The Column

Issue Number 17, March 18, 1995



        “What  you  think is me isn’t really me; what you think is me is really you  masquerading as me.”  She said what she said but then realized that he was confused by it.

        “What  I  think  is you is really me masquerading  as  you?,”  he quizzed.   “What the hell does that mean?  My feeling is that  if it looks like you, talks like you, smells like you then it  probably is you.  Now you’re telling me it’s really me?”

        “Let  me  put it this way.  I saw a sign on a church  a  while  ago and it said: ‘We never see things as they are; we only see things as we are.’“  The blank expression on his face made her  realize again that this was not going to be of much help.  The foam  on their  espresso  was dissipating as she wondered  why  the  cups had to be so small and the prices so high?  Was it just that  way in LA?  And where was all this extra caffeine going?  How  was it going to find its way to the surface of society?

        Sipping,  she  continued.  “Okay.  How about  this?   You  know when  I took that astronomy class I learned that when  we  look up  at  the  distant stars, we see them twinkling.   But  the  stars aren’t  twinkling  at  all.   The light  they’re  giving  off  is  pure, unwavering.   What  we see as twinkling is merely the  effect  of the  Earth’s  atmosphere on that light.  When we  see  the  light through  the  air  that surrounds our planet, because  the  air  is moving  around,  shimmering, it makes the light from  the  stars seem  to  dance and twinkle.  This might be okay for  a  nursery rhyme  but  it  isn’t  what’s actually  going  on.   That’s  why  it’s better  to  see  the stars on a cold night because  the  air  moves around less when it’s cold than when it’s hot.”

        “So do I, for that matter,” he added.

        But the allusion to the stars seemed not to sink in as she  would have  hoped so she added: “Or you know, sometimes  when  the sun  sets  it appears to turn bright orange or red?  But  it  really isn’t  that  color; it only seems to be that color also  because  of the bending effect of the Earth’s atmosphere on the sun’s  rays.  We’re again getting a distorted view of the cosmos.”

        He reflected a moment and then said:  “You mean that  there’s a  reality  that’s  neutral, objective,  impersonal.   Some  sort  of reality constant, as it were.  But instead of seeing this objective, impersonal  reality,  we  see  what  we  see  because  we  see   it through some sort of filtering system?”

        “Exactly!,”   she   added.  “And  our  filtering  system,   like   the Earth’s atmosphere, prevents us from seeing clearly and seeing the  event,  such  as the star light or the color of the  sun,  in  its true,  objective, impersonal way.  The way the Universe  has  in mind.”

        “So  what  you’re  saying  is that whatever I’m  seeing  in  you  is really not in you but is in me?,”  he asked.

        “Well,  mostly,” she answered.  “You see, everyone we meet  we meet in the middle of their lives.  They come into our lives with whatever    stuff,    you    know,    baggage,    they’re     carrying.  Sometimes   the   baggage  is  light,  you  know,   carry-on   type baggage.   But  sometimes the baggage  is  the  under-the-plane type  baggage,  the  kind  you have to pay  extra  for.   So  those people  actually  do bring their stuff into our  relationship  with them.   But in truth, as much as we meet them in the middle  of their lives, we meet them in the middle of our lives as well.   So their  stuff,  the  stuff  they  actually  bring  with  them,  we   see mostly through our stuff.  So neither of us is actually seeing  the other  the  way  the other really is.  We’re  actually  only  seeing the  illusion  of the other and so it makes  any  real  connection considerably more difficult.”

        “Can’t be any more difficult than this,” he remarked.

        “Not   only   that,”  she  continued,  “but  it  makes  us   see   the impersonal  things that happen in our lives, like the  people  we meet  or  the things that happen to us, it makes us see  them  in personal  ways.  In other words, instead of seeing the  Universe as  being filled with impersonal life lessons, we tend  to  believe that   those  things  and  events  and  people  are  to   be   taken personally.   We  get  hurt and so we can’t  see  the  life  lessons that are really just objective stuff.”

        “But  that  denies  that  people actually have  stuff  and  I  know that’s not so,” he interrupted.

        “No it doesn’t,” she answered.  “What it does mean, however,  is that  we  see  their stuff through our own  stuff.   It  means  that how  their stuff affects us is really mostly due to our stuff.   You see,  the  important  thing  here is not  someone’s  stuff,  we  all have  stuff,  but  rather how their stuff plays into  our  stuff.   In other   words,  it’s  not  about  what  they  do  but  how  we   are impacted by what they do.”

        “Okay.   I understand a bit now.”  She seemed comforted by  his growing  knowledge.  He responded.  “So, for example, if  I  am in  a  room  with  say 12 people and  I  say  something,  each  of those  12  people will respond differently to what I  said.   So  it isn’t  what  I say that creates the impact upon  them  but  rather what they did with what I said.”

