The Burden of Awareness
I don’t know who — or what — put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer YES to someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and therefore that my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
I’m gonna be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and soul of the sender
There is a rarely spoken of but nevertheless very real burden of awareness that can be experienced by spiritual seekers. Just as the journey brings joy, it can also bring a sense of isolation, loss and loneliness. The seeker can experience a sense of disconnection from the “normal,” usual, common life that seems painful.
A friend works in an environment where there is very little awareness and lives in a family dedicated to superficiality and denial. He recently said, “Graham, they are all quite content with their lives. They are aware of very little, I am the aware one in the group and I’m the most dissatisfied.” We talked for a while about this and he added, “Sometimes I just want to fit in and nothing more. I wonder what is wrong with me.” Seekers can feel the ache of living in the world.
It is common for searchers to be marked as different. When we recoil at violent scenes in movies we are told to lighten up. “It’s just a movie.” We get accused (and it often is an accusation) of being too sensitive. “Why are you so serious all the time?” Sometimes it is as an adolescent who can’t tolerate the drama in high school about “the boyfriend thing.” Or the one who can’t stand the small talk that infests family gatherings around the holidays. Sometimes we leave these events wondering what is wrong with us or with them. It leads to a sense of alienation. Spiritual reading and teachers let us know that the path though arduous brings joy and satisfaction. But this isolation is rarely admitted. It is a bit like signing up for the military without knowing about boot camp.
In the face of this many people try to shut down their nature as seekers. And sometimes it works for a while. They focus on “the legal tender.” The problems is it rarely lasts. It involves shutting down one’s deepest, most authentic self. This leads to a quiet despair and alienation not only from others but most painfully from the self. Sooner or later the longing and aching for the deeper and more soulful in life returns.
There is a way in which responding to this calling is not just a simple choice. For many of us are born to respond. It is what this incarnation is all about. We are born to this inner quest. The desire for deeper is in our DNA. We cannot ignore the way we see things for long. We do the normal things in life and when we are lucky we even come to terms with them but it is not what we are born for. And the further along the path we go the alienation fades, we end up loving the “normal” people and times with them. But we learn too that this is not what keeps us alive. We live for the juice that flows when we find the heights and depths of passion and soul in art, music, and spiritual practice.