Saturday, October 16, 2010

Patterns as Personality

Notes from Ken McLeod's podcast, Awakening from Belief 5b

Topic includes: The characteristics of patterns (mechanicality, resonance, crystallization, habituation, layering, webbing), patterns, personality, presence. Meditation instruction on physical reactions when a reactive pattern begins to run.

What is a pattern? A pattern is a mechanism that functions to erode attention.

A pattern erodes attention in order to keep something from being experienced. What would you have to experience inside if you didn't move away from the pain?

Once a pattern starts to run, you have no awareness. Everything that follows is totally mechanical. You may think you're acting rationally, but you're not. You're running a tape, a computer program.

It is triggered by resonance with a pain, discomfort, or feeling, which one is threatened by or uncomfortable with. So the pattern kicks into operation so you don't experience the feeling.

Over time, the pattern crystalizes into structures, which we call our personality. Such as:
    Always putting on a pleasant face
    Or perhaps another person, their default setting is attack

Four aspects of patterns:

1. Mechnicality
2. Resonance
3. Crystallization
4. Habituation

You act this way, and the whole world and everything in you becomes configured to accord to the pattern. (Habituation) That's how things keep going on and we get less and less freedom in our lives.

Two other aspects:

1. Layering -- patterns build up in layers.
2. Linking -- one pattern triggers the operation of another pattern

This approach is an instance of the middle way. Traditional Buddhism takes the viewpoint that all actions are volitional. Freudian psychology takes the position that no actions are volitional. Well… all of us have had experiences of acting volitionally, and we've probably all had experiences of just reacting.

In life, we encounter painful situations that we couldn't experience fully. Too threatening, too shocking. It could be positive too. But we didn't have at that time in our life the capacity to experience them. They remain there in us. Central to this is the basic function of a feeling. A feeling wants to be felt. When we don't feel something, it keeps nagging at us. For instance, a friend does something that hurts us, and we say, "I don't want to deal with that." It is still there and can start poisoning the relationship, until the time comes when you can actually experience it. "I was really hurt by that." And then you can choose whether to address it with the friend and take the consequences. The more you avoid the feeling, the more in the way it becomes, and the more imbalance is in the situation.

Then, let's say, another person comes to you with a similar situation. You may react with discomfort because the discomfort is within yourself. The imbalance within you starts to manifest in the world.

Something like this is operating every time we react. A mechanism starts to operate, and the attention which was just about to experience something is eroded. And on we go with our habituated lives. So, we keep falling out of awareness and into habituation every time we encounter a situation which resonates with something that we're not willing to experience.

The purpose of our practice is to cultivate a capacity of attention. Once our capacity increases, we become more and more able to experience the undischarged emotion that's at the core of a pattern. And when we can experience that undischarged emotion, the pattern doesn't need to run.

When you have that capacity, you're staying present. You're present with what is arising in you. The reaction moves you away from whatever the resonant emotion is.

As you do this again and again, an understanding starts to arise. This heartache or pain that you've always tried to avoid is only a feeling. It's not a fact. It won't kill you if you experience it.

It hurts and it hurts and it hurts and you cry, and it hurts some more. And after a while, it stops hurting. And you say, "Huh? What happened?" You were able to experience what you were avoiding. And you've gained a dimension of experience that you didn't have before.

As you sit with the pain, you feel it, you include the sensation of the pain. You don't focus on the pain. It may take five minutes, it may take five months. But you will get at what this resonates in you, and you will be able to experience it fully. Then you won't need to react to it anymore.

The practice of Buddhism is not about transcendence. It's about the practice of experiencing what is.

Do you have any choice about what is arising, right now?
And in the next moment, right now.
No. But you have a choice to experience it or not.

Suffering is generated by incapacity to experience what is arising right now.

Notes from Q&A:

We tend to take instructions and take it to an extreme level. It's a way of rejecting the instruction.
Just start with what is in front of you and take it from there. Do what you can right now and see what comes out of there.

When I see the way I react when I'm overwhelmed, it makes me want to develop a capacity of attention so I'm not overwhelmed.

It isn't necessary to label the emotions. What IS necessary is to develop a capacity for attention.

There's no one in charge of the structure. It's an illusion that there is someone in charge, and we cling to it very strong.

Meditation Practice:

Because of linkage or webbing, while our behavior can appear very complex, most people have at most 3 or 4 major patterns that drive them, and everything else is an elaboration.

Let your attention settle for 10-15 minutes.

Take a situation in which a pattern ran.

Go through the situation step by step.

You may find it helpful and keep the meditation from turning into a mass of thoughts, by checking in with your body sensations along the way. Body, emotions, stories and associations.

At a certain point you'll identify when a reactive pattern started to run. Pay particular attention to the body sensations and emotions and stories that are running right there. Don't try to analyze them. As you feel the reactions, they may feel intimidating. Here you use your breath as a rope. Lower yourself into the feeling with the rope. You may be able to identify the undischarged feeling which is the resonance of the pattern. If so, then rest with the feeling. Don't concentrate on it. Continue to rest on the breath and let the feeling open to you.

Next week's class: additional instruction on working with reactive patterns

No comments:

Post a Comment