        “Exactly!,” she exclaimed.  “So what those people in the room  do  with  what  you said depends entirely upon  their  stuff,  you know,  what  they’re  about  and that  of  course  depends  upon everything  that  has  happened  to  them  in  their  lives  to  the moment you said whatever it is you said in that room.”

        “So,”  he  said, getting the hang of this, “then no one  can  really have any effect upon us.  Nothing that anyone does or says  can really  impact  upon us because whatever they say or do  has  to be   filtered   through   our  own  stuff  and   so   it   comes   out differently for everyone.”

        “And  so,”  she continued, “we each have to  take  responsibility for  ourselves  and stop blaming the other for how  we  feel.   In other  words,  it’s not ‘Bill makes me sad,’ or  “Sally  makes  me happy.’   It’s  really about how we feel about what Bill  or  Sally said  or  did.   At  least  that’s how it  is  when  we  speak  about emotions in terms of pure spirituality.  Real life may tend to be a bit different.”

        “I understand that it is perhaps different,” he said.  “But let’s for the moment stay with the spiritual ideas.  So in other words our filtering   system  is  really  our  own  histories.   It’s   what   has happened to us to make us think and feel about life the way we do.  It’s what our fears are about.”

        “Right,”  she said.  “So we interpret everything that  happens  to us through our own history and we try to make our history  stay true  to  what  we have made up.  We only see  and  hear  those things  in  the way that makes us right, even if  we  are  actually wrong.   Let  me  use another  filtering  system  type  metaphor: that  of  the  sieve,  you  know, the  colander  you  use  to  drain pasta.   We  all  have  history, no getting  away  from  that.   But instead  of  letting our history block the passage  of  events  and people  through  us,  we  need  act more  like  the  sieve  or  the colander.”

        She  noticed  he  had turned to stare at a young  lady  who  had come  into  the store.  Here she was, she felt, trying to  tell  him how  God  thought  and Satan entered the  picture.   She  knew real  life  was different but she was upset it chose right  then  to be so.

        “Excuse me,” she said, partly clearing her throat.  “It’s like  this.  Our  history  makes  our later life events stick to  us  too  much.  We  simply  cannot  let these events pass  through  us,  like  the sieve or the colander does with the water that we want to drain.  As  a result, we tend to use our history to interpret what is  now going  on,  you  know,  who we meet we  see  only  through  the goop left in our strainer.”

        “So were we able to let events pass through us and not  become caught  up  in our history, we might be able to better  see  them for  what  they are instead of what we are,” he  interjected.   “So like  looking at the stars or the sun, it isn’t what we see that  we are really seeing.  It is what is beyond what we see that matters.  In   order   to  see  clearly,  we  have  to  get  beyond   our   own atmosphere,  our  own stuff, because it is our  atmosphere,  our stuff, that is distorting our view of the other person.”

        They  each  sipped  their  espresso.  She  noticed  that  two  sips were  all  that  were needed to finish  the  coffee.   She  needed more  and  wondered  if  he  needed  more  as  well.   His   eyes wandered, still searching for the missing woman.

        “So   the   question   then   is,  ‘How  do   we   get   out   of   our atmosphere,  that which prevents us from seeing  the  objective reality?  How do we get beyond ourselves so we can see the life lessons  in  what’s going on?,” she asked  rhetorically.   “And  of course    that   really   means   asking   how   we   can    become Enlightened.”

        “One hurdle at a time, please,” he begged.

        “Remember,”  she asked, “when Ivan Hoffman started  to  write these Columns, the ones we’re in right now?”

        “Sure.     How    could   I   forget?    They’re    wonderful!,”    he responded.  “I hope lots of people are reading them and  telling their friends about them.  I think they’re really important.”

        “Please,”  she interrupted, “don’t be so effusive in your  praise.  Others  may  be  reading  this right now and  we  don’t  want  to appear to  be  Ivan’s  stooges.”

        She  went  on.  “Well, if you remember, he began with  a  series about  the  loss  of ego,” she continued.   “What  he  was  saying there  is  that  the ego, the mind, the fear, that  which  keeps  us from  following  our  hearts, is really the  same  as  the  filtering system   of  our  lives,  like  the  atmosphere  of  the  Earth.    It protects  us from harm, much as our air does, because  it  keeps us from feeling pain.  But in the same way that the air blocks us from  seeing  reality, our filtering system, which  is  based  upon everything  that has ever happened to us, keeps us from  seeing reality as well.”

        “Yes,  I  remember  those  early Columns  about  the  Death  of Ego,”  he  said, continuing where they had left off  the  previous week.  “Then he used the analogy of the artichoke whose tough leaves  serve  to protect the heart and related that  to  our  ego, the part of ourselves that operates out of fear.  But I see it’s the same thing as what you’re talking about in terms of the  Earth’s atmosphere.”

