Why Is It So Hard For Us to Let Go and Live In the Now?

BLOG Why Do We Desire?

self-portrait in words
Thanks to prompts from John Graham, Chaitanya Pullela, Paul Heft and Locrian Rhapsody, I have been reading Krishnamurti, and just finished his Freedom from the Known. It’s timely for me, since it’s really about learning to let go and live in the Now, which I’ve been writing about rather obsessively lately. He’s delighfully anti-organized religion and anti-orthodox meditation. Meditation, he says, is the practice of paying complete attention, every moment, to every thing, being aware of every thought and feeling without judgement. To do so, he says, we need to start by understanding ourselves, our alone-ness and our interconnectedness with all-life-on-Earth. And we must appreciate that no one and no system can teach us these things. No one can teach us how to pay complete attention, even though “we all want to be told [what to do], because we are the result of the propaganda of ten thousand years. We want to have our thinking confirmed and corroborated by others.” He offers no prescriptions, just suggestions on what has worked for him, and what not to do. He asks a lot of questions, some rhetorical to nudge your thinking, others genuine to get you started on your own journey to self-understanding and hence to letting go and living in the Now.

We must take personal responsibility for all the suffering on the planet, he insists, before we will act. We must reject all orthodoxy and authority, all the stories we have been told of what to believe and what to do and who we are and our place in the world, things which ‘condition’ us, make us everybody-else. We must let go of all of our beliefs and knowledge and ideas and conceptions and images and hurts and conceits and principles and ideals and intentions and memories and experiences, because these are all fictions that are rooted in the past or future and merely hold us back. Our organism (our intuitive and sensual selves) cannot be separated from our psyche (our intellectual and emotional selves) — and he seems to suggest that it is our psyche, our social self, that must change to reintegrate with our organism, our visceral self. (This of course makes sense to me, after writing about my two ‘selves’ and the conflict between them.) For example, he argues that our name ‘tree’ or ‘oak tree’ comes between ourselves and our ‘seeing’ an actual tree. We can’t see, or be, when our head, and heart, with their representations and stories and conceptions and judgements and reactions, get in the way, between ourselves and ourselves.

Likewise, he asserts, we blame others (through sentences beginning with ‘if’ or ‘because’) for everything that disturbs us, and then we get used to and accept or escape from these things. Until we face these things, he says, we can never be present. To really see, we need to face the full responsibility and emotional impact of these things (let our heart be broken?) Yet paradoxically, we cannot ‘learn’ over time to really see, with our full attention; it is a breakthrough experience, a discovery of who we really are, here, now, that may come suddenly after a day’s or ten years’ meditation/practice, or never at all. This ‘really seeing’, he says, is like another dimension, one in which fear, time, and self-as-other cease to exist.

When we really see, he asserts, we are really free: free from our mental and emotional constructs, from sorrow, from time. Time is nothing but “the interval between idea and action”, so living in the Now, in what others call “Now Time”, is about getting rid of that interval, letting go of our ideas and other time-bound and time-binding constructions. “Sorrow is self-created, by thought, sorrow is the outcome of [non-Now] time.”

He has an interesting take on love which is consistent with polyamory: “To love without hate, without jealousy, without anger, without wanting to interfere with what [the people you love] are doing or thinking, without condemning, without comparing…When there is love there is no duty and no responsibility.” Love is “passion without motive — to come upon love without seeking it is the only way to find it.” We do what we do for who and what we love because that is what love is and does, not out of a sense of obligation.

He’s an adherent to Let-Self-Change: He thinks it is both a sufficient and a necessary condition for making the world a better place that we each learn to live in the Now, at peace with the world, and model that behaviour for others, “a life which is not competitive, ambitious, envious.” A year ago I might have agreed with him, but now I’m not so sure — no matter how much we do to model good behaviour for others, I think we need to work on projects that will alleviate the damage done by others who aren’t so enlightened. He died 23 years ago, so perhaps if he were alive today his views on activism might be different.

