Kindness and Contrivance

November 22, 2023

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Could you talk about the difficulties one has of accepting kindness?

That's a very complex topic because we have to feel that kindness is really kindness.

Many people offer us many things, and sometimes they're offered in the spirit of kindness. Sometimes there's some other feeling attached to it, some kind of manipulation or bargain happening.

So we have to, in all circumstances, use discernment.

And I'm saying this particularly because you're a woman, and women are, by and large, trained to second-guess themselves. So many times you hear women say, He's just trying to be nice. Why am I rejecting this? He's just trying to be nice.

And there's this sort of dance that a lot of women do to avoid their own clarity about a circumstance, and try to be okay with whatever anyone is doing or offering them.

So I just need to put that caveat in there, that we really need to learn to identify and trust our own clarity about a circumstance and be courageous enough to act on our clarity. And not always be trying to move away from our clarity in the interest of not being criticized, or not risking rejection, or something like that.

But if it's real kindness that's being offered and we have trouble recognizing it, we have trouble accepting it, that really just speaks to how we feel about ourselves.

So when we feel badly about ourselves, we feel shame, or we feel lesser-than, or we feel something's wrong with us...

Because we live in this Titan culture, we're trained to keep away from other people. Because we feel that we're not attractive or there's something other people won't like if we're not feeling good about ourselves.

So if someone tries to break through that wall of isolation with kindness, sometimes people will reject that because they feel that they're not in a presentable condition.

For instance, I was talking to somebody the other day about 12-step programs, and somebody was saying to me, Oh, I don't really want to do the 12 steps. [laughs] And I said, You don't have to. Just don't do them.

All of the research points to what is completely obvious, which is that fellowship and community is really the medicine, not the steps necessarily. I mean, for some people the steps are wonderful. But not everybody has to do the same thing.

But what is really the medicine is community.

Now, in this culture, when we have something like that happening, we are denigrated and made to feel lesser-than and made to feel ashamed. There's a lot of prejudice around people who have various addictions.

So the tendency would be to isolate so that you don't have to experience that. But what we really need is community.

So how do we move from wanting to isolate because we feel there's something wrong with us, or we don't want the pushback, or we don't want to feel that we're being denigrated. We only want to show up when we're feeling good and looking good.

How do we move from that to understanding that community is the medicine, kindness is the universal solvent for all karmas.

When we're feeling low about ourselves, when we're feeling depressed, when we're feeling lonely, we feel shame because we're supposed to be strong and happy.

Our constitution says it guarantees us happiness. Why aren't we happy?

And we take everything very, very personally. We forget that we're in a huge mandala of circumstances, historical, cultural, social, political circumstances, environmental... And we blame everything on ourselves.

Everything's about our psychology and our childhood and our this and our that.

So we're carrying this huge burden and we feel ugly. A lot of people just feel ugly and unpresentable. And we've been trained to feel this. Some of you might be hearing these words and thinking, Oh, no, that's how I feel. [laughs]

It's not your fault!

You have been highly trained to feel this way. All of us have. There's a really pernicious ableism in this culture. Really pernicious. And it affects all of us.

This is confession time. When I go to the doctor, I don't really want them to know. If I have a really bad pain, I'll say, Oh, I have a medium pain. If I have a medium pain, I'll say, I have a light pain. [laughs]

I'm at the doctor! I'm supposed to be telling the doctor what's wrong. That's why I'm there, right? I'm not supposed to be trying to convince the doctor that I'm okay. [laughter]

This is ableism that we've internalized because our culture doesn't have any compassion for people who are projecting less than 100%. Nobody's 100%, we're humans. What does that even mean?

But in any case, we don't accept kindness because we don't want to show up for it. We're embarrassed. We want to isolate.

A lot of people say, Well, I don't feel worthy of it, that's why I don't accept it.

If you don't feel worthy of it, what your response to an offer of kindness or generosity is going to be— that you don't believe it. You don't believe you're worthy, so you don't believe what anyone's offering you actually is kindness or actually is generous.

You always think there's some ulterior motive happening. That's really the flavor of when you don't feel worthy.

But when you're just feeling badly about yourself and you won't accept the medicine and fellowship, you have to look to our whole culture about that, why we do that.

How ashamed we feel when we're not healthy in some particular way, especially if it goes on too long.

I even had a therapist once when my mom died. I was grieving pretty hard for about a year. And she said to me, Boy, you really put your mom on an altar. [laughs]

She was actually criticizing me for grieving her too much. A therapist, right? Unheard of— or heard of, unfortunately.

