as it is. That completeness contains you and everyone else as well, in the same sense as it includes me. If I still feel fear, that’s “just” part of What is Happening.
Great start. What’s next?
As an independent actor competing in a hostile environment, my greatest tool is control. From my special point of isolated leverage, always a cause but only sometimes an effect, I exercise my unique rational faculties to harness and subdue nature, to recruit or conquer neighbors.
In an intricate, evolving network where the one constant is change, my most powerful tool is awareness, my attention. Appropriate action is equivalent to seeing fully and remaining flexible. In essence, I’m a life-long student who translates learning to action “on the fly” and recognizes rationality’s limits.
Great! You’ve got some more there. What’s the next assumption?
I use that magic tool — control — on myself too. Among the most powerful bases for this control is unflinching belief in comforting certainties. Facing insecurity, in times of upheaval, risk, or threat, nothing reassures so much as firm hand- and foot-holds on absolutes.
What’s your alternative?
Reassurance (what “certainty” gives) isn’t the same as security. Security is unreachable. Inflexible belief in absolute certainties closes my access to new, fresh information.
The new information, like me, is alive in this moment, fresh in present reality. But belief, dry and dead, clings to something from the past. (And may not have even been correct in the past.)
So, faith uses the tool of awareness, remaining open to What Is Happening and acting based on the resulting intimacy with reality. I trust that openness and participation in the moment place me optimally for any context.
You’re on a roll! What else?
Beyond my addiction to security, I assume I must strive to be good, right, successful — in a word, perfect. This puts life at the whim of others’ praise and blame. The pursuit of perfection splits me (in my own eyes) into one worthy part and another despicable one. The first casts the second into the dark, out of sight, pretending it doesn’t exist. This creates a painful split within me, separating me from myself.
And an alternative to perfection?
The world, including me, is composed of polarities, opposites. Life, like the birds within it, needs two wings — opposites — to fly. Here, the best me is a whole me, and experiencing the whole self is as vital as experiencing both night and day, both activity and rest. My attention falls equally on what brings pride and what brings shame. Each passes quickly enough. In my openness, I accept the moments in which I fail, even those in which I fail to stay open and accepting.
The two-winged bird of life. I love that! Do you mind if I use it?
“Knock yourself out.”
Looks like you’ve got one more.
I’m a body — or a mind riding within one. Perhaps a soul. In any case, a discreet, limited author of an independent life, within broad bounds outlined by nature. I came into existence to navigate mortal highs and lows for some period before passing, with less or more grace, back to non-existence. If I’m feeling religious, I must find and maintain a correct, loving relationship with God, so my immortal soul can join Him when I die, for eternity. If not, it’s Hell’s fiery, eternal pit!
This is a big one. An alternative?
“Life / Experiencing”
I am I, the whole. This I experiences every known instant, each possible second, of existence, knows each moment enjoyed or endured by every being on Earth. This I animates, gives life to, existence. It is the divine illumination by which the infinite and eternal passes through the pin-prick of a moment into manifestation. In a religious reading, salvation isn’t about re-establishing a correct relationship with God; it’s about recognizing God, recognizing I am in and as me.
That’s a lot of insight for one dig! And how many of those alternatives are you up for experimenting with, trying out?
“Are you kidding me? All of them.”
Can I share one that occurred to me on my last dig and see what you think of it?
“Let’s hear it. What’s the assumption?”
Pretending life can be a one-winged bird (to steal a metaphor from you), I seek happiness to the exclusion of its opposite. I hope and seek for the “bad half” of existence to evaporate.
“And an alternative?”
Openness to all life brings, to all of myself, reveals ease — a peace that sits behind happiness and its opposite. Ease is one translation of an elusive Sanskrit word — Ananda. Others have rendered it joy, bliss, or flourishing. Regardless which, the key point is that unlike any word for it, ease has no opposite.
Ease isn’t the opposite of unease (or “dis-ease”). This ease sits behind and beyond ease and unease. Glimpse ease with quiet contemplation of the fact that there is existence rather than nothing, that there is life at all.
