Call Off the Search
When on their 1987 masterpiece Joshua Tree U2 sang “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” everyone knew exactly what they meant. We seem hard-wired to search, a behavior we no doubt learned hunting and gathering all around the world these last hundred thousand years. An unquenchable longing pushes us toward ever new horizons. We can’t stop.
We’re driven by the illusion that some new acquisition, some new lifestyle, some new understanding, some new something will transform our lives into shimmering palaces of wisdom and bliss. We’ll be finally, completely happy, and we won’t have to search anymore. But there’s just one problem: when we finally get what we want the restlessness lingers. We carry our confusion and neurosis with us into every new situation. Wherever you go, there you are. Different day, different job, different house, different marriage, same old suffering.
Some people even think that if they pack up and move to another town everything will change. In the recovery world that’s called “doing a geographical,” the desperate hope that we can shake loose our demons if we run fast and far enough. But they all hitch a ride — every single one of them. Our demons don’t live in the outer world — they’re within us. They are us.
When Dorothy awoke in her own bed after her mystical journey to Oz, she realized the truth: “There’s no place like home.” And we are always home. Not only can we not outrun our problems, turns out we also can’t outrun our solutions. We carry them all within.
This is why the paradigm of spiritual searching fails. How can we search for truth when not one of our steps leads away from it? As we chase from one explanation to the next, trading one ideology for another, we’re forever cast adrift on the surface: all our doctrines, theologies, and philosophies exist only at the level of thought. They are purely conceptual constructs. The unbreakable whole of life eludes concepts, words, and explanations. Leaving here and going there won’t make a difference. But slowing down, stopping, and opening up will.
There are no real, lasting solutions at the level of conceptual, theoretical, ideological thought. The menu is not the food. The map is not the place. To search through thought-systems for real transformation is like wandering through a market with no money to spend. You’re just looking around–you don’t get to have any of it.
There can never be real freedom or joy at the level of thought because thoughts are always about the past or the future. Only in the eternal presence of the Now is real freedom possible. And it is the work of all authentic spiritual practice to draw us into the present moment and out of our thought-abstractions. That’s what ritual is for. That’s what contemplative, centering prayer does. That’s what luminous, sacred music does. That’s what solitude in nature does. That’s what selfless, sacred service does. That’s what meditation does.
One of the most powerful reasons present-minded consciousness is so liberating is because fear withers in the bright light of the eternal present. Fear is by definition future-thinking. It’s imagining harmful future outcomes that have not and will not happen. Fear deals exclusively in the what if. What if I get cancer? What if I forget my lines? What if this plane crashes? And yet, here and now, we’re cancer-free, we remembered our lines, and the plane is still in the air. Coming into the present moment eliminates fear–it simply can’t survive here. Truth won’t let it.
Freedom from fear is found only in the now.
When you come fully into this present moment you awaken into the realization that there is nothing you need, nothing you want, nothing you resent, and nothing you fear–you are safe, you are loved, and you are whole. The whole world could fall away and not even a ripple would cross the pool of the bottomless stillness in which you rest like a lily pad.
And it is only from this stillness that you can return to the field of action and do the significant work that needs to be done, not from an egotistical stance (I’m here to save you), but with the humble heart of a servant (How can I help?).
Of all the practices designed to bring us into the liberating present, none does so much so fast as meditation. Meditation is the art and science of slipping beneath the surface of the thought stream and sinking down into the silent depths beneath the waves. Nothing else so thoroughly and effectively liberates us from the grasp of our habitual over-thinking. In meditation we simply practice shifting into what Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita calls the Inner Witness, that still, silent presence within us. As we learn how to witness our thoughts instead of identifying with them a subtle shift occurs–we no longer are our thoughts. Instead, we watch our thoughts drift across the sky like clouds. We thought we were the clouds, but turns out we’re the sky–the boundless, spacious awareness in which thoughts arise and fade. And when we make this shift a subtle joyful peace washes over us. We go beyond the mere concepts of peace, wellness, and wisdom–we become peace, wellness, and wisdom.
In the world’s wisdom traditions this is called embodiment, realization, awareness, or direct experience. It is not properly “knowledge,” because knowledge is conceptual. Embodied wisdom has nothing to do with knowledge, religion, theology, doctrine, ideology, beliefs, faith, scripture, dogma, ritual, liturgy, or anything rooted in the realm of conceptual thought.
This is why searching for the truth always fails. The entire model of searching is based on a false premise. Truth is not something over there. How can you go out looking for something you already are? In his classic book I Am That, Advaita Vedanta teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj put it this way: “You are universal. You need not and you cannot become what you are already. Having never left the house you are asking for the way home. Don’t rely on your mind for liberation. It is the mind that brought you into bondage. Go beyond it altogether. Enquire Who is ignorant, and ignorance will dissolve like a dream. The source of consciousness cannot be an object in consciousness. To know the source is to be the source.”
Krishnamurti often warned his students about the perils of attachment to ideology and doctrine, or even teachers. “Be wary,” he said, “of those who talk about the path.” “Truth,” he said, “is a pathless land.” There is nothing to seek, and nowhere to go. Instead of seeking, slow down, go within, and realize what you are and always have been.
Peter Bolland is a teacher, writer, speaker, singer-songwriter, and philosophy professor. Meditate with him on the Insight Timer app and learn more at www.peterbolland.com