It’s challenging. Challenges are good, potentially – they can either wake you up, or they can pull you into more reactivity, unconsciousness and suffering. Every challenge that comes into your life can go either this way, or that way. Potentially the challenge is very helpful. Challenge means limitation in one form or another. I’m certainly grateful for the challenges that came into my life. I wouldn’t be here, and many of you realize that without the challenges in your life, you wouldn’t be here either.
This is something I have a little bit of personal experience with also. Or maybe even quite a lot of personal experience – because for a large part of my adult life I was actually not employed, as such. For a large part I lived on relatively little, for quite a few years, even in my thirties, below the poverty line. At that time I read the paper, and it mentioned the income level for a single person, for what was considered to be below the poverty line, and I thought “I’m much below that!” But I didn’t realize I was “poor”. I realized that there were things I couldn’t afford to buy. I could buy tomato sauce but I couldn’t buy spaghetti sauce. Tomato sauce is cheaper, much cheaper. That stayed with me for many years. Even as recently as four years ago, I still find myself getting tomato sauce instead of spaghetti sauce because it’s cheaper.
There are practical things that you need to re-adjust and deal with. There’s some action you need to take, in order to adjust to the new situation; all that is in the practical realm. Then there is the mental realm. In the mental realm is where the suffering could arise, not in the practical realm. There’s no suffering in eating spaghetti with a thin tomato sauce – this is just one little example here, that stands for many things – rather than a nice, specially prepared sauce for pasta. But if, suddenly thought arises, and you think “this is what it has come to”, or “I have to eat this watery sauce, the cheapest food there is”, or “I’ve failed” or “I probably won’t find another job, because billions of people are now looking for jobs and it’s pointless” or “I’ll have to eat the same thing tomorrow” – and [these thoughts] are where the suffering comes from.
The suffering also comes from the diminished sense of self-worth, now where is that? Of course that’s in your head. “I’m useless”, or “I’m too old and nobody will employ me anymore” or “I should have had a better education”, whatever the thoughts are – it creates a diminished sense of self-worth. That is because your self-worth before was derived from your function in this world – which is a very normal thing. But it wasn’t really derived from your function, it was derived from what your mind told you about your function in this world. You derived your sense of self-worth from certain thoughts in your head, and you got perhaps some feedback from others who also told you that you were useful – you were part of all that interaction that people have when they have a job. You have a boss, the boss might tell you that you’re doing well, you’re getting a promotion, the clients love you, and so on – and you’ve built up your sense of self from your thoughts and the thoughts of others.
The opportunity now, when you have a diminished sense of self-worth, is to go to a deeper place where a sense of self-worth has nothing to do with what you are doing in this world. Nothing to do with what anybody tells you about yourself. It is a sense of self-worth or value that has nothing to do with the structure of thinking. You can use this challenge to see if you can find something – a deeper place in you – where there is something far greater than anything that could be derived from thinking about yourself.
When you lose your job, the self-image can be damaged. And that is where the suffering comes from. The self-image is made up of thinking. The damaged self-image can lead to more suffering, and it will just go on and on – and it can pull you deeper. And perhaps they will even say “yes, you’re right”. Or, you step out of deriving your sense of who you are – ultimately – from thinking. You go into the aliveness of Being, of Presence. And you realize that who you actually are is much more vitally there than anything you can think about.
The ideas in your head – the thoughts that tell you something about who you are and what you are worth – are ultimately illusory. It is illusory both when the thoughts are good, and when the thoughts are negative. The illusory nature can perhaps be more easily recognized when the thoughts become negative and cause suffering. Suffering can be an awakener.
Use that opportunity of a diminished sense of self-worth and self-image, and step beyond. Then, perhaps, you’ll find a job – but your sense of worth no longer depends on what you do there, or what you don’t do, or achieve or don’t achieve. You will find some transcendence, and you can bring that transcendence into your next job. The clinging to mental images is not there anymore. You’ll be surprised how well you’ll do, in your next job, when the clinging to images isn’t there anymore.
The success that you are more likely to encounter in that state of consciousness will not be the cause of your feeling of fulfillment because the fulfillment has already been found directly – in the present moment, in the depth of who you are. You no longer look to external situations to fulfill you. When you no longer look to external situations to fulfill you, the miracle is that external situations become quite fulfilling. That is where you can use this challenge as part of your awakening.
There is no suffering in the practical things. For a while I didn’t even have a home and I would just drift around. Fortunately, I had already stepped out of identification with money. If I had still been stuck in the mental box, it would have been a time of great suffering, because my mind would have told me certain things about myself, which I would have completely believed. “I have failed”, “I have thrown away all these opportunities that life has given me”, “I was a graduate student at a great university”, “I could have done great things”, “I’ve thrown it all away”, “Why did this happen to me”, “I’m useless”, “Nobody’s going to employ me” – that’s suffering.
Fortunately, I had already stepped out of that, so there was no suffering, just the situation of this moment. There was actually beauty and aliveness in it. Self-worth was no longer dependent on what I was doing in this world.
Any challenge, whether it’s that kind of challenge, or a physical challenge, whatever it may be – it can be used as the fire that burns up unconsciousness.