Clinging To Life

By Frank Dobner


This is a photo of a tree that I see every day on my walk in the woods. I have seen this tree hundreds of times and I have actually watched it grow over the last 20 years. This tree is living at the edge of a ravine and flanked by a pedestrian foot bridge to boot. Its roots have wrapped themselves around 180° to draw water, nourishment and support from the receding ravine slope.

Unconsciously, every time I see this tree, I am met with the same feeling. It appears to be clinging to life with “both hands.” It is hard to imagine how a consciousness like this tree, could have “figured out” how to direct its roots to the only place that could support its need for water, nutrients and physical support. I guess that is the way Intelligence works.

The Universe works on pure economy. There is nothing wasted. By its very existence, the Universe needs this tree and is going to see to it that it remains in this world for now. And this decision has been made apparently for reasons that have nothing to do with me (what I can see, feel, hear, taste, or touch).

In Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” he states that “Man’s highly developed color sense is a biological luxury – inestimably precious to him as an intellectual and spiritual being, but unnecessary to his survival as an animal.” For a guy like me that has had the universe defined for me in strict Newtonian and Cartesian rules, color would appear to have no place here. Yet, here it is…..color clinging to life for no apparent reason.

Have you ever wondered how vain it is to believe that we mentally need to participate in the existence of things? At the same time, if nature wastes nothing, then any thought that you do have is also not wasted. So, in fact, the existence of this precarious tree and my thought about it is very relevant. Huxley writes “All that the conscious ego can do is to formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces which it controls very little and understands not at all” and “as man proposes, God disposes.”

So exactly what is life then?

Usually blissful situations in my experience have been associated with a separation from my body or of a sensation of being de-individualized. I feel lighter and sort of non-localized when I am experiencing pleasure or peace. On the other hand, painful situations have often been associated with attachment to the body and taking on a dense and immovable sensation. Yet clinging to life often means holding on to our physical body just as long as we possibly can. What’s wrong with this picture?

I guess you can define life in either way…..form (your body, the world you see) or experience (pain, peace, joy, war, happiness). I don’t think either way is wrong. The question might better be asked, which way do you want to define life? Do you want to define it in such a way that you feel better or worse? I choose feeling better. Inherited Christian practice is often stuck on sacrifice, duty and hard work as the only means to get to heaven. Even as an 8 year old in Catholic school, I knew for a fact that this was not what was intended.

It is peace, bliss and unity that define life. Feeling good is what it is all about. There is not and never was anything called “sacrifice.” That is plain bullshit that we have inherited from extinct religious and cultural traditions. Being connected to physical form is often a move in the opposite direction of feeling good. Using alcohol, tobacco and drugs as a move towards transcendence means just a return trip when it wears off. Yet, we will still down that third cocktail to get that feeling again. Another round trip!

So maybe this is what life is….it is a way of releasing yourself from continuous death and birth of form in your life. When you feel pain, and you can identify it and release it you have “re-gained” your life. Here are some things that I actually do to accomplish this :

1. “Inventory” Your Feelings – How are you feeling right now? Maybe you have butterflies in your stomach because of an upcoming presentation to a big client. Or perhaps you are secretly steaming about the fact that your teenage son follows none of your rules. Or maybe you are anxious for no reason at all….and not knowing that is causing you even more anxiety.
2. State Your Underlying Thoughts – your feelings are basically “your thoughts meeting your body.” Think about it. When you have butterflies in your stomach, there is a thought that is creating that. Maybe you are imagining that you will look like an idiot if you make a mistake or maybe you are imagining that you will lose a big account because your trip over a few words. This is only your imagination. Imagination causes a lot of pain because it loads “software’ on your “hardware” (your body) and you get bad feelings. When you have bad thoughts, you simply feel bad. Learn to find out what the thought is that is creating it. If you do not know what the thought is, then the thought is “that you just don’t know what the thought is” and start from there.
3. “Ask 5 Why’s” - this is the big step. In this step you will find out where you are hiding out, right now, in your life. Ask a series of “why” questions around what you are experiencing. Just this morning, I asked myself a series of questions as to why do I want my son to make his own mistakes, rather than me just fixing them for him. I was feeling bad that I was creating unnecessary pain for him. So I asked, “why do I need him to make his own mistakes?” After every level of answer, I would ask the question and probe again. Ultimately the answer I learned was that I really wanted my son to learn that he is his own best teacher, not me. I felt a great relief in this. All along, I thought was just being a jackass. But my feeling is not doing me or anyone any good. It is just more useless sacrificial bullshit.

So your life is about purifiying your experience at every moment. If you do get to “graduate” to the next level of existence, I am thinking that you will be rewarded for this.