After months of prevarication, I have finally started to write my next book! Here is an extract from an early chapter.
Egocentric Living and the End of Suffering
After about 5 years of working as a professional actor, with some promising but ultimately false starts, I settled into a generally haphazard routine of working in temp jobs in the city of London and auditioning for acting roles. During this time, I studied for a teaching qualification with plans to run theatre workshops or work as a supply teacher while I waited for the next acting job.
Life is what happens while you make other plans, sang John Lennon and how right he was. I gained my Post Graduate Certificate in Education and immediately after landed what was to be my last professional job as an actor, although I had no idea it would be at the time.
Believing that perhaps my fortunes as an actor were about to change, I threw myself into the role and the work. Something though was different. I felt little of the magic and passion that I had felt for acting since I was 10 and even though I enjoyed the experience, I found myself wondering if it was time to call it a day. I finished the work and returned home to London and back to working in office temp work again. Soon, the same old drudgery set in and I wondered what was next? How to make a change that would give me some clear direction and purpose.
What came next was the break-up of a relationship, a move away from London and back to the South Coast where I’d grown up. I found myself living in my sister’s spare room and looking for work at yet another employment agency. This time I took a permanent job in a call centre and decided to focus on looking for teaching work. Without really ever making the decision, I realised I was turning away from my childhood dream of working as an actor. I’d got so far with it (further really than I ever imagined I might) and even though I was still very young (just 25 at that time) I was tired. I was tired of living hand to mouth, tired of trudging in and out of one temporary job to the next. I craved stability the same way I’d craved the variety and unpredictability of the life of an actor all those years ago.
The funny thing is, as I look back and compare those days to the life I live now, not a great deal has changed outwardly. Day to day existence is still quite precarious for me and much of it lived on a knife edge and almost always hand to mouth and yet none of that is a problem anymore. Deep inside there is a peace and a sense of perfection that is profound and affecting although certainly not immediately apparent. I want certain things it’s true. I strive even to make changes and create things in the world.
However, I no longer labour under the illusion that any of it will complete me or offer any lasting satisfaction or fulfilment. In that sense, I feel free from the yoke of desire that promises to fix me or my life. If I achieve a certain thing or create certain conditions, all well and good. No longer do I invest my sense of happiness and well being in a dream of how things could be. Rather, I find that the happiness I for so long sought in things outside of me is naturally present in the very ordinariness of life. Present in walking in the park, in enjoying a good meal, watching a film with my partner or like now, writing and sharing my perspective.
Back then however, in my sister’s spare room I did labour under the illusion that fixing all these various conditions in my life would provide fulfilment, satisfaction and happiness. I wanted a job that I would be happy in, I wanted a relationship that would make me feel good and I wanted to find somewhere to live that I could be comfortable and at home in.
This mode of living – under the illusion that moving around the furniture of one’s life will eventually bring about the perfect conditions in which you can live out your days in unbroken happiness – is quite the norm for the vast majority of humanity. Have you noticed however, that life doesn’t really cooperate for very long with our insistence that things always go our way?
All of us will one day lose something and someone dear to us. All of us will grow old, all of us will get sick and eventually all of us will die. That much is certain. One could even say that suffering is the one certainty and that suffering is even inevitable.
Except that, once we accept the simple facts of life – that it is ultimately unsatisfactory, that it is fleeting and temporary and that there is nothing here in form that has any kind of persisting, solid reality – then suffering is just how life shows up from time time. In that sense, when we no longer resist and push against those things that we call suffering, they cease to be suffering in the way they once were. Perceiving the world and life this way is the end of suffering.
This is a major breakthrough for many and like so much on the path to awakening, this one insight alone unfolds to reveal many more levels within it as we progress further along the path.
We may initially see that suffering occurs when we resist what is and then as we re-visit this insight as our life unfolds and our sense of awakening deepens we may begin to see that insight at work in our lives. If a loved one dies, for instance, or we experience the break up of a special relationship we may then begin to actually live the truth of this insight. To actually experience the fullness of loss without the narrative of suffering overlaying it.
This wisdom was only apparent in my own life however, once much more suffering had come my way. Not that one needs a great deal of suffering to live by the fruit of awakening. There are some people who do not suffer as intensely as others. For me though, there was much more suffering to come before I would begin to wake up to the reality of life here and now.