When there is devotion to Life, in a feeling way, as my priority, I choose to do things or not do them based on the health of that feeling devotion. Whatever my level of devotion is, it will inform the way I eat, the way I meditate, the way I breathe, the way I relate to people and the way I think.
It’s possible, and I’ve done this a lot, to approach things the other way round, for instance using mindfulness meditation or pranayama (breath yoga) to get into a state of ‘devotion’, or calm. Or to set up a strategy to relate to people in a more compassionate way, or to think more positively. I start from the place of ‘not-right’ or stress and seek to remedy it by altering the symptoms, which are simply a faithful mirror of my existing state. In other words, my ego is busily trying to solve the problem of itself. But the lack of ease in my body, my shallow or held breath, my emotional reactivity to challenges, my patterns of thinking, any or all of these things will betray me.
It’s impossible to fake devotion.
It is only prior devotion, the feeling of love for Life itself, the feeling of the sweetness that underpins all conditions, that slowly, over time, will transform these barometers of consciousness. It is devotion that will change ingrained patterns of thinking.
Existing patterns of thinking in me have been programmed in. I have been the unknowing recipient of propaganda. And that’s not surprising, or wrong, it’s just that thought patterns hinder the free flow of Life that wants to express itself through me. Thought patterns are a symptom of my lack of devotion, which is the way I don’t fully feel the privilege of simply being alive in a human body, and let that hold seniority, day-to-day.
Let’s take the example, because it’s a charged one, of my lover rejecting me for another he apparently prefers. If a wise being suggests that my huge emotional upset exposes a childish reliance on this form of closeness to feel self-worth and happiness, and suggests that if I really loved I would, alongside the natural feelings of grief, be able to stay open and be happy for the other, I will denounce this as ridiculous, and decide she or he simply doesn’t ‘get it’. I will defend the point of view - that it is natural to feel angry and rejected - as being reasonable and human, and friends/society will back me up on this.
Inside the mind, thoughts will duly pile up on themselves, reinforcing my undermined point of view like a back-up committee. At times like this I seem to have inadvertently hired an inbuilt defense lawyer who passionately supports my position with persuasive language. Have you noticed the ways you sometimes rehearse conversations, decide what you would like to have said, will say, should have said… thus building a righteous view of yourself and reinforcing the judgment of the other as a complete arsehole…
To show up the force of what it takes to change a strongly held point of view, consider Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that the huge mortality rate in obstetric clinics could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection. Semmelweis proposed the practice of hand-washing in the mid 19th century. However his observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time. His ideas were rejected by the medical community, who were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands, given Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Hand washing before surgery only became a standard practice after this death when the germ theory was confirmed by Louis Pasteur.
From the point of view of a contemporary culture with a basic belief in science, this is tragic and ridiculous. However, changing the consciousness with which I’ve been branded is no different. It is supported by patterns of thinking that I’ve never really examined. When they are challenged, I will defend my point of view and existing societal views will support me in this..
If I am a student of consciousness, and I understand that this means being willing to have my points of view shaken up so I can surrender them, it still gets me in the guts when a dearly-held belief is challenged. I feel terrible, my breathing is held, and my emotions become volatile. But it’s my thinking patterns that hold these symptoms in place, and they can sustain themselves for a very long time. Consider thinking patterns like:
- S/he shouldn’t have done/said/reacted like that
- I should have been acknowledged/included/respected
- I’m wrong/I’m not good enough/my living conditions aren’t right
- I’m alone/separate/unloved
- I shouldn’t be reacting like this
Some of these patterns are very concretised by the time I’m in my thirties, forties, fifties… And there is one basic building-block supporting all of them! Self-referencing, or self-consciousness, the deeply-held pre-supposition that I am the centre of the whole affair of life.
In this human brain I’ve thought thoughts so many times that I can almost feel the wideness of the corresponding neuronal pathways that have been set up. They’re tarmacked, easy, and familiar, and it doesn’t take much to decide that’s the way to go, even though the journey causes suffering. It's very easy to ignore this and decide instead the suffering is caused from the outside trigger, rather than by my own reaction to it.
In a phase like this, my operating system is completely taken over by the virus of self-consciousness. I can submit it to the experience itself (the usual thing ordinary people do), or, at this stage, I can submit it to a spiritual understanding - that by dint of Being, everything is fundamentally OK, even when conditions are not feeling OK at all. At times like this I can’t believe my thoughts or feelings and then it’s really rocky ground because any attempts to fix things or feel better are coming from the paradigm of self consciousness. My ego again, investigating ways to solve the problem of itself…
As I wake up, I feel more and more the cost of staying a disciple of fear. That cost is becoming intolerable. The uncomfortable-ness and mess that happens when a free point of view collides with my own is the grist for this transformation, and that I can’t avoid. If I desire a life of consolation, and simply seek to arrange conditions in the best possible way for me – and actually, that has been the main motivation all my life - I won’t ever really be examining deeply what it is that causes suffering and prevents the free flow of Love.
If I get the things I crave for - you know, privilege, recognition, acknowledgment, inclusion etc., while I still don’t know my OK-ness, my deep worth, my greatness, whatever happens, then those things will mask my underlying dependence on them. If I get the natural things my body wants, like sex or money or companionship, but am still relying on those things for my alright-ness, I will be asleep, and delaying the inevitable confrontation that everything conditional will fall away. Everything.