Student: I recently went to a vacation spot I love only to discover the landlady has dogs! I don’t like being around dogs. She said they are friendly and, like all dog lovers, seemed to think that I will “get used” to them. Well, I don’t want to get used to them. They make me uncomfortable. But I so want to go back there.
Teacher: Perhaps you can use your next vacation there as an opportunity to see if the story of discomfort around dogs is really true.
Student: How can it not be true? I’m afraid of dogs. Besides, why is it that dog lovers are not told to examine their preferences? Why is not liking dogs something to look at while liking them is not? That feels unfair.
Teacher: Whose salvation are you working out diligently?
Principle: We are here to use everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop that and end suffering.
One of the greatest gifts that we can be given in our practice is to be asked to examine a belief that is so intrinsic to our sense of self that our first reaction is violent resistance.
There is much to learn from this experience.
For many of us, the conditioned reaction when a preference, a belief, or an assumption is challenged is to feel that our concerns are not understood. We feel dismissed and invalidated. The ego-identity is threatened and moves into “self” defense. “What gives him the right to say that to me?”“You don’t know how I feel.”“Why is she allowed to do what she prefers while I’m not?” “Why do I always have to accommodate other people’s preferences?”“Why is what I want not acceptable?” “Why can’t I just be how I am?” It can be difficult to see, in the midst of all that self defense, that what’s being protected is ego-identity.
The territory around an ego-identity is always surrounded by fear. We are well trained not even to approach that territory, to avoid it at all costs. This keeps our attention on the realms of “self” defense instead of examining the processes of resistance and fear. For if we looked at it directly, what we might discover is that there is no “self” to be defended.
Practice seldom challenges content. It always invites us to look at process. We accept the invitation because we are not on the path to live an unexamined life. We are here to be open to looking at anything that stands in the way of freedom.
The guidance to the student is not to stop being afraid of dogs but to examine the process of fear itself, to see how she is kept from examining fear. As long as we cannot look at what causes us to suffer, we are forever bound in the coils of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. It is a true act of kindness to be gently and firmly encouraged to keep looking. The invitation is to embark on an exploration that very likely will result in being free to return to a favorite vacation spot without fear of friendly canines!
When ego can no longer use fear as its weapon, it’s out of business. For that reason it is a worthy practice to look under the bed and realize there are no monsters. When we practice being open to looking, we train ourselves to confront and transcend what keeps us “in fear.” We build the muscles that assist us in reinforcing our adequacy to be with Life, no matter what presents itself. We stop fueling the story that discomfort is something we must spend our time being afraid of and avoiding.
Practice: Examine a “preference,” something you have never questioned, something you take for granted. Notice if there is resistance to choosing an alternative. What beliefs and assumptions and identities are being maintained around this preference? What does that reveal about how karmic conditioning controls your experience? Record and Listen to what arises.
Practical Tip: Conditioning always focuses on content. Life is a process. Overcoming a fear or examining a preference is usually framed by egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate as a “do that once and for all and perfectly” situation. Allow yourself the luxury of living Life as a process. Notice how that changes the exploration.