Examining Our Conditioned Mind

women-149577_640Because we live in a body, in a physical existence, a family, nation, and culture our mind has been trained in certain ways.  Most of this conditioning takes place in childhood or early adolescence.  Once the mind is conditioned- enculturated- trained- habituated-it takes attention and discipline to change the reactivity and assumptions of our automatic and hasty mind. The preferred method of changing or reconditioning the mind is compassionate witnessing of our thoughts, monitoring our emotional response, and gently allowing time, silent pauses, and deep breaths to mitigate our mercurial and unconscious response to life’s sudden surprises.

Let’s examine the seven probable filters or lens through which we view the world. These seven lens are: Gender, Early Physical Environment, Family Class or Caste, Nation of Origin, Ethnic or Racial Origin, and Family Beliefs.

Early Physical Environment means that you were a child in a physical location. Did you grow up in the city or the country; in a large town or a small one; did you grow up on a military base; did you have opportunities to interact with nature and a wild environment; were animals in your life or not; did you see animals as pets or a means of livelihood such as farm or ranch animals?  Australia MoodboardThe place in which you spent your childhood colors the way you interpret environments around you.  It affects how comfortable you are in certain types of situations.

Let’s use as an example a relationship with animals.  If there were pets in your childhood and there was a positive interaction with them you probably enjoy playing with animals and may even own several cats or dogs yourself. But if you grew up without exposure to animals it’s probable that you have a certain discomfort around them.

Family Beliefs during childhood affects how you interact with others now.  This is true if you grew up with spiritual beliefs or none at all.  Even if you rejected your family’s training on how to interact and what to expect from others it is still affecting you.  Rebellion is a form of being affected for there is nothing to rebel against if there isn’t a pattern in the first place.

Screen Shot 2012-08-07 at 10.37.44 AMFamily pattern beliefs might include a belief in secrecy- what’s heard in the family stays in the family. Secrets are necessary in order not to get into trouble or not to get others into trouble because no one must find out what is happening behind closed doors.  Sometimes the pattern of a family belief could sound like this: life is a struggle.  Only educated people succeed in life.  It’s as easy to love a rich man as a poor man.  What will the neighbors think?  We have a reputation to protect.  Don’t talk about father/mother’s drinking you’ll get them fired.

The things you were taught to believe, as a child, about religion or a lack of religion affect your response to situations and opportunities within life.  Perhaps you have a challenge with organized religion, even if you didn’t belong to one, but what you saw, heard, and learned as a child created a belief and you might still be operating from that belief.  If your mental thoughts constantly create an experience of guilt and shame regarding your thoughts, actions, or lack of action- this is a conditioning of mind from your family’s or religion’s understanding of the world.

Family Caste or Class- which is still part of our consciousness even if we like to believe that people in the United States don’t operate from classification.  If you were raised middle class you believe one set of values, if you were raised blue collar there is a different view of the world, and if you were raised in poverty the way you understand life was effected.   And if you were in a wealthy class there was also a set of expectations and understandings about duty to the family, self, and maintaining place.  People of different social classes are discouraged from mingling too much with people who are different from us. People are still  judged by how they dress, speak, and where they came from.

Ethnic or Racial Identity also plays a part in defining our understanding of the world and our place in it.  Most Caucasian (white people) don’t think of having a racial or ethnic identity but if we  truly examine our beliefs we will soon see that white people have a certain way of acting and thinking that is different than those of others. Examine what you understand about your ethnicity and what you believe that means for you in the world.

National Identity is also part of our conditioned mind consciousness.  This is the way we were taught to think of being a citizen of a particular country.  What did you learn in history about the role of your country in the world?  Who were your nations enemies?  Who were the allies and why?  What rights do you believe you have that others do not?  And why is that ok?

GS-2Perhaps the greatest conditioning of all is Gender orientation.  What does it mean to be a woman?  What does it mean to be a man?  What does it mean if you are LGBT?  When we are born, or even before, the most important question people ask about a baby is- it a boy or a girl? From there many assumptions are going to be made about the future of that being.  What do most people in the world believe is true about girls and women?  What do most people in the world understand about the role of male entities?  What do many people believe about those who are LGBT?  LGBT people are still persecuted all around the globe and even killed because that’s not an ok gender to be.

You might consider exploring these seven lens within a group of friends. One of the advantages of exploring these seven mind conditionings with a group is the ability to discover that no two people will ever be exactly alike.  This is true even if they came from the same family background. Each person has a unique view of themselves and how the world functions because each individual exposed to these common conditionings will decide and respond in a different way.

Therefore to practice being Human we learn Acceptance and Allowing. 

acceptance-seeing-with-heartAcceptance is not approval even if the dictionary seems to indicate that’s what it means.  Acceptance is seeing the value in another person because of his/her unique and one of a kind beingness.  We cease to expect another to be just like ourselves and instead have an adventure of discovery together.

Allowing is the permission we give to another to be herself or himself and to express his or her life without needing our approval or disapproval.  This is the truth of freedom which is seldom experienced even though impressively talked about.

