For as long as I can remember, I always looked around me, mainly at other boys, to get a sense of where I stood, of who I was.
It’s as if I had drawn a horizontal line with pluses on one side and minuses on the other and my position was the zero. There was that really cool kid, he was a plus, there was the dorky boy, he was a minus… At times being in the presence of pluses was inspiring but it was mostly threatening, because at that moment, it didn’t matter how many minuses existed or whether my “zero’ was pretty high up there, all I could see was a plus, and that made me the minus.
This applied to everything; from being good at sports to drawing or reading or the way I looked or how smart I was or how popular or cool I felt at any given moment. It wasn’t really about how I was feeling though, I could feel like a million bucks but if a plus walked in along any of the possible categories that I valued, my insecurities would immediately trigger.
I became really good at growing and repositioning my zero, or my reference point, and became a master at gauging others, categorizing and comparing. I didn’t just compare myself with the world, I was also comparing myself to different versions of myself…where was I at any given moment, compared to where I had been before, or where I could be, or even worse… where I should be.
As some of the things I valued started to loose importance, new ones came online. Having the coolest Star-wars set got traded for being liked by the most girls, having academic success got traded for being regarded as witty and successful, being the coolest got replaced by getting to be the kindest…and so it went.
Then entered spirituality, the fix for all my struggles, or so I thought. It didn’t actually stop the comparison, because I turned it into the new playing field; The new standard where I got to measure and prove how special I was. There was a new flag to catch, and that was enlightenment.
I got really good at sustaining a very high level of consciousness, at being present, not judging people, being happy and all the things that came with paying close attention to my thoughts and emotions. I became particularly good at showing people how spiritual I was.
What a perfect solution… no more pluses to encounter because spirituality now trumped all. Someone could be successful and good looking and everything else that would make me feel less, but odds were they weren’t more spiritual than me; my spiritual zero was really up there. It felt like I had figured things out.
My sense of self was so invested in this new spiritual identity that I defended it with all I had. Seeing my attachment to it, was truly humbling.
I realized taking the next step required the willingness to let go of my spiritual crutch. I had to come to terms with my addiction. My fix was the next high, amazing insight or awakening experience. In essence, not much different from looking for the next toy or business deal and believing it was going to make me happy. Accepting this, meant recognizing the fate of the game I was playing: no matter how meaningful it seemed at the time, no success had ever been enough, no amount of recognition or validation had ever ended my need for it, no spiritual high had ever quenched that thirst; I was an addict and it was never going to be enough.
As if just having been defeated for the millionth time at a video game and throwing the game controller on the floor, I felt the air sucked out of me and the engines behind that drive snuffing out. It wasn’t the bells and whistles of winning; it was the blinking “game-over“ sign on the screen.
A New Energy
Life started to take on a different flavor from that point on. The old energy of attaining comes and visits but it’s seen as an old friend that used to be so familiar and I’ve grown apart from. The zero seems to bubble up but it’s now seen as just a thought looking for friction and contrast to find its bearings.
Old dynamics still sometimes play themselves out, emotions still surface and I sometimes find myself reacting in the ways I used to. Now however, they seem to happen within a larger context and they are recognized as just temporary experiences not as things that define an “me” or a zero.
When these thoughts or emotions are happening in the absence of a reference point, there’s no separation between the experience and the experiencer. All that’s left, is a deep intimacy with life that moves through the world with an open heart and mind.