Nondual Zen Article:

Vicarious Living

nondual title

Vicarious Living
by Kathleen Sutherland

At one time or another, we all have known or perhaps been that person who has fallen into the trap of living vicariously. In the relative world, this is not a healthy dynamic. Most commonly it happens with a parent through a child, to the detriment of both: The child feels an undue burden of responsibility for the parent's happiness, and the parent seems to lose much of his or her identity in the child. But consciousness, "Oneness," lives vicariously through us all. And this is a blessing. It is a blessing because absent this attention, we wouldn’t be alive at all. Spirit both animates these mind/body units and experiences their myriad adventures.

Suffering has always been the factor that most strongly propels my spiritual seeking--and discovery. In good times, spiritual study and practice would be but mildly interesting. I’d keep one or two light, self-help sort of books going, and I’d pray and meditate, but not with the deepest devotion or focus. But when real suffering hit, then I’d delve much deeper--and, not surprisingly, reap much more.

About three years ago, due to an old spinal injury, I developed nerve pain in my hips that makes it difficult to sit upright. Much of what I enjoyed in life came to an abrupt halt: no more outings to coffee shops, restaurants, movies, etc. Travel was impossible. Since then, I've spent most of my time reclining on the sofa. Fortunately, I can still work from home. But the pain is constant, and my frustration with the limitations and my fear of the future is often great.

In discussing my distress over this situation with Fred at one point, he gently reminded me that there are 7.5 billion people on the planet and many of them are in good health. Therefore, I, as Oneness, am in good health in many locations. I responded, "That's so true, I can enjoy my life vicariously through others." It was indeed cheering to think of all the people who could enjoy going out and sitting or traveling, even if they didn't happen to be me. Fred then pointed out that I was also living my own life vicariously.

Wow. I had forgotten that I am no more myself than I am anyone else. There is a sense of localized experience here, but that doesn't equal a "me." I, as consciousness, am living vicariously through Kathleen. All of her experiences are part of the movie for me. I can identify with her character---or not. And in times of suffering, it might be advisable to detach and identify a little less with her drama. That is a skill I can cultivate. Habit and conditioning have led to a very strong identification with this body/mind unit. Then the suffering and fear served to tighten this noose still further, which, of course, only increases the suffering.

So I must remember to take a deep breath and step back. I am not me. I am within me, just as the 7.5 other human beings are within me. I am experiencing everyone, all their ups and downs, not just my own.

Perhaps this is why letting go of self-centeredness is at the heart of all spiritual traditions, both as a moral precept and practice, and through inquiry into the nature of “self.” It brings us more in line with a God’s eye view of reality, whereby none of us is any more central to the universe than any other. The "center" is consciousness, from which all of us arise—all equally precious and beloved.

I love this vicarious life. I share everyone's joy and everyone's sorrow. I experience an infinite variety of adventures and feelings in every moment. Of course, I appear to be closer to Kathleen's experience than that of others, but that is because I have chosen to have this particular character's experience up close and personal. I appear—from this vantage point—to be living a little more vicariously through her than others. But ultimately, none of this can touch me. I was not born. I will not die. I am neither young nor old, healthy nor unhealthy. I am unborn, unbound and untouched.