Understanding that we can’t escape our reactive mind response to life can either be depressing or an opportunity of awakened intelligence, of enlightenment.  If we understand how we react to the world around us from our experiences of the past we have the potential to experience the present moment in full awareness.  We learn to see the conditions and emotional arising from the past; take note of their existence; and breathe into the current moment, the current time, to see if we might experience something new, exciting, and momentously beautiful.

We are slaves to the past when we are unaware of its influence.  We are awake to the present moment when we perceive the past but remain firmly planted in the now.acceptance

Reducing Attachments

The goal of a monastic community is union with the Divine as expressed by Great Mother, Great Father, and Great Weaver.  This is only possible as we reduce our attachments to, and preoccupation with, personal goals, desires, wishes, fears, angers, resentments, and needs.  Attachment is defined as having a fondness, liking, or bondage to things, methods, or peopleenthusiasm_webSimplicity, the sought after goal of the spiritual path is the ability to realize we have enough.  It’s creating an uncomplicated life with a minimum of possessions and emotional attachments to self. We do this because we understand that having only what we really need allows us more time and energy to focus on prayer, meditation, and compassionate service.

All of us have attachments.  We have filled our life with connections to people, places, and things.  We do not want to give up most of these components of life.  We are emotionally committed to relationships, possessions, education, status, jobs, money, security, family, friends, and our pets.  Some of these attachments are desirable and have motivated us to do great things, such as become more compassionate, develop our intellect, or care for those who need our help.  However, it’s wise to acknowledge that certain attachments, especially to power (status), privilege (awards), and possessions (money), can make it difficult for us to maintain our core values and moral standards.  Even a life of service can have a hidden agenda- the desire for acknowledgement in this world or the next.

200-2The evidence is all around us.  Our fear of losing our job might prevent us from speaking out against unethical conduct in the workplace.  Fear of losing our independence can prevent us from entering a monastery or taking guidance from a spiritual teacher.  Clinging to financial security might lead us to remain in an abusive relationship or allow our children to be abused. As individuals it’s important to admit that our desire for comfort, financial well-being, our need to be in the know, have our voice heard, our opinions validated, and our contributions appreciated personal can create conflicts with an enlightened, spiritual life.  At some point we have to decide that we have reached an adequate stage of attainment (we have enough) only then can we truly live according to greater ideals and spiritual truths.

Reduction of attachments requires discernment.  And this discernment can be around simple, everyday objects that most people take for granted.  Let’s take cell phones for example – in the modern world such an object appears to be a necessity of life.  However, suppose that the monastery has a land line which can be used occasionally for personal calls and a cell phone that the monastics take with them if they must run errands away from the property.  newcellphonesSince Bill will not be required to travel far distances as part of his duties and will only sometimes be asked to run errands, he does not need a personal cell phone.  He might want one, find numerous reasons why it would be useful for him to own a cell phone, but he truly doesn’t need one.  In attempting to reduce his attachments Bill realizes he has been programed by advertising to desire something he doesn’t really need; so in letting go of this desire he is able to liberate a part of his mind to focus on things of spirit.

When we begin to focus on reducing our attachments the mind launches a series of urgings and arguments that seem perfectly reasonable, as well as justifications for the way we feel and what we desire to have happen.  These energies are Attachments.  Attachments can be positive or negative, affirming or rebellious, inspiring or discouraging- whatever form they take they are a seditious product of the five minds (body, desire, striving, storytelling, and habituated) and their goal is distraction.

Our five minds (little self) cannot imagine that we are seriously considering a disciplined spiritual life, especially a life that will change, reduce, or even eliminate its control.  Little self is that portion of our mind that thinks about SELF, and relate all things to self- “What will this mean to my job, my relationships, and my leisure time?  When am I going to get a vacation, time for my family, or an opportunity to advance at work?  I don’t know if I want to make a commitment it takes too much effort- what if I change my mind?”
When (little) self is terrified it will cease to exist (die) it begins to fight back with every weapon in its arsenal.

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Great Spirit Mother, Father, and Weaver

I bow to your wisdom.
I accept that if personal change were unnecessary I would already be just like You.
Help me, for I am prone to trusting in myself instead of Your Wisdom.
Many times I have come to the resolution
To leave old, bad habits behind and create beautiful new ones.
Many times I have failed.
But, together with you Beloved there can be no failure.
Together with you miracles are possible.
Together with you I can change and become just like You.

This is my promise to you, and to my Great Being who is waiting to be born.
When my little self is hungry, I will feed it with gentle Love.
When my little self is angry, I will seek refuge in your peace.
When my little self is sad, I will focus on my blessings.
When my little self sees lack, I will focus on your many kindnesses to me.
When my little self sees failures, I will remember they are the path to wisdom.
Today I will try to be the Master of my life
So it does not master me.

 

The Monastic Journey

The secret to spiritual mastery is to become more of who we already are as spiritual beings.  We did not become who we are today in a year, or two years, or even in ten years.  It took a lifetime to be ourselves.  IMAG0820Who is this self?   To be human is to long for an unfettered union with the divine although we often strive to meet that need, that goal, through friendships, companions, and lovers eventually our soul will turn to the Maker of All Things and rejoice in the possibility of that unconditional, loving union.

