Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why is Love So Hard to Find When It's Everywhere? Realizing the Obstacles We Create

The idea that Love is everywhere is enough of a challenge since everywhere you look there are terrible examples of "man's inhumanity to man."  But all that sadness really serves to demonstrate where Love isn't, so we are talking about the same thing, really.  It's not that Love isn't everywhere, it's that we are actively creating obstacles to it – in our big, collective unconsciousness ways, and then on a personal scale, in each of our own little heads. 

Why does it happen? Why do we tend to separate ourselves from that one beautiful thing we really want more than anything else? The answer is that we actually train ourselves to do it, a lot of the time completely unconsciously. It's a kind of mental self-sabotage that has a lot to do with our easiest to overlook, biggest challenge – the way we think.

When we train a dog, it's taken for granted that the most effective way to achieve success is through the classic Pavlovian model of conditioning, or Behavioristic approach of rewarding good behavior. Now, so that you don't get offended by my comparing you to a dog, I'll pick on myself. Let's pretend that I'm a dog:

A dog is (I am) hungry pretty much all the time. A tasty morsel to munch on always makes for a welcome repast – and I'm afraid I can personally reward myself that way all too easily. Especially with potato chips, and even when I haven't done anything to deserve it. The dog thinks he's going to eat when the bell rings, and then he eats when he can. With a human like me, on the other hand, when the bell rings, he may begin making elaborate, completely unnecessary justifications for eating the wrong thing at the wrong time. I mean I may do that. Woof.

My dog self, or I'll say my natural self, relates me to the world in a pretty simple, direct way; but my artificial self – my human ego – is almost always seeking some level of nonsensical self-enhancement, or unnecessary self-protection. Most of the time my ego is reacting in ways that were conditioned into me as a child, before I really had the awareness to realize that later on in life, those childhood self-preservation instincts may start working against me instead of for me.

 For example, I was raised in a very unsettled and insecure world, where adults sometimes behaved in inappropriate ways. As a result, I felt unprotected. I assumed a profound unfairness was at work in the world (because it was, in my world) – but that experience constructed obstacles to my ability to see the Love there. Obstacles my ego continues to habitually impose on my life, often with no reason whatsoever, if I let it – just out of habit.

It's my human ego that's being fed, rewarded by the comfort of habitual thought, and the feeling of being right – not my authentic, natural (spiritual) self. I end up reacting to the world subconsciously based on old,  warped childhood instincts. I respond to what I can see as "unfair" situations by automatically thinking that I need to enforce a sense of rightness, a proper sense of fairness in an unfair world, again and again. And, since our world tends to become what we think it is, my "unfair" world continually requires more of my ego reactions – my desire to control things I can't control. 

"As you think, so you are."  "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."                 
            The Buddha and Proverbs, 23:7 

So when that "bell" rings – a challenge, an affront, a desire – my ego begins to salivate. I can be sent into my irrational behavior over and over, until it's really the only thing I'm really good at. My human ego has built a perfect, very personal obstacle to Love again. So I'll go on and on, missing the point, missing the Love that's alive in everything. Or missing the opportunity to bring Love in where it's most needed.

In Hindu spiritual traditions, these obstacles are called samskaras, from sam meaning "intense," and kara from the root "to do." They're automatic thoughts. Thoughts that think themselves – automatically grounded in the psychic constructions of our earlier life experiences. Whatever we tend to resent, to brood about, whatever kicks up a compellingly dramatic reaction – fearful feelings of victimization or entitlement – those set off samskaras; unnecessary automatic thoughts that can, and will, define our lives. Thoughts that create our personalities, whether we like them or not.

I, for one, would rather be more like a faithful, loving dog than a willful, love-starved human...but how? The great teacher, Eknath Easwaran, compared samskaras to furrows, eroded out of our consciousness by habitual thoughts we let run like little streams. Resentments and desires that cut furrows deeper and deeper into our psychic ground. We have to re-route those streams, and the best way to do that is to start by becoming aware. By noticing how your thinking is following that same pattern that results in an uncomfortable feeling, even when we think we're right. That's the thinking that separates us from the Love that's alive in every body, and in every situation – if we can get out of our own way and allow it to arise.

There is fresh ground in each of our conciousnesses (and so in our collective culture) that we can divert those old streams of thinking towards. Thoughts of acceptance, tolerance, and Love that can gently erode and irrigate happier results in our own lives, and in everybody else's. As always, meditation is how we come to recognize those particular tributaries, and so put our natural, spiritual selves at the helm, heading downstream with the flow of Love.

" a deeper level of consciousness, we can learn to go against these conditioned ways of thinking and actually change ourselves from the inside out."
Eknath Easwaran, Essence of the Upanishads

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How to Survive Life (and Death)...It's all Miraculous

You can now pre-order the new book, "How to Survive Life (and Death): A Guide to Happiness in This Life and Beyond," from Amazon, although it won't be released by Conari Press until April, 2014.  

It's not another Near Death Experience book, though I had to go through three very different such experiences to get to the place where I could write it for you (so that hopefully, you won't have to do the same). Along with recounting the moments themselves, I describe what I learned from each, and how those lessons transformed my experience of Life from that of a typical participant, to being thoroughly submerged in joy and magic. 

These lessons, from someone who's peeked behind the curtain, can help you navigate all the moments of your life – especially the hard parts (including my three foolproof "Tips for Happiness"). I hope you'll check it out, and that it can help you with everything you're going through, or are going to go through.

I've got good news for everyone who plans on dying, or knows someone who will; as well as anyone who wants to get more out of this life.