The following is an email exchange from a reader.
To the sender of the question: I am sorry I was not able to respond to you privately via email, but the comment you left was anonymous. I hope this at least begins to address your question.
(Matthew): Nice post, Vince, but let me challenge you a bit. You say there’s no problem without thought. Obvious enough — but let’s say I have a son with leukemia who is going through painful and sickening chemotherapy. Am I not going to think about his suffering, and therefore see no “problem”? So what is your point? Saying that there’s no problem without thought strikes me as saying that there’s no pain in the leg if you don’t have a leg.
(Vince): Hi Matthew – thank you for your note. Let’s see what comes regarding your question.
I know that when members of my family (and friends) have been very ill, I have certainly thought about them. There is a kind of thinking that is very functional and helps us deal with the present moment (and bake cakes, clean kitchen counters, organize the garage, create spreadsheets, etc.). This thinking simply arises, serves its purpose, and evaporates. “I” don’t collapse around it.
My dad died from a degenerative neurological disorder that caused significant deterioration in nearly all areas of functioning for him. I certainly thought about it and thought about him. He died. I miss him every day. So, what is the point? The point, is bringing an end to psychological suffering. The point, in my experience, is that as long as I mistake myself (or my father) for this limited physical experience rather than this beyond-infinite beingness in which every thought, experience, dad, vince, son, etc. arises, problems continue to arise. Suffering is created and perpetuated by the collapse of a seeming “me” around a story – a story constructed completely of thought, completely conceptually. I see in my direct experience that there is never a problem now. Never. However, substitute this very life in this very instant with the pseudo-life of thought, then problems materialize in every direction.
So, if my son was living with leukemia and painful, sickening chemotherapy, I would do everything in my power to help rid him of the disease and the pain. I would think about him. I would probably feel sad and desperate and angry. I would feel like my heart was breaking. I would probably have the thought that this shouldn’t be happening. All of this, is the livingness that we are. Where is the problem in this?
Where is the problem in going to the hospital, remembering to bring the clean pajamas, calling the pediatric oncologist, holding my son’s hand while he cries or moans, wiping his forehead, giving him a sip of water, crying when I see him, holding my wife, and on and on? There is no problem in any of these moments – there is simply the direct experiencing of what is. This IS livingness. If we remain only with what is, there is a richness and depth and kind-heartedness that permeates all of existence – even pain, and tragedy, and death. We cannot point to “a problem.” We can point to a boy, a hospital bed, a catheter, a nurse, wet hair – but “a problem” only exists in the realm of concept.
I hope this clarifies what I wrote and helps in some way. Please feel free to write again if I have only confused the matter or if you have other questions.