Why is it hard for us to do the things we know are good for us?
What is with us? Why are we not able to do the things which are in our self-interest? What is it that is so difficult about making loving choices?
Here’s a simple example. If I want to lose weight, it’s technically very simple. I ingest fewer calories then I expend. I eat when I’m hungry. I never allow hunger to build up. I drink water. I avoid toxins. I stop eating when I’m full. I make healthy choices—I eat nutritious and real food, and avoid all the non-food which is so furiously marketed to me. I exercise.
And yet, maintaining healthful weight is a big challenge for many of us.
Why is that? Why do we procrastinate and vacillate? Why do we have trouble deciding? Why don’t we know our purpose and passion?
‘A human being… experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison …’ -Einstein
Most of us are not aware of the many and conflicting beliefs that we unconsciously operate from. This is what it means to be stuck. When beliefs have enough energy, we begin to identify with them. We look for self in these beliefs.
The conflict of beliefs–We feel many conflicts: the conflict of putting off short term gratification for long term benefits, the conflict of the conditioning of gender and age and cultural beliefs, the conflict in the difference between what we want today and what we want tomorrow, the conflict of having to deal with the disparity of ideals and the practicalities of life—we have to have food and money and shelter and secure a future for us and our kids.
To overcome these conflicts, we often turn to self-discipline and virtuous words. We use self-improvement, self-discipline, how to find passion, how to get things done, how to stop procrastinating, religion, spirituality, motivation, positive thinking, the ideas of success and failure, virtuous characteristics of honor, humility, dedication, commitment, perseverance, and so on.
There is of course nothing wrong with any of these highly virtuous and validating concepts. It’s just that none of these virtues, as we find out sooner or later, are any guarantee of conscious living. How many of us end up in lifestyles which may be full of achievement, but which are not at all resonant?
The resistance of beliefs– We are trained at a young age to create an idea of “I” and then we pile on beliefs and reactions connected to this idea of “I.” And from then on, everything we do and think and feel and say, we do for and because of the false “I.”
Our conditioned beliefs are our samskara, the software which drives us, and our actions and decisions which come from this conditioning are our karma.
Living according to our karma, is living re-actively according to conditioning and beliefs.
Disconnected from our true nature, we resort to living by beliefs. We are in fact afraid of our true nature. It’s even built into our language. We call it “base nature.” We are afraid that if we are truly natural, unadorned by beliefs, we will be primitive and lost and lazy. We strive to maintain an image of ourselves as right and good, and we’re afraid that without self-discipline and virtuous and strong ideas we will fall apart.
Rebellion–To some extent we realize that living by beliefs and conditioning is not natural to us, and so sometimes we create beliefs and behavior of rebellion. We often actively seek disapproval from ourselves and others. But this contrary movement is very much the same thing—it still rises from the battle of conflicting beliefs.
The false “I” is ever-changing–The “I” which wants to meditate tomorrow morning is not the same “I” which rolls over and hits the snooze button. The “I” which wants to lose weight is not the same “I” which gobbles up a pint of ice cream. The “I” which wants to emerge from the Dark Night is not the same “I” which knows the whole thing is a delusional concept.
Struggle and effort— We have a deeply ingrained belief that anything worthwhile in life must be achieved with struggle and effort. This is so deeply ingrained that in the rare moments that our lives do flow smoothly, we may feel guilty or fearful that the flow will soon come to an end.
Beliefs fragment our being–How many minds do we really have? If we want to exercise or lose weight or quit smoking or have a relationship or let go of hurt or see through our delusions, is there a mind which wants to and a mind which doesn’t?
This, in fact, is the problem. We are always of many minds. We are a complex of conflicting and limiting beliefs.
The search for unity
And so all our thrashing about really comes down to the business of finding out how to unify. When a whole mind wants to quit smoking, there are no conflicting beliefs. It doesn’t want to quit smoking today and want a cigarette the next morning. In fact, this is exactly what happens when people do finally quit. They quit when they are able to make a unified decision. The whole mind makes a decision—not just one corner of it. If there are no conflicting beliefs, there are no problems.
It is difficult to live in a mind full of conditioning and conflicting beliefs. It feels chaotic, claustrophobic, uncertain. It is stale, based on past beliefs, and so the future is always a variation of the past. This is suffering.
A whole mind feels good. It isn’t chaotic. A whole mind is light, just being is delicious, breathing is delicious, decisions come pre-made, and it is no longer driven by fear and desire. It does not look for itself in the validation of beliefs. This is resonance. This is flow.
Every spiritual journey is in fact a quest for this union. It is the search for a whole mind, a whole being, where the mind and heart are one, free of conditioning and beliefs.
How do we do the things which are good for us?
“Awareness gives you your life back. You can then decide what to do with it.” –Kabbat Zinn
How do we do the things which are good for us? How do we know what is good for us in the first place?
Lester Levenson said awakening is either simple or impossible. The insight that awakening to our true nature is about letting go of beliefs, and not accumulating more beliefs, is either simple or it is impossible.
With letting go, we can unify our heart and mind. We stop listening to thoughts and beliefs, and listen to Essence, and eventually, choices are not even necessary.
For most of us, this is a gradual process, sometimes an uncomfortable process. The process reminds us to drop our reliance on thoughts and beliefs and conditioning, over and over again, in layers, and instead to listen to the Essence which lives through us.
Re-train ourselves with Love. True self-acceptance is looking in the mirror and saying, “I am a perfect adaptation to everything I have experienced and believe. Who I think I am is not an error. I am a perfect response. I responded in best way I could—the only way I could. Even my conditioning, beliefs, self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-hatred are a perfect response.”
Often we validate our ego by making self-acceptance difficult. The ego will resist love and allowing. We may feel that if we completely accept who we are, we will be locking ourselves in. We believe change only happens when we judge and resist and use the energy of struggle and effort to evolve.
The key to understanding self-acceptance is you do not need to force love to happen. When there is resistance, love the resistance. Evolution is natural, even inevitable, when we stop resisting.
Get into the flow of awakening. Awareness is the magic which allows us to experience the world as it is manifesting, rather than through the filters of beliefs. When we are aware of our internal experience, we experience directly, and no energy is expended on building up the complex maze of patterns which separate us into a confused mass of limiting beliefs.
Accept the ebb and flow—with love we can fully accept that there will be times of confusion and doubt and low energy.
If habits need to change, change exactly one habit at a time. Change is difficult because with change, we always leave something familiar behind. We can start by lovingly accepting this, and when we want to change something, we focus on one change. When we want to achieve a goal, we focus on one goal at time.
Discipline and self-improvement and virtuous characteristics and effort do have a place in our lives. When there is love of being and there is awareness, there is less and less reliance on beliefs. Self-discipline then is no longer the struggle over the resistance of conflicting beliefs and drives.
Simplify ruthlessly, declutter, pare down commitments, pare down goals to the very essential. Often, we are not able to discern what is good for us in the midst of daily clutter and busy-ness.
Rely on others. Only you can do the things which are good for you; nobody else can do it for you; but you also don’t have to do it alone. Often, while letting go and awakening, we can come to periods of paralyzing confusion. In these times it may be difficult for us to do many things, but the one thing we can always do is to rely on the many compassionate resources which are available to us: friends, family, community, books, blogs…