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Love Is Forgiving

Written by Nirmala on .

Years ago I read something by Satyam Nadeen where he suggested that prior to his spiritual awakening, his conditioning (specifically his Enneatype as described by the Enneagram) could clearly predict 90% of his behavior. That left 10% of the time when he was acting in a more spontaneous and authentic way. After his awakening, he found that his conditioning still seemed to determine 80% of his actions, and so that meant that now 20% of the time he was being more authentic and responding in the moment.

Those numbers are probably not very exact, and every person's experience would be unique in the degree to which their conditioning was transformed. But it is striking in a number of ways that the change he observed in himself was not as radical and total as some might expect from a profound spiritual awakening.

A lot of our conditioning is not actually problematic and so it is likely that much of it would not change. There are lots of practical aspects to our programming, ranging from knowing how to change a flat tire to subtle appropriate social behaviors that are generally useful and functional in daily life. It seems reasonable that many of these kinds of conditioned behaviors might not be affected much at all by a deep recognition of our true underlying nature. This is like software on our computer that works well for what it is intended to do.

The rest of our conditioning has a tremendous amount of momentum, and so it is still not surprising that even some of the less functional aspects of our conditioning might not be instantly dissolved in even a series of spiritual realizations. Perhaps this can help in understanding why even great spiritual teachers have at times behaved in less than ideal ways. Even when a very high amount of conditioning has been truly dissolved, there is bound to still be pockets of dysfunctional patterns in every human being.

An opportunity in all of this is to have compassion and forgiveness when someone we admire acts in a particular moment with something less than integrity. If we hold someone to an unrealistic standard of perfection, then we are bound to be disappointed.

And there is a flip side to this: 20% authenticity is double the amount of spontaneous and genuine action compared to someone who is still only able to access deeper sources of inspiration and motivation 10% of the time. The reason we are so drawn to spiritual leaders as role models is that in comparison to the average person, there is a refreshing and inspiring amount of genuine authenticity that is undeniably present. We can still appreciate and honor the wisdom, kindness, presence and love that flow more abundantly in a person who has a profound degree of spiritual development.

In every relationship whether it is with a teacher, a friend, a family member, or even with ourselves, we can still be discriminating enough to recognize when actions are authentic and coming from an essential aspect of Being and also when actions are coming from a more conditioned and limited aspect of our nature as humans with human limitations. The latter is almost always an opportunity to hold someone with compassion and forgiveness, even as we take appropriate action to protect ourselves or others if any actions are truly harmful.

It helps to keep things in perspective: What is the whole truth of the relationship, or of our own actions? Perhaps by understanding that even a high degree of spiritual insight and awareness does not mean someone is 100% beyond reproach, we can learn to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and also not drink the bathwater just because the baby is so cute. The balanced view is to see the human and the divine, the conditioned actions and the relative gifts of freedom and authenticity and to respond when appropriate to the whole person.

I have found that in every human relationship I have had (including those with my spiritual teachers and spiritual friends), there has always been a mix of enlightened action and conditioned reactivity. I find the same mix in my own behavior, and while I still question and examine my own actions and those of others, I mostly find that acceptance and understanding is the most useful response. In accepting and forgiving the limitations in myself and in the very human friends and teachers I have known, I am able to also benefit the most profoundly from their sometimes remarkable and inspiring holiness.

Acceptance and forgiveness is also the most effective way to bring transformation to our own conditioning and the conditioning of others. Of course, it is always appropriate to take action to protect yourself and others from physical or emotional harm. Being forgiving does not imply allowing truly unhealthy behavior to continue. But compassion and forgiveness is the path forward when we encounter the remaining pockets of painful conditioning in ourselves and in our dearest friends and guides.

In the deepest sense, forgiveness is seeing the whole truth. We naturally forgive even a very unkind person when we see that it is not their true nature that is being unkind, just as it is not the true nature of a spiritual master who occasionally acts without kindness. Unkindness always flows from the conditioning that we have accumulated in this and possibly many lifetimes. This conditioning is not our fault. We did not put it there, and it naturally takes time for it to be completely resolved.

If we understand that it is always a mixture of the divine and the conditioned as long as there is a human being before us, then forgiveness and acceptance is a natural response. In the challenging interplay of human interactions, it helps to remember that love is for giving and love is forgiving.


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Not Knowing

Written by Nirmala on .

(Note: I occasionally repost an older blog post on here to introduce it to new readers.)

We spend much of our life in pursuit of knowledge. It seems you can never know too much and our families and culture all support this approach to life. As a result most of us find it uncomfortable or even frightening to not know something. It seems difficult to not know what to do, what you want, or what is going to happen.

But what if there is a richness and possibility in the experience of not knowing? What if in our rush to get to the place of knowing and certainty we pass over the empty spaces of uncertainty that may contain even deeper truths? Life is complex and has many dimensions. Some of the more subtle and yet profound elements of our life may not fit so easily into concepts and ideas....our usual type of knowing. Discovering these deeper dimensions may require a slowing down in our thought and action to allow the quieter and deeper aspects of existence to be recognized. Is not knowing really a place of lack or incompleteness, or is there something worthwhile to be found in the silent moments even when we truly do not know anything?

There is nothing wrong with knowing something when you do know it. But it turns out there is also nothing wrong with the experience of not knowing, and not knowing can even lead to surprising new depths of knowing. Becoming familiar and comfortable with not knowing can also allow a more complete and satisfying experience of life as it is. Since what we do not know is often much greater than what we do know, the space of not knowing is where much of life is actually happening.

Right now, do you really know how your heart manages to beat so regularly? Do you really know how electricity works, where your life is going, how to grow and improve as a person, what love really is, who to trust, and why you are here? And yet your heart is beating, electricity does seem to work, your life is going somewhere and you somehow seem to grow as it unfolds, love and trust do happen, and finally you are here, you do exist. All of these experiences are not contained in or dependent on your knowledge and yet they are happening and add tremendously to the richness of your life...

And yet we struggle against not knowing. We strain and strive to know as much as we can. We push ourselves to learn more and more. What if this pushing and striving is a source of our pain and difficulty in life? What if not knowing by itself is a perfectly fine sensation? It is only when we are struggling against that experience that it becomes painful. Again there is also nothing wrong with knowing, or not knowing. It is our striving and efforting to have another experience that is painful.

To simply not know can be a profound relief form the struggle. And it can even open our awareness up fully to allow ourselves to not know. It is when we do not know that we tend to pay attention. In the blank space of not knowing is a natural curiosity and hunger for the truth. This curious hunger is an alive and always changing experience of the richness of all that can be known and all that is beyond our usual ways of knowing.


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