I won’t pretend to be able to capture the whole book in a few paragraphs, but that’s what he’s driving at.

As I read, I began to discover that the fears in my own stories about myself (of letting people down, of not being able to cope if I tried to be an activist in a world of horrific suffering, of making the wrong decisions on my own future) all reduce to a fear of disappointing myself. It is my own high idealistic expectations I am afraid I cannot live up to. Krishnamurti argues that fears are rooted in our memories (what has happened before) or our imaginations (what might go wrong), and that these fears exist nowhere but inside of us; they are us. If we can realize this, look these fears right in the face, give them our full attention without judgement, we will realize that we can do nothing about them, and they will disappear. This makes sense, but I confess I’m stuck on this point — I need to meditate on it, I guess.

I also learned when I enumerated the sources of anger in my stories about others and the world (anger at cruelty, at indifference to suffering, at stupidity and ignorance, at aggression, at irrationality, at insensitivity, and at pathological manipulation), and in my stories about myself (at my procrastination) that anger and other violent emotions are a part of me, are me, and that it is pointless to blame others or myself for this anger, or to try to suppress it. Krishnamurti says that facing the fact of these emotions, like facing our fears, is the key to dispelling them. “To live completely in the moment is to live with what is, the actual, without any sense of condemnation or justification — then you understand it so totally that you are finished with it.” Clearly something else I need to meditate on.

He asks a couple of interesting questions later in the book that I’ll leave with you — he doesn’t answer them, and I don’t pretend to know the answers either:

  1. The first is Why do we desire? Beyond the immediate physical needs of survival (a sufficiency of food, water, shelter/clothing, need for procreation of the species, and security) why do we want more? Why do we crave more than we need? Why are we always comparing what we are/have with what we should be/have, when clearly we are (most of us in affluent nations anyway) comfortably meeting our needs? What Darwinian purpose does this possibly serve, when nature is always seeking to optimize species survival, complexity and variation?
  2. The second is Why is it so hard for us to live in the Now? “Why is it that man, who has lived for millions of years, has not got this one thing that matters?” If learning to let go and live in the Now is so important to our species’ well-being and success, why haven’t we evolved this skill? Or perhaps, do all creatures have it, and have we, as a result of our large, busy brains, forgotten it, lost it in the noise?

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8 Responses to Why Is It So Hard For Us to Let Go and Live In the Now?

  1. Janene says:

    Hey Dave,I read an article yesterday that made me think you should read it… and now you have (vaguely) alluded to the issue here once more… I think you know Jason Godesky from Ish: http://tobyspeople.com/ideas/personal-responsibilityAnother point you mention is the fears in our own head holding us back… I wrote a bit on working through this for myself, don’t know if caught this particular article: http://terrapraeta.wordpress.com/2008/01/26/look-at-me/Hope some of it makes some sense to you.Janene

  2. Jon Husband says:

    Aha .. glad you found Krishnamurti.

  3. John Graham says:

    Hi Dave, thanks for reminding me of Krishnamurti! I don’t think modelling being at peace with the world implies taking no active *initiative* – I guess it’s only to the extent that we’re free of external author-ity, and isms (including activism), that we can freely author/initiate activity.Or, if you are rejecting all authority, do you also reject your own? And does this rejecting approach bring you to cast off any mantle of leadership you might be called on to wear? Perhaps you’re right to call this into question.There’s something subtle to be found in comparing and contrasting Krishnamurti and Steiner on authority…I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. What is authority? It’s something only we can bestow, no matter what others claim. Steiner emphasised cultivating a capacity to neither reject nor swallow ideas, but rather live with them and creatively respond to them (I think K and S are quite close here). I find it hard to “reject authority” without making all kinds of other judgments about ideas and people.Perhaps I find it more useful to think of abstaining from bestowing authority, rather than rejecting authority. If you’re rejecting authority, you’re not free of it.

