“When we are hungry,”, His Holiness remarked, “prayer and meditation won't fill our stomachs, that's why these monks have to go on their alms round. But if compare our physical pleasure and pain with our mental experience, the mental is much more powerful. Having a calm mind we can withstand or overcome physical pain, but physical comfort alone will not relieve mental unease. I have wealthy friends who have all they could want, but because they worry, they are unhappy. Scientists have found that anger, fear and hatred damage our immune system, while peace of mind fosters good health. Does our modern materialistic society by itself provide for a peaceful, happy humanity? I don't think so. What we also need to do is pay attention to the inner values that give rise to peace of mind.”
When I was growing up I was sold the “I should get this so I can get that” checklist paradigm. It's the one that goes like: I should do well in school so I can get a good job; work hard so I can buy a car and a house; so I can be a “marketable” bachelor in the dating market, so I can meet the “right” woman; so I can start a family; work harder so I can get a promotion; so I can send my kids to private school… so I can retire when I get old and finally have the free time to start doing all the things I want for myself.
I never had full buy-in into this goal-focussed lifestyle. I did, however, acquiesce. A lot. I did tick a lot of those boxes. Except that my relationships felt rather empty. I have really good friends but something deep inside me wanted more. In hindsight I see that this goal-focussed paradigm was a symptom of the world of commerce and production seeping into my personal life.
Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-commerce or anti-production at all. After all, I do have an economics undergrad, juris doctor and master of laws under my belt and I've worked in corporate enviroments for decades.
More importantly, I am a free market liberal at heart. There is something so clean about how a properly working free market price system serves as a clearing house for people's desires and material well-being.
I find that when people protest against the free market, what they're really protesting against is capitalism. In my book capitalism is not the same as the free market. In capitalism, capital is given primacy over other stakeholders in the socio-ecology. In a true free market, there is a level entry to the playground for all those who want to play. Of course, a free market does not guarantee equality. Not that it should. People can play at whatever level they want to play and get their just deserts.
More specifically, what I feel people are really against is corporatism. That is, corporations in cahoots with the government create laws, institutions, and incentives that privilege and protect the interests of corporations— the individuals who benefit in hiding behind the corporate veil and the professional mercenaries who create and maintain these corporate structures.
I also feel that there is a false dichotomy being fed to me that if I am not in favor of having the government handle things like healthcare for example, then I am automatically favoring corporations dominating the world. It's time to get out of this zero sum box. There are many possibilities in an abundant universe. An obvious one is people doing things together outside of both government and corporations. For example, I've seen a lot of positive mental health benefits accruing to people in 12 step programs around the world. These are voluntary associations of people outside of government and corporations.
His Holiness nailed it on the head that past a minimum level of material safety and comfort, material wealth is never gonna bring me peace and happiness. Rather, the quest lies inside of me. It lies in me paying exquisite attention to my inner values.
“We all experience these inner values, love, affection, trust and so on, in the arms of our mother as soon as we are born. According to some scientists the mother's touch is the major factor encouraging the proper growth of our brains in those first early days of our lives. Those of us who receive such affection when we are young tend to feel happy and secure later in life too, whereas those who, for some reason, lack it, tend to be insecure and have difficulty trusting others. This can be a source of frustration because our very life depends on the rest of our community.”
My mother left me a few weeks after I was born. I did not see her in person until I was 13 years old. I was put in the care of and raised by my paternal grandparents who loved me deeply but were not so demonstrative in expressing this love. You could say I missed out on the mother's touch His Holiness was talking about.
I am realizing now that this may have have been a key contributing factor to what the Twelve Traditions would call my sexual and emotional anorexia, and love addiction. Bottom-lining it: I live long periods of sexual and emotional isolation punctuated once in a while by intense infatuation with an “unattainable” woman— which kicks me off my axis and spins my world in a maelstrom of misery.
The most frustrating thing about this anorexia is that I am so desperately hungry inside for attention, love, and approval yet I fog out people who wants to nourish me with these. Apparently a third of our brains as human mammals is wired for feeling others. Yet we have built a 21st century society full of cultural memes that isolate us from each other instead of getting us closer and more connected to each other. We literally have disconnected ourselves from our biology which fundamentally is the source of our vitality, health and well-being.
When paper has been folded one way for a long time, the way to straighten is not to simply unfold it but to fold it all the way to the other side and press it there for a while. Just like this, I've put my anoxeric self into a crucible of connection. I live within a community where I connect with the most intimate parts of a person, and stay in connection with them no matter what. No matter how uncomfortable it gets. No matter how much I want to run away and hide because the feelings get too intense for me.
When another member of the audience asked if it is possible to attain enlightenment in one life, His Holiness responded that some texts say you can, but he has doubts. He said:
“When I was younger I used to grow flowers. I would plant the seeds and then water them and try to encourage them to grow quicker. It didn't work, things like that take their own time. Transforming the mind takes its own time too. There are three levels of knowledge, what we learn from reading or listening to explanations which is quite rough and shallow. Then there's what we understand as a result of analysing what we've read or heard, which is deeper and more stable. Finally, there is what we know as a result of prolonged and focussed familiarity, which has the quality of experience. We can apply this approach to the Two Truths, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path. In my experience, if you keep it up for 5 or 6 decades you should have something to show at the end.”
I've been practicing this extreme sport of connection for a little over 6 months now. Guess what? god in her infinite humor: I am now banging against another edge. The edge of not having firm healthy boundaries. I have been putting my attention out. I have been doing service. But the thing was, I was doing it not from a place of fullness but out of hunger. I was doing it not for me but for others. Out of fear that I won't be loved if I don't acquiesce to what other people wanted. I was expecting something in return. “Creepy, crawly” commerce insidously inserted itself back in the equation of my practice.
I've hit this edge before in my practice of orgasmic meditation. That time, my teacher simply told me that in this game, if you can call it that, the first to surrender is the one who wins, for me to simply continue practicing, and to trust that something would shift the more I practice. She was right. Something did shift much later on in my practice. I did learn how to surrender to the practice itself.
Now I feel I'm hitting the next level of resistance. This time it is about me learning the difference between surrender and acquiescing. It feels to me that the way to make sure I am surrendering and not acquiescing is for me to develop healthy boundaries. With healthy boundaries, everything I do will be out of my own volition, out of pure love and not commerce, with no hooking back to my hunger and my needs. With healthy boundaries, I can truly do things for my own pleasure. The pleasure would come from me doing the act in and by itself without any extra expectations.
This will take time. It will take what His Holiness referred to as prolonged and focussed familiarity, rooted in my experience. As what I remember Dr Rober Dee McDonald saying in the coaching program I am doing now: neurosis is doing the same thing over and over again, health is one damn thing after another. That is what I'm finding in my path. I hit a resistance. I pass through it. Then I hit another resistance, and so it goes.
Rainer Maria Rilke to me wrote the most poignant description of surrender: “ What we chose to fight is so tiny! What fights with us is so great. If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm, we would become strong too, and not need names. When we win it's with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small. What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us. I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: when the wrestler's sinews grew long like metal strings, he felt them under his fingers like chords of deep music. Whoever was beaten by this Angel (who often simply declined the fight) went away proud and strengthened and great from the harsh hand, that kneaded him as if to change his shape. Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.”