In Hindu spiritual talks, when talking about overcoming delusion, they often talk about a man with a thorn in his foot. He can’t pull it out until he finds a second thorn, which he uses to dig out the first… then throws them both away.
After the first is removed, neither is needed.
One of my favorite books is called “Suttree” by Cormac McCarthy. In it, our hero starts out very poor, living under a bridge and eating the catfish he catches. He longs for a better, more prosperous life. In the middle of the book, he meets a girl and becomes very rich. He has an apartment in the middle of town, smokes cigars and dresses in the finest suits.
Then, at the end of the book, he loses everything and winds up on a houseboat, fishing for his supper all over again. Sitting on his rocking chair at dusk, he realizes that all this time, money – or the absence of it – was quite immaterial to his happiness.
Which goes against everything we think we know.
We usually assume that A is better than B, that A will make us happier, that B is to be avoided. Our culture tells us this over and over again. Knowledge is better than ignorance, Young is better than Old, Rich is better than Poor. We are taught to believe that once we land squarely on one side of these dualities, we will find lasting happiness.
The only problem is… that by wanting only one side of the equation, we always get stuck in the coming and going, in the contrast of having and then not having. The world is never still, one day we have, one day we don’t… In the meantime, we never find the peace and stability we are searching for.
So “Old Sutt,” has discovered something very paradoxical. It’s the attachment – the preference for one of the two options, rich or poor – that had made him unhappy. But he didn’t know that. He had to experience both states in order to realize that neither one could please him. Only at the end, when he’s become indifferent to money, is he able to enjoy his life.
In other words, you go beyond A and B. You see through the paradox: A is impossible without B, B is impossible without A. See the paradox for what it is: a bear trap. If you don’t want to be stuck, push both sides all the way down, then jump up…
and get the heck out of the way.