I wanted to share a pretty nuanced thing that has recently become more clear to me. It has to do with a concrete instance of interacting with good and bad things in one’s past and future.
I don’t know all the reasons that people meditate. Maybe they have abstract spiritual goals and maybe those goals cash out concretely as better life experience for themselves and the people around them. And I bet a bunch of people just suspect strongly enough that there’s something good enough to get that it’s worth trying to find out what it is.
And then there’s the more “mundane” stuff (which I personally think it sort of the entire point), perhaps more motivation, more time abundance, more intimacy, more ambition, better “luck”, etc., all sorts of stuff, though possibly gained at great cost, and maybe out of desperation, because nothing else was working and meditation is hard.
Away and Towards
I sort of loosely group things into a) “escaping”/”running away” from things and b) “running towards” things.
Like, a person might be “running away” from trauma or hatred of past self or a feeling of “can’t do anything” and that person might simultaneously be “running towards” intimacy or ambitious goals.
Of course “away” and “towards” is partly just how one conceptualizes it.
Pitfalls with Away
But that new age thing “what you resist you’re stuck with” has some truth to it.
The way meditation or the mind seems to work, the meditator, over time, sort of has to learn how to “turn towards” even the things they’re “running away” from.
I think for lots of people this isn’t big news, not a revelation, even if it’s hard to do in practice.
If you’re meditating correctly, one of the things that happens, over hundreds of hours, bit by bit, it becomes safe to look at terrible thing X, and then you do.
You have to “have been” what you were. You have to “have experienced” what you experienced. You might and probably will greatly reinterpret these events and past being of your life, for example, but you can’t escape them, so to speak.
Ok, so, for bad stuff, eventually you have to go back and get it, and that’s hard and scary, but, while the sooner the better, you don’t (and the mind won’t) do it until you and your mind figures out how to make it safe to do so.
Pitfalls with Towards
Now, I want to talk about some of the “towards” stuff.
There’s sort of a similar thing here, that’s maybe a little bit more subtle and counterintuitive than with the bad/”escape”/”away” stuff.
Even for the good stuff, one sort of has to go back and find all the bad (or neutral or even good) stuff that bears on or is relevant to the good stuff. I’ll restate this and give and concrete example in a moment. I’m picking the example I do because it’s so central, and it’s sort of the main point of this post.
Of the reasons that people are meditating, for some people that will be better relationships, and that might look like better boundaries and more independence.
So a person might be using long-range feedback loops like, are they better able to disagree with person X, can they say no, can they do things and make plans independent of person X, Y, and Z, do they feel more independent, stuff like that.
There’s another old saying, like:
codependent → independent → interdependent
My point for the concrete example is that there’s a deep way in which people are radically contingent, radically non-individuated. From the womb to maybe thousands of classroom hours and friendships and sleeping next to someone, and more, we’re just bathed in other people, body language, clothing colors, voice tone and prosody and words. (And of course we’re bathed in so much other sensations, but I’m focusing on people because it’s such a clear, relevant subset.)
Like, we are unreflectively constituted out of other-people-ness, our identities are unreflectively constituted out of other-people-ness, from just all of this flowing through our sense doors, when we were babies, kids, before we knew anything about anything.
Method Interaction with Macro-beliefs
So, say, especially in “Western” culture and, say, perhaps especially in USAmerican culture (I know less about other cultures), people are expected to be independent or (argh) perform independence or something.
And, to the degree that being or performing gets in the way, these sort of macro-sentiments will affect micro-choices in meditation. Like, with a good method, the whole point is that the big beliefs don’t matter, but if you get your big beliefs in slightly better shape, meditation works more smoothly and faster, sometimes much faster.
And, so, in general, here, the punchline is that you should figure out the ways in which the opposite of what you want or are is already true. Figure out the possibly bad or simply just true thing that is counter to what you are (or profess you are) or what you want. See how the opposite of that thing is already true, even see sort of how you’ve already “failed” (if it’s that kind of thing). If you’re heading “towards” you have to go back and find all the stuff that’s not towards, ultimately not intellectually but “at the grain of experience.”
And, concretely, here, especially in cultures where people are supposed to be independent, and where people are trying to have better boundaries and be more independent, for the best of reasons, it pays to realize how incredibly constituted out of other people we are. How are reality, in often really painful ways, is a “social reality” (perhaps until it isn’t, depending on how conceptualized). How much we do care, how much other people, even people we hate, can shut us down with a word or a look, how much control they actually do have over us, that sort of thing.
So, it’s sort of nuanced. When we meditate we spend a lot of time alone, and it works much better, goes much faster that way. And more individuation is good, I think, all things being equal. And then, there’s this deep way in which each of us always already is radically non-individuated at the deepest levels, and then we also often feel really lonely and want to connect more, be more intimate. So all these layers of individuation, non-individuation, boundaries, and connection, that all ultimately needs to get untangled. And then I think you do get to this:
codependent → independent → interdependent
So, a lot of examining hidden pitfalls will be clunky and “intellectual”, it will potentially add technical debt (which isn’t always bad), it won’t neatly synergize with where one is in their meditation practice. But, it still pays to toy with some of the “big beliefs” and “big sentiments” even if they’re far away from the grain and responsiveness of meditation. Both matter. Eventually the grain of meditation touches the big, intellectual beliefs, but until then you can poke those intellectual beliefs to sometimes help meditation progress faster, sometimes a lot.
So, sort of, before you get to be unconditional, you have to fully embrace your radical contingency. And, again, let your practice lead you, let your practice order things in a safe way, but it does help to keep these high-level things in mind somewhere.
And, again, not just for bad things, but also for good things, you have to go back and find all the old stuff that’s relevant, and a big part of that is everything that has to do with people.