So we really have to examine all the really subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we won't accept help in the form of kindness or some other form of help. Like you go to the doctor, they're supposed to help you with what's wrong, but you minimize what's wrong.

We really have to look at that and how that's been instilled in us.

And how the tendency to see everything as a psychological problem, when it's actually a much larger problem, has also been instilled in us. And that we believe that stuff and we take that on and we even feel worse.

There's nothing more suffocating than taking on all environmental problems, all problems of capitalism [laughter], of history, bigotry, lack of care in the educational system, lack of care in the healthcare system, and taking all that on and saying you have a problem. There's nothing more suffocating than that.

No one ever has a problem in isolation. And no one's problems are just because of what happened to you in this particular childhood. It's just not possible for that to be true.

The thing is that if we do come find the courage to accept real kindness, or to recognize it, then we always feel better. It always feels better to be less isolated.

We think that depression causes us to want to isolate. That seems very natural. I'm really depressed, so I'm not coming out today. And that's kind of been explained as a symptom of depression by the medical system, the narrative about our psychology.

The reason we want to stay home when we feel lonely is because it's shameful to be lonely in this culture, not because it's endemic to us that we would stay home when we're lonely.

We stay home because we've been taught to be ashamed of feeling lonely. That's just one example.

So one thing you can do if you, under the umbrella of having a difficult time accepting kindness, is reach out when you want to isolate. See what that's like. Somebody told me that when I was very young, to resist the urge to isolate and to reach out. And that was very, very good advice.

And it's hard sometimes, very hard. But understand that the very urge to isolate is something we've been taught to do. And it's connected to a whole system of things, ideas about people and how we're supposed to be.

In my years as a teacher, and just as a person, people think all kinds of things are embarrassing that aren't.

Many, many, many hundreds of times students will come to me and say, I'm embarrassed about this, that, or yeah. I'm like, What is embarrassing about that?

Nothing. This is all learned behavior.

Another teacher said there is nothing embarrassing about being human. I think that's a very good thing to remember. Embarrassment is a form of shame that we've been taught because we think we're supposed to be other than we are.

So try to reach out when you want to isolate. Just experiment with that, play with that, see how that is.

And sometimes it feels like you're pushing against a wall when you try to do that. Sometimes it's easier, sometimes it's harder. But it's always a good move because community and kindness, fellowship, is always medicine.

My personal history as a woman and a queer person and someone who's been involved in social justice movements and thought very deeply about all that stuff there's something that's more than that, which is that I've always wanted everyone to have a bigger view of things.

I've always wanted us to include more in our sense of self, in our sense of what's happening. And to lift our heads up and out.

And because of that, I always just felt completely suffocated by this Western European psychological view of the self. It just felt like being squished in some sort of locked box. I really hated it from a really, really young age.

That was part of wanting everyone to take bigger breaths, and move more, and see more of what really comes in and makes a person happen. Stop taking on so much of those things so personally. It's such a burden.

And of course, that's what this tradition is about. That's why when we give teachings, we start with the big View.

Most other kinds of traditions, you start at the beginning. And the beginning is said to be the smaller view from where you sit. So most— Abrahamic traditions, the traditions from Asia, they start the teachings with our relative life. And they sort of progress from there, and eventually you get out to the bigger View.

But in the direct realization traditions, the teaching method is the opposite.

It's like, please, let's all go out and look at the big sky. Let's experience the big View first, the space. The origin, the beginning is actually the absolute, not the relative. And then let's include everything in that, bring everything into that.

But let's be in this big, big theater of life together first, before we narrow down our focus.

That also just really appeals to me given where I've come from and how I came in, with just wanting people to feel bigger about themselves and about life. The teaching method mirrors how things are actually created.

But of course, you have to be willing to go out in that big space.

And that's why these traditions are not for everybody. And every tradition is for somebody. But the people that actually feel thrilled by this kind of tradition are going to be able to tolerate being in that big space, being thrown into the deep end before you swim back to the shallow end. [laughs]

I love what someone said about Foundations. Many, many, many years ago, somebody said to me, Foundations is like sitting in front of an open firehose. And to me, that's the best. [laughs]

Bring it. That's how I feel about it.

But not everybody feels that way, or not everybody is able to sit there like that. So everything has to be appropriate for people.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about contrivance?

Well, contrivance implies a certain amount of effort. And any karmas that we are maintaining with our own effort could be said to be partaking of contrivance.

For instance, any effort to project a certain persona or personality. Now, there are aspects of our personality that we don't have much control over. We're not consciously putting effort into them because they're just happening. Maybe we don't even know they're happening. We have to learn about them.

