The world is an appearance, Maya. Some would say it’s an illusion. Or it’s the divine play, Lila. Or it never happened in the first place. Or it’s the flow of divine nectar. These are the truths of various stages of development. But ultimately, we live in the appearance and have responsibilities and a purpose here.
It’s good to recognize that surface appearances are not reality in and of themselves. Rather, they are driven by something deeper we are coming to know. Even physics agrees with that. The world should not be discounted or we’ll be missing the point of why we’ve shown up here.
We could say there are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with appearances.
It’s appropriate to be clean and groomed and take care of our body, for example. It’s fun to dress up sometimes and have fun with our appearance. And to have a sense of humor about how the world is showing up. This is healthy.
If we identify with our appearance as who we are, we become caught by it. We can then develop an aversion to our appearance or become somewhat obsessed with how we look. All of it just leads to suffering.
And yet an unhealthy dedication to appearance is very strong in our culture – idealized but unhealthy versions of starving models and overpriced clothing that’s only “valuable” for a season, with the right branding, or for a single wearing. Heroes that are actors playing a role (an appearance). Or “reality” TV (an oxymoron) filled with dysfunctional narcissists. Some pretty horrible role models are on the tube.
Parts of our economy runs on this pointless consumerism that creates appalling waste. It also creates the scepters of entitlement and debt. Suffering all around.
Inversely, if we discount the world as illusion and yet attempt to live in it, we’ll struggle unnecessarily and fail at dharma – that which sustains our spiritual journey.
How do you tell you’ve taken the right approach? A healthy approach brings joy and some lasting satisfaction. The memory brings a smile and there is no bad aftertaste. We have good relationships with others and the world, overall. (we’re not talking perfection here, just in general)
Much of an unhealthy approach is driven by a sense of “must” or “should”, we’re afraid of what others might think, we’re trying to be what we’re not or put on an act, or are otherwise driven by appearances rather than value. Like sugar, satisfaction is brief and followed by a downer.
One benefit of finding and shifting to what brings us joy is the unloading of past burdens – including those self-judgments and self-obligations. Not only does that add to quality of life but over time, inner joy helps culture a platform where we can become masters of appearance.
According to the old texts, we’ll be able to accomplish whatever is called for, even what we might now call a miracle or superpower. Krishna describes his manifest form as Yoga-Maya in Chapter 7. An appearance but one that remains united with the divine, not created by Lila. The Yoga Sutra is full of abilities that arise naturally with spiritual growth and purification.
This body-mind is the very smallest aspect of who we are. From a cosmic body perspective, even our universe is a small aspect of who we are. Unfolding our potential is beyond imagination.
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