Question: My father’s favorite answer to all of his deeper questions is, “That’s just how it is.” He doesn’t question things further the way I do. I’m almost forty, and it still drives me nuts. What do you say when someone demands the world is a certain way, and there is nothing anybody can do about it?
Michael Richardson-Borne: The first thing to notice is that, in part, they are on to something. “Just how it is” insinuates that there is nothing you can do about reality – “just how it is” doesn’t have anything to do with personal autonomy. Using the phrase is an admission, or acceptance, that the world reveals itself on impersonal terms without the intrusion of personal experience. There is an inherent release of control, a submission of sorts – even if it is unrecognized. A type of deeper knowing lurks in the background and is begging to be enhanced, to be clarified. This knowing exerts a pressure that they feel, which is the tension of being separate – something that never dissipates until the source of separation is dug up and re-planted in an impersonal field. I view this unrecognized submission as a transitional identity story that further tills the soil for the seeds of Non-separation.
This depth of identity is to be embraced and built upon until it falls over on its own – not attempted to be intentionally torn down in a way that is the equivalent of turning a public space into a guarded fortress. I keep my hands off of their identities and merely let life live the invitation to Non-separation that I am. When they are ready for movement, they ask questions. When they are not ready, they make statements or ask questions that are just disguised statements.
So back to your father. Can you see how you may not be aware of the depth of his breakthrough? Aware of how much trust it takes to get to the point where he can admit the definitely known inside of the unseeable unknown? Do you see how “just how it is” opens the unknown to a non-invasive experience of the normative? If so, you’ll notice that the understanding you attribute to your father is the first wisps of discovering that personal experience is lived as impersonal existence.
Do you see how “this is how it is, but we can’t really know why” is the beginning of embracing the limitations of the mind? It’s the first practice swings of using the mind to pierce the mind. Maybe you could steady his hand rather than fight with him to drop his sword for a bigger one?
So the key is to home in on his submission rather than your attachment to what you think is a better story by which he should define his Separate Self. Leading him further into “the why things are the way they are” distracts him with your own distraction. Now, rather than having a fly every hour or so land on his nose to remind him of separation, your presence engulfs his head in a cloud of gnats. Which is fine enough if you are holding the can of bug repellant. But in this case, you’re not – so your presence is that of the “gnat-bringer.” And it’s easier for him to say, “that’s how it is” to get a reprieve from the annoying gnats than to open up about the damned fly that keeps landing on his nose day after day.
Stop bringing your circus of gnats with you, become curious about his experience of the fly, and watch what happens. Rather than challenge the truth of his statement, another possibility is to embrace the non-separative outliers he has already uncovered – like seeing through the illusion of personal control and the limitations of the mind.
Q: So, is there a set way that things are? Just not in the way my father is thinking?
MR-B: If I say there is not a set way that things are, then I am still saying that there is a set way that things are. Do you see what I’m pointing out? Ultimately, if pressed, I am forced, one way or another, to say the same thing as your father – “That’s just how it is.” Being trapped in a relationship that relies on the mind for its total experience results in this predicament. There is no way around the separation that singles out one ultimate way as the way things are. This problem is the nature of the mind.
But, let’s play the game of the mind, ok? In the world of separation, there is one way that things are – and that way is separative. This separative way creates a Culture of Separation built on the primary assumption of humanity, a belief in a Separate Self. The Separate Self is always looking for “the final answer,” or “the ultimate set of facts” – it is always trying to convince you that you can find or become the totality as an embodiment of separation extracted from the whole. It assures you that the impossible is possible, and leaves you to suffer as an illusion.
What your father is saying is an expression of a Separate Self. What you are attempting to get him to believe is an expression of a Separate Self engaging with “an other” – engaging with another Separate Self that you believe is disconnected from you in the external world. This dysfunctional dynamic is the way all relationships are conducted in the Culture of Separation – relationship is a disconnection between Separate Selves that are believed to have the potential to connect, to reach one another, to agree about how things are. It isn’t understood that two stories of separation can never connect – they can only observe more stories rooted in a belief in separation.
As a Separate Self, you focus on the external world and fight about the way things are rather than questioning the source of the fighting. You question the beliefs of perceived others rather than search for how your own beliefs arise and the way that personal belief happens in the first place. You haven’t noticed that the way things are in the Culture of Separation is not about the content of “why” – it’s about the context of “why separation?” Do you recognize the difference?
Until you move beyond the sole identification with a Separate Self, there is only one way that things are – and that way is the illusion of being an individual isolated from the whole. Being embedded in a Separate Self is “just how it is.”
