I just finished reading a truly weighty (in every sense of the word) book called “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.”
A friend recommended the book, thinking it might be illuminating in my ongoing quest to find out what happens when we die before I actually do.
Right from the start the book felt intimidating yet somehow familiar, which (I expect) may be what death itself will feel like. For starters, it was more than 400 pages. The pages were crammed with text in a font size that suggested it was originally 800 pages in manuscript form. My glasses needed glasses to see it!
And it was talking about, well, death. And dying. And the dying process. And how to prepare. And all the many stages of dying, and death, and then after death, and then (for those unlucky enough to miss all the clearly marked exits to enlightenment along that particular path) rebirth.
The more I read, the more discouraged I became. I’ve been meditating since I was 19, which is a cool nearly three decades now. And yet so much of what the book described I had never even heard of, let alone realized I should be practicing.
Death sounded, frankly, terrifying. If one (er) survived that process, there was after-death, which was way more terrifying. But I persevered and kept reading, thinking (hoping) for some much-needed encouragement that all had not yet been lost.
I got it on what – I think – was actually the literal last page. And I paraphrase here, since the library was by that point chomping at the bit to get the book back and I forgot to photograph the page in question before dropping it in the little returned books slot.
But the quote was something to the effect of “enlightenment is easy for the one who has no preferences.”
I think it may have been a quote from the Dalai Lama, who wrote the foreword to the book and is one of my hands-down favorite mentors. But even if it wasn’t, it is a quote that sounds like something he might have said.
And I thought, “AHA. Now HERE is something practical I can do.”
After all, most of my preferences make me miserable on a daily and sometimes hourly basis anyway, so no harm done if I send a few of them packing.
For example, I’d prefer to have more money. I’d prefer to look younger. I’d prefer to have one of those metabolisms where you can eat whatever you want and stay the same size. On that topic, I’d also prefer to have a thyroid that works properly. And I’d really prefer it if my precious parrot, tortoise and box turtle live exactly as long as me so we can all go at the same time and I won’t have to worry about them after I’m dead. Or something like that.
I’d prefer to work less and go on more vacations and see lots more beautiful places. I’d prefer to end all the suffering in the world for all beings and our planet. And I’d prefer it if my roots would grow out black like they used to so I wouldn’t have to keep dying my hair all the time.
But none of that is happening, no matter how much I prefer it over the other options on a daily basis. This tells me that perhaps there are no other options, which suggests it might be wiser to prefer what is actually happening. Or, as one of my dear mentors Byron Katie says, “to love what is.”
Preferences, for me at least, feel like loving what could be, if only….. They are a great story I tell myself, and I am apparently such a good storyteller that by the time I’m done telling that same story yet again, I believe it is an actual option. Like, I start out by preferring to have more money and end up by beating myself up for not having more money.
In the meantime, it nearly goes without saying that I have not earned any actual money because I’ve been far too busy taking myself to task about why this hasn’t yet occurred.
So having preferences is not only unproductive, but can also be quite painful and shaming.
And it certainly isn’t getting me any closer to enlightenment.
So instead of spending so much time and energy setting preferences and then attempting to reconfigure reality to meet those preferences (see my last post on trojan horses for more on this), I have determined to simply drop my preferences.
Lonely? Well, shoot, I prefer loneliness! Bored? Boredom just became cool. Broke? Minimalism, here I come. Wrinkly? Those aren’t wrinkles – they are wisdom lines.
Short of blowing rainbows up my own a**, I can honestly say that thus far, dropping my preferences has produced more happy moments in the few days I’ve been working on this. When the preference first arises, often in the form of a fairy tale about how much better my life would be if only (insert preference here), I usually feel miserable.
But that is also what grabs my attention and issues the “preference alert.”
Then I can take a look at the emerging preference, acknowledge it for what it is, and then drop it and see what that feels like. Usually, it feels peaceful and then much better.
Loving what is, having no preferences, ceasing from spinning fairy tales, whatever you want to call it, it seems to be working.
I’m not enlightened yet, but I’ll keep you posted!
Today’s Takeaway: What do you do when you notice you are feeling miserable, ashamed, without, not living up to your own expectations, stories or preferences? Have you found a method to help yourself through those moments so you can feel better? I’d love to hear what works best for you!