        “Right,”  she said.  “And he said that the Ego is  what  separates us  from God, from Eternity, from the Universe.  So the key  to seeing clearly is seeing with our heart and not with our ego.   In other  words,  the way we can see reality is by letting go  of  the ‘it’s  about me personally’ approach to seeing, which is  nothing but ego, and seeing everything that happens as impersonal  and objective.  In order to do this, we have to connect with Eternity and we can only do this in our hearts.”

        “Waiter,”  he  answered,  “two  more  espressos,  please.   Make them doubles.”

        Hell, caffeine be damned, she thought.

        “But,”  he  said,  “and this is very  important  here;  what  you’re talking about is the ideal.  The emotional place you’re speaking about  is  being  Enlightened.  But you  mentioned  earlier  that most  of the time our lives and how we behave are  usually  not at  this  high  place.   As  far as I can  tell,  most  of  us  are  still human and so we’re most of the time far short of the goal.   We have  pain.  We have loneliness.  It looks like if someone  loves us,  respects us, wants our work, that that makes us feel  better.  I  know  it  probably  is better to stand  alone,  be  integral,  not ‘need’  someone.”   He made those quotation marks  in  the  air with  his  2  fingers.  “But we do and when others  don’t  see  us, don’t love us, it hurts like a bandit.”

        “Of course that’s very true,” she freely admitted.  “None of us  is ‘there’  yet.”   She made those quotation marks in  the  air  with her  2  fingers and smiled at him.  “But we must always  have  in mind the elevated position lest we lose our dream, our goal.”

        “So   how  do  we  reconcile  the  deep  spirituality  that   you’re talking  about  with the ‘reality’ of our lives?”   He  made  those quotation  marks  in  the air with his 2  fingers,  smiled  back  at her,  at  which  time  she grabbed his  fingers  and  kissed  them tenderly.    “I   mean,   isn’t   all  this  stuff   just   some   sort   of rationalization  for being out of control?  When we don’t  know what  the  hell’s going on in our lives we pretend  that  the  very mystery  of  it  all  is  what  it’s  all  about.   It’s  like  we’re   just rationalizing our fear.”

        “Well maybe it is rationalizing,” she added softly.  “I mean, how the  hell  do  I  know  if there’s a God,  or  a  plan,  or  anything beyond what I actually see?  It’s all just stuff I’ve made up.  But if  it  works  to  bring me peace now, if it  helps  calm  my  fears now, if it helps bring me a bit of joy to the seeming chaos,  then isn’t  it  true?  I mean, what’s actually true  anyway?   Isn’t  true just what works for you?  If it works, then it’s true.”

        “Well, maybe it is,” he said.  “But isn’t it also true that if I  enjoy laying in bed with you, watching television, having you hold  me and  having  me hold you, being sweet and gentle  and  in  love, isn’t  that  ‘real’ too?”  He thought about  making  those  marks again  and  decided  not  to  and then  decided  again  to  do  it.  After  all,  if  he  could get a couple more  kisses,  even  on  the fingers, he could use it.  So he did, and so did she.  Get it where you can, he thought.

        “Yes,  of course it is,” she agreed.  “But in the deepest  sense  of the  words,  I  am not the cure for your  loneliness.   No  matter how much we love each other, neither you nor I can find peace, in  our  hearts or our minds, in the other.  Because  even  if  we don’t  want to admit it, we each know that the other  can  leave us.   There  is  always some holding back, some  not  letting  go, some keeping our hearts guarded from each other.”

        “I   suppose,  actually  I  know  you’re  right,”  he  said.   “And   I suppose that we do that because of our histories again.”

        She   laughed.    “I  guess  none  of  these  people   reading   our conversation   were  feeling  we  would  ever  get  back   to   the original topic.  Leave it to left-brained you to do that for them.”

        “And  for  us,” he quickly added.  “But seriously,  we  hold  back from  the  other  because  we  all  have  pretty  much  the  same history.   It’s  a  history filled with loss of  one  sort  or  another.  We  all seem to grow up with some sense of scarcity,  mostly  in love,  so although we try to find completeness in someone  else, we  know, down deep, we can’t.  Even in our most loving  times with  someone  else,  our  history  tells us  that  it  can  end.   So what’s the answer here?”

        “The  answer?,”  she  replied.   “I  don’t  know  that  there  is  an answer.   At least not one that works for everyone.   Maybe  the answer is simply to let go and trust in our individual  processes.  Reading books, going to workshops, all that stuff helps perhaps but  at the bottom of it all, we have to find what works only  for us to bring us that place of joy, of Enlightenment.”

        “I  know  you’re right about all of this of course,” he  said.   “But you  know, it’s a lot more fun to go to a movie with you than  to go alone.”

© 1995 Ivan Hoffman




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