There’s a weird thing that can happen to a skilled meditator. I imagine it affects almost everyone to some degree, anyone who’s making solid progress.
The meditator, over time, nonmonotonically, becomes more unified and self-consistent, more directed, more self-possessed.
But we don’t always know the ways in which we are bad, harmful, acting in ways that our future best selves would retrospectively disendorse, towards ourselves, towards other people, as members of groups, communities, the world.
Some of our bad stuff we know is bad, but like, say, 20% of our bad stuff feels forever resignedly unavoidable.
And like, say, 50-80% of our bad stuff feels good and right, even critical, sacred, of-course-it’s-justified-it-would-be-unthinkable-otherwise.
We affect the people around us in so many ways. And we want very particular things from other people. And, one doesn’t always think of it this way, but we all want the entire world to go in particular, highly specific ways. We want even the whole entire world to be a particular thing.
So, all the time, we’re influencing people for better or worse, in accordance with our beliefs, plans, and goals, most of which laid down in childhood.
And so, we have conversations, we participate in groups or communities, work shoulder-to-shoulder on valued projects, we have casual sex, we engage in committed relationships.
And, on the overt side, if someone is telling you that you’re hurting them or that you’re being a bad actor, yeah, maybe they’re being ridiculously unrealistic. But, especially, if “you had or have no choice”, or “no one could be expected to act differently in such a situation” or “they should have/be/been (more) X to accomodate me, anyone should have/be/been (more) X to accomodate me,” etc.—maybe stop and think—wouldn’t the better you have found a better thing to do? To avoid all of this in a good way? Wouldn’t you have been more sensitive, more accommodating, or just smarter? Wouldn’t you have predicted this was going to happen hours or weeks out, regardless of who was “right” or “wrong,” or how you needed to seem or how you needed to prove something or show them or cause them to look stupid?
Wouldn’t you have just done a better thing if you’d had the bandwidth and resources?
And don’t you and them and everyone deserve that better thing, no matter how (seemingly) hateful you or they have been?
And, on the subtle side, even or especially if something good seems to happen, for you, for both people, for a group, even if, when questioned, the other person or people profess that what happened was good and is good. This could be for casual conversation, or intense conversation, or helping or “helping”, or sex, and especially when the other person is younger or less experienced on some dimension. (Like, maybe you did a weird, subtle thing to get someone to like you, that you wouldn’t be proud of it if it were brought to light.)
If there’s a quiet voice in you wondering if maybe something didn’t go quite right, or a quiet voice wondering whether there should be that first quiet voice. Or maybe there’s a voice proclaiming that you deserved it or they deserved it or how could anyone have done otherwise in your position or how could they have expected otherwise…
All our dark (sexual and revenge) fantasies, whether we are the object of feels-so-good-harm or another person is the object of feels-so-good-harm, whether or not it was always intended to stay a fantasy or a small part of you is always, always hunting to assemble the conditions of safe reification—unfortunately none of this stuff stays buried when a meditator is working through their entire mind.
All of our weird filamentary, flickery, high-dimensional beliefs, the really crazy stuff like, say, all men are inherently disgusting/violent/dangerous and they need to know it and feel it deep in their bones in every waking moment, or, like, say, women need to be behaviorally/emotionally/sexually controlled for their own good, all that stuff that gets in our heads, somewhere, for weird childhood reasons, misinterpreted parent stuff, abuse and bullying and trauma, sitcoms and horror movies and porn at an impressionable age, the media landscape—none of this stays buried when a meditator is working through their entire mind.
None of this stuff stays buried for a meditator or has actually ever been buried, in some sense. It’s in our behavior, it’s in our character. Not in every moment, perhaps. And maybe heavily compensated for but not buried, in some relevant sense.
And when I say it doesn’t stay buried, maybe people don’t notice it, don’t conceptualize it, don’t experience it as such, don’t feel it, don’t mind it, accept you and so forth. This is especially if you’re in a low intensity, low-pressure, time-abundant, and resource-abundant environment.
But maybe people start experiencing you as creepier, sketchier, more intense in a bad way, more volatile in a bad way, more labile in a bad way, more emotionally extortative.
Or you’re even just more charismatic and confident, but something feels uncomfortable and maybe in a cumulative and compounding way.
Your will unifies and some of what you think is good or is unexaminedly bad hasn’t burned off in the light, yet.
If you’re lucky or skillful or have good feedback, this could go by fast or go by softly. Everybody’s got different stuff. But it can be bad enough that it can be good to isolate oneself, especially if you can’t tell whether you’re hurting other people or extending your timeline.
And it’s not all unavoidable. The better you understand what’s happening and the more you know what to look for, a skillful meditator can avoid much of this (though likely not much of it, too). Raising and working through problematic material on retreats and in quiet hours alone, leaving less of it raw and open during the day or, say, work week—please don’t read this and resign to terrible things happening. That’s not the message.
We affect the people around us in so many ways. We become the average of everyone around us and some people take up more space than others, for better and worse. And we want things, including being good to other people on their terms.
And there’s this irony that, while intending to become better people for ourselves and others, there’s this possibility of wittingly and unwittingly becoming more dangerous in small or large ways while you’re doing it, to the degree that it can be done irresponsibly, out of ignorance or desperation.
Infinite details, infinite constraints, and we’re trapped in hyperspecific, ultraspecific patterns, beliefs, thinking, desires, plans, goals…
So many details. So many considerations. So little time, money, energy, mental bandwidth.
So many ways to do harm. So many ways to fuck up.
It’s an extremely high standard, that of harmlessness, that of benevolence, that of competent compassion that has humility in the face of one’s one ignorance and arrogance and even then.
There’s an important thing, here.
Becoming better isn’t self-abnegating.
You don’t have to, say, crush yourself, maybe isolate yourself for a time, but you don’t have to do something before you can. Nothing is required of you that you cannot do. One merely diligently applies correct method on the cushion and in life, which includes improving one’s understanding of how to do that. That can be agonizing to sort out, but there’s a simplicity that can be tacked towards.
Again, it’s not that you have to add more and more will, more and more checks. It’s that you naturally come to find, with correct method, that doing the right thing is elegant and effortless and actually gets you what you want which includes what everyone else wants.
This vast, vastly high-dimensional combinatorial optimization problem, this feels good, feels effortless, is good, gets good things, elegantly takes into account all the details without having to enumerate them…
One thing going in one direction, without self-conflict.
Your mind wants to do that for you. Your mind is trying to get that for you. There’s a sense in which it already knows how and a sense in which it doesn’t. And that’s what meditation is for.
It’s an ideal, sort of exuberant harmlessness and compassion (and fun and intimacy and everything all at once), but, as those hundreds and hundreds of practice hours go by, plus embarrassing and hurtful mistake after embarrassing and hurtful mistake, holy crap how far one can get, year after year after year of self-transformation.
Fish-in-water, it’s really hard to imagine how good it can actually get, buses and meteors and running out of money and friends and lovers walking out, all things being equal. (Let’s create a world where everyone has a safe opportunity to do this. Like right-after-as-soon-as people get all the good stuff that they normally get in high school and college but without all the messed up stuff of pop education.)