Skip to main content

Love Is Forgiving: Undoing Conditioning Through Acceptance

| Nirmala | Awakening

Love Is Forgiving: Undoing Conditioning Through Acceptance

Published on
25 July 2015

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 need to 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.