  4. Shahana says:

    Dear Dave,First let me say that I admire your work greatly.I am spellbound by your narrative on Krishnamurti’s work, especially because I am writing something that so closely parallels so many of the things he left behind for us, and yet I have never read Freedom from the Known. So far, I have felt rather alone in so many of my realizations, because the world around me thinks so differently. While I am now elated to not being “alone” I also realize, paradoxically, that one MUST be alone in one’s discovery of these things; isn’t that precisely Krishnamurti’s point? :-)As for activism, the more I have become spiritually alive, the less my activist mind rears its head. I realize that activism, even if motivated by good intentions (positive change), inherently suggests that we judge a situation or another, and are setting out to improve them/it. This idea of changing another is another form of mental delusion and control … even the idea of “justice” is such. I JUST wrote to a friend yesterday, a list of comparisons between my mind and my consciousness (or spirit, or higher power, or being, or “organism” as you say Krishnamurti calls it). And on that list was:my mind likes justice (or doing/being right); my consciousness simply accepts.This acceptance, however, is not a passive stance. It is an active stance, because it is CONSCIOUS. Our consciousness has observed the injustice, and then accepted it. In this acceptance comes a self-change that becomes a light in the world. Others who receive this reflected light are slowly awakened to it … and THAT is all we can do to change the world, and it is more than enough, and more effective than anything else.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks everyone. Shahana, I agree with most of what you say, though I still think there is a role for activism, not through changing other people’s minds but through organizing and changing laws and the way they are enforced (or not enforced). I haven’t much respect for the political/legal process but it is used by the rich, the powerful, and the psychopathic to further their agendas, and some of us need to be involved in the political process to push back, and hold the politicians and their puppet-masters and morally bankrupt lawyers to account for their greed, fraud and corruption.

  6. Shahana says:

    Dave, Thank you so much for writing back! I will suggest the old saying: what we resist persists, and add that it actually perpetuates! Even when you use language such as “push back” – you are setting up an energetic charge, a (mental idea of) opposition around the issue. I won’t for a moment disagree with the heinousness and egregious nature of what you are describing, and I feel it daily. I discover, however, that pushing AGAINST something gives it greater and greater power. Describing evil as an opponent is more separateness, which is contradictory to the idea of continuous consciousness. Taking responsibility means realizing that all evil outside us is also somewhere inside of us, and hence, back to strict adherence to self-change. (As I “preach” all this – please let me assure you that this is a DAILY battle for me. Therefore, I don’t preach to you, by writing here, I also remind myself.)

  7. Shahana says:

    I would like to add that your book “Finding the Sweet Spot…” has been my friend, mentor and guide through a year of purpose searching, and it has brought me to wonderful places … one of which is writing my book THRIVE! Stories along a journey from survive to thrive. I aim to finish writing within the year and hope that I can send you a copy as a deep thank you.

  8. Indigo Ocean says:

    Just returned from a meeting with my lama where he corrected my misunderstanding of Buddhism’s teachings on “being in the present.” It seems Westerners have a tendency to think of it in an Eckart Tolle/Ram Das “Power of Now/Be Here Now” way, whereas in Buddhism there is not the idea that you should never think about the future. It is grasping at the future or pushing at things we don’t want the future to include that is the issue Buddhism has with a future orientation. But the idea of being present is about attending to what is going on within one’s being within meditation. One watches the rise and fall of one emotion after another, one thought after another, without pushing or pulling at any of them. But then you get up and you go back to planning what you intend to do in the world, and indeed what you intend to make for lunch. You still make shopping lists. But you don’t spend hours reading the labels trying to figure out which toothpaste is the “best” one. Within this context, I think activism does arise for many people, not because it is “supposed to” as a part of some divine plan, since one’s Buddha Nature doesn’t give a whit whether humans go on incarnating in this form or not. Activism arises when YOU care about whether or not we do.

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