Saturday, October 10, 2009

When Feelings Don't Reflect Reality

I received an interesting email from a man that I have known for a long time. If anyone is sincere, consistent, and unpretentious regarding spiritual work, it is he. I have seen him apply the principles of Truth in his own life, and he has lived into the life he always dreamed of. And yet, he is willing to share the following honestly and openly:

“I've come to realize that my life is pretty much how I dreamed it might be some years ago. I have managed to save enough money so that the vicissitudes of the economy no longer cause me worry. I own a nice home with a beautiful garden and no mortgage. I have a loving and devoted wife whose company I still thoroughly enjoy. I won't bore you with more details, but you get the picture.

“In spite of enjoying the life I had dreamed about, when old patterns of thinking emerge, if I am not vigilant and put these thoughts in their proper place, out of my head, the same old feelings of anxiety will come up. If I'm not careful I can become just as stressed as when I used to be worried about making the mortgage payment.

“Some time ago I was fond of thinking that if only I could get the circumstances of my job right, get my life just right, everything would be perfect. Now that everything is ‘perfect’ I notice that those same tendencies that caused me grief have followed me into my perfect life, and it's those subtle familiar tendencies that were the problem all along.”

I think our friend has summed up something many of us experience without fully understanding what is going on. On the outside, life is good; in the moment, life is good; yet the same unpleasant feelings that were prevalent when life didn’t seem so good keep coming up even now.

From time to time, as there are no exact equivalent words in modern languages, certain Sanskrit words will be incorporated into our expanded vocabulary, and their usage can broaden our perspective of many aspects of life.

There is a Sanskrit term, samskaras, that roughly translates as “subconscious tendencies.” Our samskaras are the tendencies to automatically think, feel, act, and react in ways that we wouldn't consciously choose.

Say we have a samskara to be agitated very easily. So something happens to trigger our agitation, and we blame the trigger. A person is being himself, totally acceptable to everyone else, yet for some reason something he does or says agitates us. We blame it on the person. Then we say that he did something that agitated us, as though it is his fault. Yet chances are he did nothing wrong whatsoever. Our agitation samskara got us once again.

In a sense, samskaras are the root seeds of our karma, as subconscious tendencies lead to actions that eventually lead to the corresponding reactions, or consequences. Since the universe is in perfect balance and harmony, existing in a mathematical exactitude we can hardly comprehend, any action or motion—either physically, emotionally, or mentally—produces a corresponding reaction, consequence, or result necessary in order to maintain the harmony and balance of the universe.

Anyway, I digress. Our friend is asking why do these old feelings come up even now that his outer life is as he always wished it to be. I am certain that everyone reading this has similar experiences. We have old feelings that come up, even though there is nothing associated with them in present-moment reality.

For example, a feeling of fear and anxiety arises while we’re resting in a calm and serene environment. It corresponds to nothing in our actual reality, yet it captures our attention. Such feelings have nothing to do with what is actually going on. They rise from the past, irrationally for the most part. Yet they trick us into caring about them and getting involved in a mental or egotistical way.

It reminds me of the person who couldn’t enjoy her vacations because, instead of enjoying the present-moment reality of the holiday, she spent each day counting down the days before she had to return home to her ordinary routine. Our mind runs our life to the degree that we are unable to enjoy present-moment reality because of the predominance of habitual thoughts, including obsessing on a future that doesn’t even exist.

I am very happy with the circumstances of my life these days. I am in a beautiful place and environment. Right now the leaves are changing colors and there are explosions of reds, yellows, and oranges in every direction around me. The view out of my window as I write is of the fields and trees that extend as far as I can see, and now the sun is shining brightly on them, illuminating an extraordinary scene of sparkling colors. How thankful I am to be here, to have the freedom to enjoy this beautiful simplicity.

This auspicious karma is to me an outpouring of divine grace. You have no idea how much gratitude I feel for the life God has given me. Like our friend, I am also very happy with my wife, Kay, and together we produce the course for the participants that share it with us, as well as play through life together the best we can. We learn a lot from our relationship. And, as my teacher once told me, there is always more to learn.

