Becoming self-aware and learning to recognize where we have work to do can be a difficult process. But the difficulty is only in the complexity and the discomfort of seeing our shadows. It also requires a degree of letting go of control and protective stories.
The complexity arises partly because we’re built in layers so there’s layers to what moves us. And partly because many dynamics are layered in themselves. For example, we have unresolved trauma from a nasty experience in our childhood. We didn’t have good skills for healing so we learned to suppress it instead. When experiences remind us sub-consciously of the original experience, we get reactive, then have a story to explain why we’re reacting this way. And often a story to explain the story. As ego claims experiences as “mine,” our identity gets tied in to these stories and experiences, making it more entangling. All of these run as automatic programs in the sub-conscious habit-mind until we stop and look and see through it.
We can classify our needs a bit – not to make this a mental exercise but to help recognize our internal dynamics. Notice how many of these needs are natural.
1) Physical needs: food, warmth, clean air, water, sleep, safety, etc.
These can be subverted by culture, expectations, etc. yet the needs remain.
2) Emotional needs: love, affection, connection, belonging, etc.
When these are not met, we may engage in various behaviors like suppression, escapism, acting out, substance abuse, and so on. These are aversion responses that don’t meet the needs. They attempt to avoid the feelings but lead to more of the same. Healing can shift our experience in surprising ways,
3) Mental needs: making sense of the world, communication, understanding, etc.
The mind naturally makes stories so it feels it has a handle on things. But a lot of these stories began in childhood and have little bearing on the world as it is. Yet rather than recognizing we have a faulty explanation, we often build further stories to explain the stories. The ego wanting to feel in control further subverts our perception. Ironically, the ego knows it’s not in control but claims authorship and supports stories to maintain the illusion. Then the ego can feel it controls the person. It’s rather like having a manipulative close friend.
When any of these needs are not met to some degree, they tend to be repressed. This leads to reactivity, protectionism, and darker ideas and emotions. Over time, it also leads to health challenges. We see compensatory behaviours like wanting to overcome others or be better than. History is full of bad behaviour by people exemplifying these issues. For example, thinking we’re better than others or that they’re wrong or evil makes it easy to treat them badly. The flip side is also true where we minimize ourselves, not wanting others to see our perceived short-comings.
All of this is fundamentally an issue of not knowing who we are and not knowing how to heal our past.
Mixed in with these personal needs are the consequences of our activity, including our reactivity. This can show up locally or in how the world behaves. For example, repressed anger can lead to acting out or inflammatory conditions. This happens both personally and in the larger community; the man making a scene and the riot.
The field of karma, of action and response is fundamentally simple in its principles but vastly complex in its process. Remember that karma isn’t personal, It’s a universal law of nature operating in the world as a whole. Consequences are thus always in relationship to all concerned at the best time – even if inconvenient for you.
There are also layers of emphasis. For example, we may find certain areas of life are very fruitful or very difficult. Destiny or fate may seem to hold sway. Other areas of life seem free-form and less determined. We may enjoy the resulting freedom of choice or struggle with decisions. Free will seems more obvious there. The emphasis will also vary in the cycles of time.
Events arise that require action, like rebuilding after a storm or helping others awaken. Even if this is unseen, everything flows as a whole. We may feel like seaweed, tossed by the waves of the ocean. But we’re immersed in an ocean of profound depth and infinite potential.
These experiences show the style of karma in this specific life and time. The dominant pattern and cycles can be read in a Jyotish chart (Vedic astrology).
Deeper still, we have dharma, that which sustains. This is a level of responsibility to self, family, community, and spirit. By supporting our world, we are supported.
At the deepest level we have the shaktis, the divine drivers moving the larger flow of life forward. This includes waking up, cognitions, callings, and more. These show as universal flows and those occasional drops that light things up here and there.
The point is not to analyze your life and categorize the impulses that arise. Rather, it is to support gradually becoming more conscious of what is driving our bus. Then we can accept what is natural, resolve what is reactive, and hear the “still small voice” prodding us along.
This is the way to the peace we speak of so much in this season.