Last updated on November 8th, 2018 at 09:02 am

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”—Matsuo Basho

Growing up in a well-to-do American family is materially comfortable. Family troubles aside—and they can be considerable—life is full of pleasure: desires are satisfied, drinks guzzled and fanciful whims gained. There are high school football games, school days, workdays, sex, travelling, television, Fourth of July celebrations, drama, weekend all-nighters, jokes, cliques, victories, and defeats. Like a giant cliché, life unfolds, and it unfolds around a focal point: me-I-a separate ego. From here good and bad, love and hate, sad, mad, happy, despair, upbeat, low, subject, object, outside, come together to form one’s life experience. To keep some form of sanity, we follow our mind and attempt to gratify its wants and needs as a way to find fulfillment and success. We create stories and follow them. We listen to our thoughts intently—to the point where we eventually become them. We go for more and more. But is that it? I found out. Coming home at three in the morning tired, intoxicated, full of shallow thoughts and loaded with cheap laughs, my life was passing before my eyes.

Throughout my first two years in college, I often had the urge to “black out,” literally. Though I wasn’t conscious enough to be aware of it at the time, I wanted to be able to float through life, running from painful experiences that had rooted themselves into my psyche. The path at the time was simply to ignore any stirrings within and to keep going, to press on, to focus on money and being accepted within the constructs of the society I found myself in. These were the values, but I wasn’t buying them anymore.

Something was shifting inside me. I wasn’t aware of what it was or how it was working. I just began to question what was going on around me and why I went along without checking in with myself—without questioning the narrative spinning in my head.

I changed my life and woke up during my junior year of college: I’d had enough. The drinking didn’t do it for me. The partying didn’t do it for me. Vegas, Miami, L.A., didn’t do it for me. I felt completely strange and insubstantial in my own body. Everything I had created, my ego, my friendships, my internal wiring, my identity—aspects of my external being I had spent years cultivating, shaping and reshaping—were just the bones of a paper tiger in the face of the stirrings of what lay buried beneath. I’d been living in a dream and I was finally beginning to realize it.

The slow change within my heart had been an ongoing process. There had been an upswelling of feeling and emotion when I had been alone hiking in the hills or swimming in the ocean. Also, brief moments of disconnect from my social life allowed questions, concerning what I was doing, to bubble up. But fear and doubt coincided with these thoughts. So, naturally I did what I was good at, I dove back into my life with added vigour. I denied. I suppressed all my inner yearnings with more alcohol, more drugs, and more meaningless relationships. I searched for more of the same to fill the growing inner void and outer disconnection—feeding my ego, only to have it come back to me over and over again. There was something deep inside that persisted in repelling my unconscious overtures. Though I did not realize it at the time, my Self was saving me from myself.

If time passes in the blink of an eye, how could insubstantial things be more valuable than the present moment?

One early morning after going out and drinking, I came home feeling slightly ill. I crawled into bed and passed out, something many of us can relate to. In the night, I dreamed that a powerful, jet-black snake had been sucking vital energy from the back of my neck. Its muscles pulsated with each drink. All I could do was grab it and pull, but to no avail. My energy had been sapped. I was horrified because I knew that to let the snake win—to be overcome—meant losing my soul and spirit to something that was not me—a “vampiric” fabrication of me that would feed on more and more fabrications—a true soul and spirit sucker. With all my might I finally pulled its fangs from my back and threw it to the ground. It writhed and wiggled in front of me, making a hissing sound. I was truly disgusted. Suddenly it began moving toward me to attack again and attach itself to me once more. It was tenacious, pugnacious, and it was bent on returning. I am no master, but the life-sucking black snake had to go.

This profound, adrenaline-pumping dream shook me to my core. I was disengaged from whatever chains were holding me back and the ensuing space allowed me to act spontaneously the next day, without regret. In the morning I packed my things and left. My inner Self had shown me some truth. There was no denying it and I felt compelled to move towards open space. To continue down my path without change would have meant to live my life in complete delusion and denial.

Jumping headlong into wide-open space

In order to raise awareness, we must be willing to recognize the options before us and the path that lies ahead. This is entirely up to us because in the end, WE are the ones who create everything. WE are the ones who suffer, who feel up, down and sometimes, all over the place. WE are the ones who continue to perpetuate an unfulfilling and fabricated reality. And this is great news of course! Knowing that we are responsible, we are the cause, and that the unexamined ego is the culprit, is the first step. Understanding that we can CHANGE it all through awareness is everything we need to know. There is nothing standing in our way.

Don Dianda is the author of See for your Self: Zen Mindfulness for the Next Generation. Through meditation, daily mindfulness practice, and individual koan work, Dianda seeks to shed light on the inherently deep connection one can have with the experience of this life as well as the world one moves through. Stepping into the now and recognizing the movements within the mind is where the path begins.
image: man sitting via Shutterstock
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