Take a moment, and don’t attempt to answer the questions present in your mind. Just let them be. Make their presence known without requiring attention. Right now, there is a roof over your head, and you just let it exist without focusing on it. While talking to me, you couldn’t care less about the roof – you just let it do what it does without any concern. Treat your obsession with questions and stories in the same way. Let them be there and let them do what they do without any burden of concern.
Practicing this can reveal that the story of “how it is” is an object defining an “empty subject.” This change in perspective transforms your line of questioning from an inquiry into the way the particular contents of the Separate Self are into an investigation into the way the Separate Self actually is. Right now, you and your father are fighting about versions of the way things are – not the way the Separate self is. With this, the best you can do for one another is limited – you can only offer a horizontal jump into the same separation. This is a fact that you must discover for yourself if you want to adjust your inquiry into a form of verticality where the Path of Non-separation awaits.
Q: Everything you teach is about the Path of Non-separation – and you insinuate that once you remember Non-separation, you truly know the way things are. Applied Awakening is knowing the way things are and bringing one’s behaviors into coherence with this established way. How can you not be saying that Non-separation is “just how it is?”
MR-B: Again, I understand the trap. By teaching “something,” it’s easy to think that I’m taking a position or making an absolute claim about the way things are. But it’s important to understand that I’m not teaching a theory, or “something to know,” or a set of facts that are intended to replace the ones you’re currently using to define the separation of your personal experience.
The stories of your Separate Self, the set of dominoes that make up personal experience will never reveal a set position that proves what I’m teaching is true. Questioning what you think of as my “stance” reveals your misconceptions about relationship more than anything about a position I’m taking. In your world, I must take a stance. There is no way around it – it’s “just how it is.”
In my world, there is no such thing as a personal stance that is not lived impersonally. This is Non-separation – where a stance may be taken as life itself, impersonally lived as a personal position. But this personal position is never the end of the story.
If you pay close attention, you will see that the stance being taken through me at this moment is a lived invitation to Non-separation – not an attempt to seduce you into taking a deeper personal stance about the way things truly are.
That said, your question also reveals the strength of your intuition. If you begin excavating your identity stories, you will eventually get to an experience that reveals why you must automatically take a position, why you feel in your bones that there is a definite way that things must be.
If you drop all of your personal stories right now, you will find an empty story of pure personal beingness. You will find the original source of individuality that happened to the impersonal existence you are. This is what I call your Original Story. It’s the beginning of position, the beginning of the possibility for there to be a definite “how it is.”
Locating your Original Story re-situates your perspective on occurrences like the battle with your father. You begin to understand the futility, the backwardness, the blindness of giving your life to such matters. And as you move deeper and deeper into your Original Story, the origin of separation, you can eventually break through into what I call the Impersonal. By discovering the Impersonal, you identify how the idea of “how it is” floats through you as an expression of the existence you are. Remember, Non-separation is the impersonal existence of being that includes the personal – or the impersonal existence of being that includes the Separate Self.
Q: If there is no set way the world is, why are there patterns in my experience that never change – gravity, trees, family members, even my day to day existence. This is always my father’s final argument. Trying to move beyond this point is a “no-fly zone.”
MR-B: Let your personal experience be what it is. Leave it alone, allow it to be perfectly real. Then use the mind’s relaxation to rest in the unknown. This unknown, what I call “living life as a question,” will give you a taste of your Original Story – the original sense of “I amness” that has no definition other than it is.
The unknown will provide you with an experience of pure beingness that is effortlessly curious rather than hell-bent on pushing a particular story into a world where what is considered curiosity is an offshoot of seeking the best story to define the underlying “pure individuality” that’s been forgotten.
This forgotten Original Story of beingness is the restrictive edge of reality for both you and your father.
Q: What if I asked you, “Why is the sky blue?”
MR-B: Sunlight reaches Earth’s atmosphere and is scattered in all directions by the gases and particles in the air. Blue light is scattered more than the other colors because it travels as shorter, smaller waves. So, voila, a blue sky.
Again, let that be true. Who cares? Literally, who cares? It’s just the current state-sponsored condition of story that will morph in due time. There is no terminus to the movement of stories that make up the Separate Self.
Q: If life is just a story, what is the point of wanting to know how things are? Isn’t that what gives our lives meaning?
MR-B: Non-separation does not remove the meaning you find in life. Personal life can have meaning while existing impersonally. Discover this, and you will understand why “just how it is” and “consciousness is all there is” are two very different statements.