Ease is always there, but our busy, scheming minds obscure it. In this way, it’s like the sun, which shines every day but is sometimes occluded by cloud. Ease excludes nothing, but our exclusivity hides it from us. In slumberfo9ey’s World, we allow the clouds to clear, and behold the shining orange ball!
“Nice one, slumberfo9ey!”
These aren’t the only assumptions and alternatives in slumberfo9ey’s World, but they emerge consistently. As you look through our list, the old assumptions mirror the basic components of the “Old Story.” Now, you know those components are not certainties but conjecture, borrowed ideas couched in inherited language.
You recognize its “truths,” proclaimed self-evident by a strident Homo Egonomicus, as self-fulfilling. Life is as Egon describes it only for those who believe the description in the first place. Today, that includes most of humanity, but it needn’t.
“Yeah. It’s like that tongue-in-cheek saying, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
Exactly. When you suspend judgment, you see alternatives to each component of the Old Story. Now, you can experiment with, test out your alternative conjectures to those second-hand assumptions. See whether those different building blocks are sound enough to upgrade your worldview, to create your new story. It, too, will be full of conjecture.
Then again, if the Old Story is working well for you, then stick with it!
“Not a chance! Now I’ve seen through the so-called certainties and identified alternatives, there’s no going back.”
Here’s the hard truth: early days in slumberfo9ey’s World give little comfort. You cast off the old orientation, opening to clarity, living honestly. This doesn’t sit well with comfort until you settle more consistently in your new story. For most of us, that comfort and what rest it affords come after a journey.
That’s why the first virtue you call on is courage. Your courage lets you step out into insecurity, into vulnerability.
You leave security, put yourself into the wind, onto the waves, and you pay attention to What Is Happening — within as well as around you. Because not everything you encounter is nice, you keep courage in your heart. Much that you discover paints you in an unflattering light. Not everything conforms to your wishes or your self-image.
The sun in slumberfo9ey’s World shines equally on the good and the bad, on pleasure and pain, on each feature and its opposite. So does your attention, as you said.
Courage helps you maintain openness. Openness is how you connect with reality’s fullness, with your own. You face things as they are, spending less time, energy, and worry pretending or wishing they were different. There are no rules to follow; you pay open attention and then act accordingly.
You cultivate your curiosity, which keeps you from slipping into well-worn grooves, settling back into the Old Story, or locking yourself into the new one. You discover and, thereafter, see your filters and defense mechanisms. Seeing them is your action; you know you can’t eradicate them.
Treasure your sense of humor. slumberfo9ey’s World — including you, your behavior, and your thoughts — houses more than a little absurdity and silliness. These would become painful if you took them seriously. When in doubt, you laugh!
In slumberfo9ey’s World, you come to live with wholeness, better understanding yourself and your world. But it’s not an automatic “once and for all.” For many pilgrims, the journey through one story is followed by passage through others.
We may move from one story to another, but we never leave all story behind. Life only occurs through story. There is no God’s eye view. Freedom isn’t escape from story, but clearer seeing of the story, clearly seeing it is story. Liberation is recognizing you’re the author, the reader, and the characters. Life reifies your story as the world you experience.
Curiosity and openness, courage and humor — these aren’t yours. Neither is the understanding that they aren’t yours. You surrender your personal claim to them. Control gives way in surrender; you rest in Yourself. Any “effort” of yours actually belongs to the ceaseless process that is You, the whole, unfolding and, thereby, creating reality. The personal you is a thread in that process, a unique thread that is art, a gift to the world.
All is Yours, and You are all. Renewed every moment. Destroyed, consumed and reborn every instant. The symbol of Your cycles might be Zen’s Enso, Taoism’s Yin-Yang, or Ouroboros — the snake swallowing its own tail. Pilgrims (including you), stories, and worlds entwine. They destroy and create. They are destroyed and created. You ride the face of the wave, the head of Ouroboros, consuming the old to deliver Now.
You step out. From the observation deck on slumberfo9ey’s World, you look upon your own. That was the Big Pep Talk before jumping back into that world to create your new story.
You note in your logbook:
Now that I’ve seen through the illusion, I have the components. It won’t be easy. Expecting trials, anticipating traps, I leap into the wind.
You’ve never been more ready, so you say, “Let’s play.”