In all this discussion of ‘should’ I am sure there are those who are concerned about
what a should-free world look like. How would removing the word ‘should’ from our vocabulary not result in an open ticket to lawlessness?
Well, it certainly could. And if the idea of should-free living gets into the popular culture, it would most likely be taken up as the banner of those seeking excuses to break laws. So perhaps it’s a little reckless to put this idea out there. But like any idea we explore, we are each responsible for how we receive and interpret it.
Anyone who wants to break the law isn’t waiting around for permission from me or anyone else to do so! My students and people who read this blog are more inclined to be so law-abiding that they are creating extra internalized laws, and err on the side of self-imprisonment as a way to be sure they are acceptable. That’s certainly my inclination. As to those who lean the other way, if they have gotten this far in reading this blog, I trust it is with the intention to end the suffering they have seen caused by reckless disregard of the rights and feelings of others. They deeply understand cause and effect and don’t need the word ‘should’ anymore than anyone else. But it still may be a habit, even if it’s only to rail against the word!
So what would a should-free world look like? Such a world could only be sustained if everyone in it were awake, aware, full of loving-kindness and compassion.
But the world we wake up to every morning is not like this, is it? Well, actually it often is until we access the news of the day -- that amalgam of all the things people shouldn’t have done but did. In this imperfect world of people who feel no sense of deep connection to the all that is, we see the damage they, and sometimes we, cause. And it either breaks or hardens our hearts, and probably makes us feel vulnerable, defensive and wary.
We say the world should be a peaceful place, safe for all beings to live free from harm. Right? When we get that ‘should’ in there, we can notice an emotional punch of anger, longing or something else. We use that word should like a paddle to beat ourselves or others with, thinking this spanking will move ourselves or others toward a goal. But does it? How much more effective to use the 'should' we discover in our thinking or speech as a question mark drawing us to explore what it is we really mean, as per previous posts.
Dreaming up a utopian world is a sure way to miss out on this moment. In this moment -- the only moment we have -- we have the capacity to see the beauty of what is. If we can see only the disparity between how the world should be and how the world is, we condemn ourselves to suffering. The utopia filter is particularly blinding. Nothing is ever good enough. Or if it briefly does live up to our expectations, it is flawed because of its inability to last.
Whether we are dreaming up this utopia for ourselves or for others, we are still reinforcing the sense of dissatisfaction with what is, which in turn creates a world of unsatisfactoriness. If we get trapped in hope or despair about the future of the world, we lose the energy to lighten and reveal the truth of this moment. This lightened moment radiates out into the lives of many for all the moments to come. Both despair and hope deaden this moment and create weight on the ones to come, creating just that much more despair.
You might be surprised to see ‘hope’ in there. Yes, hope is seductive because it seems positive. But in fact it is always finding fault in this moment and projecting a brighter future. People say ‘If I didn’t have hope I wouldn’t be able to tolerate this situation.’ Well, the hope keeps us from being able to be fully present in this situation, noticing what arises and questioning our assumptions. Without that ability to see the present clearly, we are doomed to be blind to the causes and conditions of the situation. Instead we hope, thus we are withholding our full attention to what is until things get better. Then maybe we’ll be present and able to let go of relying on hope to pull us through. Understanding the nature of impermanence, we intrinsically know that 'this too shall pass' and we may take comfort in that fact, but that's different from directing our attention into the future banking on the hope of change.
Does this sound harsh? It’s not. We wish well for all beings, including ourselves and the people we are closest to. This is an important part of our practice, this sending metta or loving-kindness. But sending metta is not about imagining some specific future situation. It is aligning ourselves with the universal energy of infinite loving-kindness that is always present if we are present to notice it, and radiating it for the benefit of all.
When we get entangled with ‘should’ then the infinite energy of loving-kindness is shorted out. There is a back story with every ‘should’ we say. There’s a rebuttal to every ‘should’ we have. And our ambivalence is a tight thought/emotion pattern that plucks our awareness right out of the present moment. When we are not in the present moment fully, then our energy is disruptive. We short-circuit the loving-kindness that is our natural open expression.
When we bring our ‘should’ mentality into a situation, we initiate a frenzy of mental activity that races to judgment and tries very hard to distance us from the perpetrator of the wrongdoing, even if it is ourselves.
If we can take the time to notice and explore the shoulds and alternate words that crop up often in the way we talk, we can co-create a should-free world in any moment.