Saturday, November 17, 2018

Intimacy with the Real World

     Many consider "the real world" to be at least a little frightening, hostile. Despite all our technological advancements, a part of us still cowers in a cave for safety, fearing the dark unknown outside. There are valid causes for this: the existential facts of life (constant change, sickness, aging & death); our hard-wired negativity bias; the news & entertainment medias' exploitation of our hard-wired negativity bias; the high incidence of "trauma & attachment injury"; forms of ongoing trauma such as poverty, racism & sexism; current society's minimal interest in emotional intelligence & wisdom, etc.

     Not surprisingly, many live an essentially fear-based, self-centered, transactional or even adversarial relationship with life. A transactional relationship is one in which all parties are in it for themselves, and do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation. In adversarial relationships, one party wins only when others lose. Isolationism, cut-throat business practices & politics, environmental destruction, racism, colonialism, dictatorships & wars are the result. The primitive "fight, flight or freeze instinct" that energizes this level of being, resides in all of us, at least as a potential.

     Nevertheless at times, most of us, if only briefly, do experience a loving, nurturing relationship with life. Nurturing relationships are exemplified by a wise grandparent's relationship with her grandchild, whom she loves unconditionally, attentively holding her in safety & kindness, providing wholesome nutrition for her body, heart & mind - everything she needs to flourish. Another metaphor is that of a skilled gardener, who lovingly plants the best available seeds, with optimal soil, sunshine, water, fertilizer, careful weeding etc. In nurturing relationships, instead of being afraid, alone & needy, we are being unconditional love & spacious wisdom. This much more highly-evolved state of being, due in part to the "tend & befriend instinct", also resides in all of us, at least as a potential.
     Fear and the closely-related emotions of anxiety, anger, rage, despair, cynicism, depression, apathy etc usually suppress our innate nurturing capacity.
we feel desperately miserable, isolated & utterly worthless, it may be a struggle just to stay alive. Before we're able to embody unconditional generosity towards all, we require if not equanimity, then at least some wise spaciousness in which to hold, accept & eventually process our fearful emotions.
& wise spaciousness are also innate human potentials, and one important way of cultivating these is by way of mindfulness meditation.

     So how can we possibly embody the relatively tender, nurturing side of our nature in the "real world"? There appear to be two general pathways.

     Extreme circumstances can abruptly force us to respond, with either fear (self-preservation), or love (altruism). During natural disasters, not all but many, suddenly become heroically nurturing, altruistic, even at the risk or certain loss of their own life. When interviewed afterwards, altruistic heroes uniformly insist that their actions were done spontaneously, naturally, were nothing out of the ordinary, and that anyone else would have done the same thing - suggesting that altruism is an innate natural human capacity. Similarly, when suddenly learning that they have incurable cancer with a few months to live, roughly 40% of these people radically change their way of being and enjoy the best quality of life they ever had ("post-traumatic growth"). Because of this, they claim that this diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to them. These folks report that they drop all that's meaningless from their very short remaining lives, and engage wholeheartedly with only people & activities that are deeply meaningful for them.
     Why anyone would do extreme sports like rock-climbing is incomprehensible for the majority, who tend to be safety-conscious. Climbing a 400ft rock face, without safety equipment, demands perfect continuous focused awareness of "just this, right here, right now" for the entire ascent (hours). Such prolonged, unshakable quality of awareness ("being in the zone") is, I've read, so pleasant to experience, that climbers eagerly risk their lives repeatedly for it.

     Whereas altruism, post-traumatic growth & extreme sports all occur suddenly, under extreme circumstances, mindfulness meditation training takes place intentionally, stress-free, very slowly, gradually, in absolute safety. While the facilitator holds participants in unconditional love, compassion, empathy, gentleness, patience & perseverance, participants are guided & trained to hold themselves in these very same wholesome attitudes of mind. In doing so, they observe, accept & very gradually release all the fears that separate them from their authenticity, who they truly are: unconditional love & spacious wisdom. See also:
     Like altruism, post-traumatic growth & extreme sports, mindfulness meditation can take us well beyond our usual fear-based relationship with life, to one of complete engagement, deep connection - intimacy with all of life - with its 10,000 joys & 10,000 sorrows.

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