Still, even though I have no reason to complain about a single thing in my life, the same old feelings from the past do come up. Sometimes I experience the most intense sadness. The mind tends to associate a rising emotion with something in particular in present life, so I’ll think I’m sad because I haven’t seen my children in a while and I miss them. Of course, this is just the samskara of sadness finding a reason to be sad.

When this comes up, I remind myself of the truth, that they are all very happy with their lives and successful in their own chosen fields. My oldest loves his work and his life with his fiance, and my two youngest are doing well in their respective schools and enjoying their lives. When I remember to be happy that everyone is happy and doing well, my temporary sadness disappears. It was a samskara that came up, looking for some way to work itself in, and the only way to deal with a recurring samskara is to replace it with something more uplifting.

The sadness does not originate with missing my children. That is only its current justification. I experienced the same sadness when my mother died in a car wreck when I had just turned 21. I was very close to her, so the underlying sadness went on for many years. A few years later in my mid-twenties, I was filled with sadness and anxiety as well when I reached a point where I had no idea how I would come up with the money to pay the rent or buy the food. I reached times during that period when I had to borrow money from friends in order to get by.

This was the state I was in when I met my primary spiritual teacher at the age of 29, at the peak of my Saturn return. After that meeting everything changed for me. But that is another story for another time.

So, now my life is as good as anyone could reasonably ask for. I create my experience of it as I go along from day to day, just as all of us do. Today I felt to share more personally than usual, and possibly it is helpful to someone, or even to me for simply writing it down. The point is, all the old tendencies do come up from time to time. They rise into consciousness and tempt us to join them and wallow in them like we did in the old days.

My anxiety doesn’t get me too much these days, because I tell it that I’m too old to bother to worry about anything, that I won’t be around long enough for anything I could worry about to matter that much. But, because I’m this sentimental Cancer who always had a secret love of family and community, the sadness still gets me sometimes. Now when the unwanted sadness comes up, I replace it with the knowledge that everyone is happy as they are, and that all they want for me is that I also be happy.

Anyway, that’s my personal sharing regarding our friend’s letter. All the old tendencies hang around for a long time and when they arise we simply need to be strong enough to step back into our own present-moment contentment. It is easy to be content in the present moment. It’s when the mind takes us away in its concerns or its fleeting dreams of the past or future that our contentment is replaced by all the stuff of the world.

Compassion is so important in this life, and especially developing compassion for ourselves. When these old, outdated feelings, these samskaras, arise in our personal consciousness, we need to see them as they are and have compassion for ourselves for still having to deal with them. Samskaras are not who we are, yet they cause us to automatically act and react in ways we would never actually choose to.

Each of us in this world is either a puppet of the samskaras, or always remaining vigilant and ready to deal with them when they come up, ready to replace them with something greater, with some reminder such as, The only true and lasting sensation of Consciousness is love. It is true, and for this reason, it is only when we feel love that we experience our true inner Self. They are inseparable.

Love and compassion combine to form a light that dissolves all leftover stuff from the past—all the samskaras—until such stuff no longer has the capacity to rise in our consciousness and tempt us anymore. This inner light ultimately dissolves everything into complete oneness. In this light, everyone is forgiven for everything. All blame and guilt are wiped clean. The inner light reveals an unexpected perfection.

There is an inner light whether we are consciously aware of it or not. This inner light allows us to ‘see’ what we feel and think, and all that is ‘going on’ inside us. It is there even as we sleep, otherwise how would we ‘see’ our dreams? Ultimately we experience ourselves as one with the light, and then we realize that nothing else is ever actually ‘going on.’ It is all merely a momentary play of the mind.

The inner light is most accessible to us during times of lightheartedness. Be as lighthearted and cheerful as you can. Be in touch with the humor of things even when challenges appear.

Humor is always the best approach; seriousness is only the ego trying to regain control. If we can maintain lightheartedness and cheerfulness, life has a way of working out for the best. Try it—in this one area you will never be disappointed.