Are we divine beings, humans, beasts or worse—simply machines?
I’m firmly in the all beings have innate, unconditional basic goodness camp, but actualizing and living from confidence in that goodness may be another matter.
What does it take to claim our humanity and awaken to our true potential or in Thoreau’s terms to escape fromliving lives of quiet desperation.
Here’s my personal take on the matter after 60+ years on the planet, this go around, or as my Zen teacherBernie Glassman would say, “It’s just my opinion, man.”
Yes, the ground of transformation and spiritual development is gentleness, non-aggression.
Yes, self-empathy, self-acceptance and having an overall kind and friendly relationship with our own being are paramount.
Yes, we possess unconditional basic goodness innate wisdom and intrinsic healthiness.
And yes, we, nonetheles, have a lot of psychologically and neuro-biologically imprinted, survival and fear-based conditioning that simply gets in our way every day.
In the transmission of beliefs and mindsets from one generation to the next, both through our family lineages and the culture at large, we receive some good values, practical know how and pearls of wisdom—but unfortunately, we also get a lot of junk, a lot of useless misinformation and uninformed and faulty, fear-based beliefs and ideas.
In fact, most of us sadly, even in the best of circumstances, have received more junk than wisdom from our well-meaning predecessors.
It’s like the old computer analogy—garbage in, garbage out or GIGO.
We are literally programmed for mediocrity or worse, programmed to settle for whatever fits within the particular comfort zone of fear-based conditioning we inherited.
This negatively impacts our relationships, our career, our finances, our spiritual life, our happiness and fulfillment or lack thereof, and most importantly—it impacts our children and the world.
There’s no reason to blame anyone for this, including ourselves—it’s simply the human condition—and we all got what we got. However, unless we begin to take a very keen interest in this legacy and where it is or is not serving us (and the world) we are simply living as victims of our conditioning.
Even worse, we are just mindlessly passing it on to the next generation.
The ironic, or even tragic side of this is that we tend to get so identified with the personality we pasted together in our early years from this inherited collection of mostly junk programming and misinformation—in a effort to feel safe, cope and adapt to a scary world (from the child’s perspective)—that as adults, we will defend this personality’s right to exist practically to the death.
“Well, that’s who I am.” “You mean there’s something wrong with me?”
No, ultimately there is nothing wrong with us, a very important distinction, to say the least. And yes, relatively speaking, there can be a great deal wrong, or at least highly ineffective, limiting and even self-destructive in our programming.
Is making friends with our situation and having a sense of humor about it all a helpful, even necessary starting point? Absolutely and nonetheless, the point is not to remain stuck but rather to escape, transform or transcend this fear-based conditioning that otherwise binds us to a largely unconscious and mechanical life.
No, we don’t need fixing but our programming could use an overhaul or at least a tune up, that is, unless we are completely happy, fulfilled and inspired with the results we are creating in life. Our internally imprinted conditioning is the source of the meaning we attribute to each circumstance we face, which determines how we feel about it, which determines how we react to it, which determines our life and our destiny.
Until we make this process conscious, our claim to autonomous adulthood is specious at best.
It would be truer to say that we are very mechanically driven beings primarily acting from and playing out scripts based on the fears, traumas and unfulfilled needs of our childhood. That may be a tough pill, or even a seemingly insulting pill to swallow, but I’m afraid it’s true—until it isn’t.
Our true human destiny and highest potential lies in our capacity to awaken and transcend our neurobiology and psychological conditioning, both through deconstructing and transforming the fear based conditioning and through establishing confidence in a context of being that supersedes or transcends our conditioning altogether. Both approaches seem to be helpful and complimentary. It might go something like this:
1. Awaken to the pervasive impact of our fear-based conditioning.
2. Make friends with it, so as not to fuel it through aversion.
3. Observe and study it—clarity brings freedom.
4. Clarify our willingness to let go of previously unconscious habitual patterns and limiting beliefs that are clearly not serving—make boundaries with the past where needed.
5. Bravely step into the state of possibility, beyond the comfort zone of our fear-based conditioning, beyond the cocoon of the inherited misinformation we have turned into cherished beliefs and self-identities.
6. Embrace fear and live bravely with joy, passion, gratitude, fulfillment and contribution. Live in the challenge of what it means to be truly human, awake and alive.