Friday, December 21, 2012

Try a Little Tenderness

This afternoon with you and Ping was wonderful; thank you! The discussion was helpful in moving along my inquiry around this current question (or dilemma): Do subconscious and deeply patterned behaviors and beliefs need to be worked on; and if they do, can they be approached in a way that doesn't invite a struggle. It's clear that familiar motivators (such as fear of humiliation, desire for praise, etc.) don't really operate much anymore and pure use of the will is temporary and exhausting. Still, I find some old patterns to be a nuisance!
It's a great question. As you know, my take is that these largely unconscious, automatic, and compulsive patterns of thought, feeling and behavior do need to be brought into awareness. Some people assert that without a self identity, there is no ‘one’ to be aware or to 'work' on these deeply ingrained patterns (usually called vasanas in Indian/Vedanta teachings). In our more ordinary Western psychological language, we may call these patterns unconscious defenses against feeling overwhelmed. They are often the residual effects of earlier trauma. These patterns can be also culturally programmed beliefs and assumptions that may be essentially universal in a given cultural context. Some unconscious, deeply ingrained patterns may transcend particular cultures, and be virtually universal to all men, women, or even all human beings. From one perspective, any automatic thoughts, beliefs, emotional reactions, or behaviors that have not been brought into impersonal awareness are to some extent blocking the free movement of emptiness or no self. Everyone I have met who has truly had some degree of self realization still has fairly obvious blind spots from this perspective. I know I do. To me it is important to be both realistic and humble about this fact. 
Admittedly the dilemma is rooted in a spiritual restlessness that has been far more a blessing than a source of anguish; where things stand now is so much better but not enough. So, while some of the biggest trouble-makers in terms of beliefs and patterns are largely gone (far less suffering); it seems like there are still patterns and tendencies that are blocking in some way. Maybe if I were able to see the truth clearly these tendencies, and the spin they put on the way I live this life, wouldn't block anything at all. The tendency is to want to escape or numb out, to seek that which is pleasant and easy, or the wish that something could be different - these would simply be non-personal affective states, arising and passing with no more importance than a burp after lunch. But that isn't how I experience them; they do cause some pain.  And doing nothing doesn't seem quite right.
I agree. Doing nothing could be denial or avoidance, although in different circumstances doing absolutely nothing might be perfect.
So that leaves the approach. Perhaps one of the best moments today was when Ping said something like: “... and if you're going to work on it be sure to do it with smiling.” How cool. I understood in that instant that the stand point of, 'fix something wrong' has for a long time been a source of veiled aggression towards myself. I've read a bunch of times (including in your essay The Practice Before and After Awakening) that it's important to avoid self criticism and judgment; but maybe something more subtle is missing in that:  Kindness. I confess I've never approached spiritual practice with much kindness (or joy for that matter). In this moment I suspect that cultivating kindness and joy will allow some patterns to evaporate as so many others have done – without any struggle.
Yes-very well expressed. It doesn't need to feel like effort, struggle, or work. For over a year in my blog description of ‘me’ I suggested we would all be better off to follow Otis Redding’s' advice to "try a little tenderness". I then had a link to a You Tube video of Otis performing this wonderful song in Europe in 1967.
Those are the thoughts on the subject tonight. I thank you sincerely for reading and for making it possible to meet Ping and to benefit from his teaching and his kindness.
Thanks for your sharing at the group and in this email.

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