We can never eliminate our ego, or personality self, but we can be aware of the voices inside that do not speak to us of love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace.  We can let go of guilt, anger, and self-pity and take the journey of awakened consciousness.  The only thing standing between us and our highest spiritual good is our fear and an acute sense of our own unworthiness.

Monasticism is a joyful journey toward Great Spirit and the sublime heights of spiritual love but it is also an arduous climb out of the shadowed valleys of self-hatred, despair, and childhood psychosis so that we can touch the sublime heights of spiritual love.  taktshang2But if effort were unnecessary we would not need courage, determination, and a passionate, even obsessive love for The Master, for Her or His Grace, or for the ultimate goal of knowing the Self, which is called Enlightenment.

To free ourselves it is necessary to change the past and our story of the past by reviewing the emotional decisions connected with earlier unhappy events.  We do this by redefining what those things mean to us now.  What did we learn?  What treasures did we find?  What do we need to leave in the ashes?  And what shall we carry with us into our future?

On the monastic path we spend a great deal of time noticing our thoughts, our arisings or mental images, emotional reactions, and bodily sensations.  We become so familiar with our inner landscape that we finally wish to release it, forgive it, and find some new adventure on which to embark.  However, our old self has to go with us.  We can’t run.  We can’t hide.  And we can’t destroy any part of us.  starangeAnd why should we?  We are a beautiful, unique, divine spark of the All Spirit Energy.  There has never been anyone just like us…and there never will be again.  Shouldn’t we try to enfold all of our beingness in the loving arms of compassion?  Great Spirit doesn’t make mistakes…and the Eternal Spirit of All Life doesn’t make junk.

So from what are we trying to free ourselves?  Simply put it is the deep seated belief that we are intrinsically bad, wrong, unworthy, and wrong-headed.  When we free ourselves from this misconception into the possibility that somehow we need all of our qualities and the wisdom of all our experiences in order to serve Great Spirit… we will be free indeed.  The monastic life gives us an opportunity to practice accepting ourselves, as we are, right now…and maybe even more importantly to accept others as they are right now.  This is a daily practice because we will be living in intimate community with people we don’t know very well, who have habits we don’t always approve of, and who may be individuals we almost certainly would avoid if we were living in the world.   And yet there they are day after day being themselves… as we continually express being ourselves.  Oh, boy, what a recipe for suffering!  So in monasticism we practice accepting others as they are and continually strive to accept ourselves as we are.11537595-bells-inside-the-buddhist-monastery-square-composition

Acceptance is not approval.  It is ALLOWING.  In allowing we find concern and kindness for others who are also on a great journey to enlightenment, and are struggling with their own doubts, challenges, and suffering.  We find care and compassion for ourselves because we are suffering.  And softly, with great gentleness we surrender to Great Spirit in prayer, pohwas, and the mighty nectar of mantra.  Slowly, bit-by-bit, prayer-by-prayer Enlightenment brightens up the world around us until we are Holy and we are Free!

Love Is!

Love is a community working together to create kindness, compassion, acceptance, listening, and appreciation.  Love is sharing the Path of Spirit and Our Lives with another. It is forgiveness, sacrifice, openness, willingness of heart, and devotion. It is the awakening of Great Spirit in our hearts, in our relationships, and in our world

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Love is the willingness to merge our thoughts and emotions with another. Love is the willingness to do this even when it hurts. The path of spirit calls for us to blend our minds and hearts so thoroughly with Great Father and Great Mother that we are no a longer separate melody but  One Loving Eternal Symphony.

The first criteria of true love is acceptance, the second is giving. When we are filled with love we demonstrate that love by seeing the needs of the loved one and doing what we can to fulfill that need.  This can be as simple as supplying a drink of water to someone who is thirsty.  Love is giving freely and generously to others.  It does not have to be accompanied with aroused emotions.

Receiving is often harder than giving.  Sometimes it is because we don’t recognize what is being offered as a demonstration of love.  Someone might ask us to chop wood with them because they want to share with us.  We might see this as a chore not a gift and do it grudgingly, if at all.

Everyone desires to love and be loved.  Stories, songs, poems, and world events are based on some version of this eternal truth.  The Masters have often told us that love can never be wrong.  For this to be true, our love must be based in non-harm.  We cannot harm another and claim that we are really beings of love. Our love must also be anchored in acceptance of others as they are.

Unconditional love, Ama Marai, has to be both personal and impersonal.  It must be inclusive.  It is the greatest treasure of the path of spirit to discover the capacity to love everyone. True acceptance is to imagine the worst person you can and then to know that entity can be forgiven, accepted and honored with love. When this is possible, then unconditional love is possible.

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Beloved Spirit Mother and Father
Help us to be open to the people around us.
Show us the paths of loving kindness
and assist us to walk those paths in joy.

Teach us the ways of love
that we might learn to exchange ourselves
for another in true sacrifice.
We accept the touch of your love upon our minds-
our hearts and our lives.
Change us into beings of love.

Let my heart be a vessel of love
Le my thoughts be a blossom of love.
Let my words be an expression of love.
Let my actions be the fulfillment of Love.

Together may we merge
into the infinite possibilities of love.