If you believe the prevailing narrative, the pandemic has rendered life uncertain. We don’t know what the future will bring.
That narrative was always false. The future was always uncertain. The pandemic shattered that old narrative and illuminated the truth.
How do we create the illusion of security in an uncertain world?
3 Lords of Materialism
In The Places That Scare You, Pema Chödrön explains the teaching of the three lords of materialism, which are the three habitual strategies we use to provide ourselves with the illusion of security.
These are the three lords of materialism:
(1) Lord of Form
The Lord of Form represents how we look to externals to give us solid ground. It is our methods of escape.
What do I do when I feel anxious and depressed, bored or lonely?
Chödrön points out that we can misuse any substance or activity to run away from insecurity — even benign activities like reading a book or walking through nature.
When we become addicted to the Lord of Form, the very feelings we’re trying to escape from become stronger.
When we get trapped, we tend to reach blindly for something that makes us feel good in the moment, but then we remain dissatisfied.
The practice is to pay attention to what we do without judgment.
(2) Lord of Speech
The Lord of Speech is about how we use beliefs to give us the illusion of certainty about the nature of reality.
We can misuse political, ecological, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs in this way.
Chödrön emphasizes that the problem isn’t with the beliefs themselves but with how we use them to make ourselves right and others wrong.
We misuse beliefs to avoid feeling the discomfort of not knowing what’s going on.
When life feels uncertain, we batten down the hatches inside the walls of our beliefs, narrowing our minds and closing off others who don’t agree with us. We isolate in the prison of our beliefs.
(3) Lord of Mind
Lord of Mind is the most subtle. This is when we attempt to avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind.
Some ways we may get to these states of mind include drugs, sports, falling in love, achievement highs, and spiritual practices.
The Lord of Mind is when a transcendent peak experience becomes addictive — when we want to stay at the peak. It’s inevitable that what goes up comes down. Nobody stays at the peak of the mountain.
Our training is to integrate these moments into the ups and downs of our lives.
Chödrön explains that the three lords of materialism are the habitual strategies we use to avoid life as it is.
When we don’t run from the painful moments, we can connect with bodhichitta — the awakened being within us that is our innate ability to love and care for things.
Breaking these habits is the secret to living a full life.