But those aspects of being a person, trying to appear a certain way. That is the main form of contrivance that most people experience.

Most people are trying to be someone. At least in public, if not all the time. And that is a huge energy drain and the major form of contrivance we participate in.

A really common example is people who say the words in their head first and then edit before they speak. That's, like, a very, very common form of contrivance.

It's part of our karma, but it's deliberate and it's incredibly effortful. There's people who move a certain way in order to project a certain persona.

But pretty much everything we do to have a personality, or to construct a coherent self... Everything is contrived, all of it.

There are consequences for not being natural: exhaustion, lack of intimacy, loneliness, and in some cases, despair.

If we lose people because we're just being ourselves, just being natural? Sayonara. That's what I say.

And there are people who really do love us, who are upset about certain ways we might show up when we're not guarding. But they'll get over it eventually.

But we have to be willing to just let it hang out. And there are people who will come around, even after being upset for a time. But it is just simply not worth the cost to use your energy in that way.

There's a lot of contrivance that we don't notice. We're so habituated to it. We don't even notice how much effort it's taking to maintain it. But when we start noticing it, we start noticing how tired we are from doing it. Eventually, it becomes impossible to keep doing it.

And I'm talking about when we're doing sadhana, going along this road. There's something that has to happen. There has to be some kind of loosening that happens.

But eventually, you simply won't be able to continue.

I'm speaking from personal experience. You'll go from, Oh, my God, I just noticed, what, this thing that I'm doing, pushing out so much energy to do this thing, to be this person. I don't know how to stop it. It's just happening. It feels like compulsion.

You go from that to, Oh, I just can't do this at all anymore.

And at that point, it's a choiceless choice. You won't have the luxury of thinking, Oh, I'll just keep doing it so that so-and-so's not upset with me. You'll just have to let go.

When we're doing morning worship, I've been talking about just feel who you are when you're not trying to be anybody. You actually arrived already fully formed as a person. You already are someone. You don't have to make anything up.

And we can feel that life in us. We can feel that pristine life in ourselves if we just stop and tune into that.

And that's where we want to be moving from all the time. There's many ways we could talk about that. Our natural self has so much more intelligence and creativity and sweetness and generosity than all the crap that we contrive. I mean, bleh.

But it also has a sense of what I call original innocence. It's not the innocence that is ignorant innocence. So, a baby has ignorant innocence.

But original innocence is the joy of being alive with full awareness. And we can really discover that when we stop contriving a self.

I always had the sense there was a self that was just way healthier, beyond any notion of normative health. That was just bursting with this vitality and intelligence that has nothing to do with whether we have a physical ailment or something. It's still there. It's never actually destroyed.

And I always knew it was there. And I basically spent my whole life trying to find that.

Then trying to share that, trying to convince other people [laughs] that they could also live that way. That they could also discover that.

And when I found this tradition, I was like, okay, this is it. This is how to do it.

Whatever circumstance you're in, whether it's at work or somewhere else, what you're going to want to express is care for others. A sense develops that you're not there to express yourself in some very personal way, although that happens just spontaneously.

But you really are more tuned into being in a circumstance with other people and seeing what's possible for them.

That includes a sense of appropriateness that is beyond our normal sense of appropriateness. A sense of appropriateness that's not governed by workplace culture, but is about what is appropriate for the people that you find yourself among. What is actually going to be helpful for them, and what is not.

And it just becomes a natural desire to be helpful and not to be unhelpful, and to try to discern and embody that. And that doesn't feel contrived at all at a certain point, but not right away.

So when you're not at that place yet, if you have the privilege to be able to do this, find a job where you can be less constrained.

There's a lot of range in workplaces and workplace cultures as to how spontaneously you can express yourself. How fearful you might legitimately be, if you express yourself in certain ways, you're going to be not treated well.

If you're in a circumstance where you feel very constrained at work, it really is worth looking into finding a different job where you can relax a little bit more and feel what you bring is more valued.

Not everybody has that possibility. But if you have that possibility, it's a good thing to consider. It's part of right livelihood.

You don't want to be in a job circumstance, if you don't have to be, where you have to completely mangle how you show up in order to not be denigrated, disparaged, and discriminated against.

My impression most of the time is that people underestimate other people's ability to host things that are not in a very, very narrow range.

So we internally police ourselves because we're afraid of other people's responses. But in many cases, people's responses aren't as terrible as we think they're going to be. And all that inner policing was not really 100% necessary.

So the way is you want to be a little scientist and test that out by just taking small risks over and over again and see what happens. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.