Sunday, November 24, 2013

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

Just the idea that Love is everywhere you look is enough of a challenge when 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, after all.  And it's not that there's no Love there, it's that we are actively creating obstacles to it – in those big, collective unconscious-ness ways, and then, by reduction, in each of our own little heads. 

Why does it happen? Why do we tend to separate ourselves from the one thing we really want more than anything in our lives? The answer is that we actually train ourselves to do it, most often (but not always) completely unconsciously. It's a kind of mental self-sabotage that has a lot to do with our best friend, and worst nemesis – thinking.

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 (not a great stretch, I'm sad to say).

A dog is 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 ego, or I'll say my natural ego, simply (and pretty accurately) relates me to others and to the world rationally, but my human ego is almost always seeking some level of irrational self-enhancement, or unnecessary self-protection. Much (if not all) 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 the difficult directions those instincts may lead me in, later in my life.

 For example, personally 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 allow it to.

It's my human ego that's being fed, not my authentic, natural (spiritual) self, that's being rewarded by the comfort of habitual thought – the feeling of being right. I'm continuously conditioning myself based on that old, subconscious warping of my instincts. I can practice responding to "unfair" situations by automatically thinking that I need to enforce a sense of rightness, a proper sense of fairness on an unfair world, again and again. And, as each of our worlds tend to become what we think it is, my "unfair" world continually requires more of my ego reactions. 

"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 getting right. My human ego has built a perfect, very personal obstacle to Love again. And 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 – 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 – feelings of victimization or entitlement, in short, fearful feelings – those are 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 (essentially alone) 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

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