Does ‘Just Being’ Mean Detachment from Feeling? : How to Care for Others & Find Spiritual Enlightenment
When I was in graduate school working on my PhD, I remember I was taking a course in child psychotherapy. On the first day of class, the professor stood up and said, “We are always going to have child abuse throughout the world. Always. So what are we going to do?”
At the time, the professor was considered to be one of the top child psychologists in the world, so you couldn’t easily dismiss his statements as being that of an odd professor. But if like me you’re a lover of history, you’ll see that throughout history there have always been wars, famines, cruelties, and a constant onslaught of human tragedy.
What I see as new people enter the world of pursuing spiritual enlightenment is that they wonder “Well, what about the world? How do we change the world? If we focus on waking up and living an awakened life, what does that mean for the rest of the world? Are we going to stop caring?”
The argument is going to be that if we want to change the world then we have to change ourselves first. By changing ourselves, the world will change. But let’s start with the foundational pointer of living an awakened life: it is. We are the supreme reality. Now, we may wonder, “How can I be the supreme reality? How can you be the supreme reality? Can my pet dog be a supreme reality, or my enemy? How is that possible?”
To explore this, I use an analogy from science that comes from astronomy and the Big Bang theory. What happens is that as our universe is expanding, through telescopes we appear to be the center of the universe. As we look out, things that are closer to us are moving away much more slowly. But the further we go out, then things at a distance are moving away from us very quickly, thus the theory of the expanding universe from a big bang. Imagine we live in a galaxy halfway across the universe where we have developed intelligent life and we have telescopes. If we look out from our vantage point, we will appear to be the center of the universe and everything will be moving out from us.
It’s similar to a balloon. If we put a bunch of dots on a balloon and then we blow up the balloon, the dots most distant from the one where we are seem to be moving away a lot faster than the ones closest to us. But they’re all moving away from each other equally. As the supreme reality, we’re identifying with what is constant, and the only constant is our awareness of what is, and beyond that, stillness.
Is the awareness when we’re asleep present and aware even when there is nothing to be aware of? We don’t have anything to be aware of so we sleep well, yet we still remain the supreme reality. This boils down to: “Who are we?” Again, we can only be that which is permanent. That which is permanent cannot change, of course. The only thing that doesn’t change throughout our lives is awareness. Even when we’re asleep and there is nothing to be aware of, we still are. So we are the supreme reality.
Everything is based upon us. However, almost everyone has identified with their little egoic self, which is changing. For instance, we might say, “I’m Suzy today, and I’m Mary Lou later, and I’m grandma after that.” It keeps changing but even along all these changes, we think we’re whatever it is we’re defining ourselves as, even though our lives will continuously change. What we’re identifying with, then, is what isn’t really real. What we want to identify with is the ultimate reality. And we are the ultimate reality. We have identified with our little egoic reality but in ultimate truth we are the supreme reality. Everything else is too, however; it is also a manifestation of the supreme reality.
If we return to our question of how we should interact with the world, what I think we’re going to find is that we will realize, “Yes, I get it. I am the supreme reality but everyone around me is too, and we’re all connected to the ultimate supreme reality.” We have just forgotten this and we think we’re a little person and this country a warring nation, and so we fight. If we take the premise that we’re all the same, what’s going to happen is that we’ll become far more loving towards others around us and we’ll see that everything is truly beautiful because it’s ultimately the supreme reality.
People struggle and fight with their egoic self, but that’s not even real. So, when you see them struggling, of course you’re going to care for them and help them, but you’re going to be far less distraught over their struggles. I know there’s a concern when we take the role of “This is just an illusion and what’s happening isn’t really real.” It’s like going to a movie where we’re just watching the scenes. It’s also like a dream where we’re just participating in the dream. In both scenarios, however, we still care that everyone in the movie or dream has a beautiful life.
If we believe everyone in the dream world is a part of us, there is going to be a sense of thinking, “Well, I might not know or be identifying with your experience, but it’s my experience too because we’re all part of the supreme reality and we’re all feeling what we’re feeling.” There is a sense that all is well, but it’s also a sense of “How do I make the other person’s life go better?” I think you’ll find that to be true. Not everyone follows this approach, though. There are some people that will take it and do nothing.
I think many people on this journey of spiritual awakening and enlightenment get on the path of really caring for others. Their freedom comes from seeing that everything is really well and we can proactively go about making it even better. It’s a perfect balance; you have energy now, you don’t get exhausted, you don’t get burned out, and you’re able to help other people. You don’t stress because you realize that all is well and life is beautiful. Life is actually perfect, so it’s a nice balance.
Again, I know the fear is present that we won’t care. But perhaps we can open ourselves up to this awakened life and see what manifests. What we may find manifests is a tremendous, beautiful love for those around us without the attachment of necessarily making things better. We will make things better, but we won’t be attached to trying to control things, such as by thinking, “Things have to go this way”.
It’s like doing your job, doing it well, but then being detached from the outcome. We do our part but we don’t worry about the results. When we hear about tragedy, we can proactively participate in making it better, but still love life and just be. Living in the present moment and actively helping others becomes the focus.
That’s what I have found to be true, and perhaps you will too. I encourage you to open yourself up to who you are and see what happens. Perhaps you’ll find that being a little water droplet in the vast ocean makes you care for the other water droplets in the ocean.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and meditation expert who has been counseling individuals, families, nonprofits, and businesses for over twenty years. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books, including Spiritual Enlightenment: Awakening to the Supreme Reality and creates a weekly podcasts and articles on enlightenment, spiritual enlightenment, nonduality, Advaita Vedanta at: http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com