Willpower, Expectations, and Competitive Partners

September 14, 2022

Shambhavi riffs on willpower vs desire, expectations in meditation practice, and competitiveness in romantic partnerships. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I want you to talk about control and discipline, and how those are related, or in opposition, or not.

Well, in my experience with myself and working with others, willfulness never succeeds. So we could talk about control and discipline from the perspective of willfulness, that we're imposing restrictions on ourselves.

Where we're trying to exercise brute-force will on ourselves, and then that fails. And the question might be, well, why does that fail?

Then we have something else which you could call natural control or natural discipline, which might be just as hard in terms of imposing self-restriction or routine, but it comes out of conscious desire.

So the basic principle to remember is that nothing happens if you don't want it to happen. You can't impose restriction or control or discipline on yourself if on some level you don't want to do that.

So most of the time, or maybe 100% of the time, when discipline and control fail, or vows fail, or you say like I have for the umpteen time, I'll never drink coffee again. And it fails over and over again, to the point where it's now a running joke. It is because I didn't really want to stop drinking coffee.

Now, let's just say there's another situation, which is that I don't want to stop drinking coffee on one level, but there's something else I want more than I want to drink coffee.

So I still want to drink coffee, but there's something else that I want more. That would cause me to restrict myself and to impose discipline on myself, and not drink coffee. But the underlying motive force is not willpower, it's desire.

Same thing with sadhana. Someday you might get up and think, oh God, I really don't want to practice today. Right? Of course, everyone has that experience. That is absolutely common, and it would be very weird if you never had that experience.

But then there's this other little thing happening, which is some other desire. You have this underlying greater desire for the fruit of sadhana, or just to be sitting in that space, or some other reason.

But if you're going to do it even in the face of not wanting, then you're going to do that. So we can't think our way through to discipline. Or we can only do that for very brief periods of time and then we give up.

Then we just sort of forget that we made that promise to ourselves. We conveniently forget. Or you're going to feel natural desire and even in the face of resistance you're going to keep going.

But it really is all about desire. And this is something that I encounter with students quite a bit. Someone comes to the practice and they're very enthusiastic at first, for whatever reason, but they don't have any sustaining desire.

And then they come to me and they're all upset. And they think there's something wrong with them. And they think there's a problem to be solved, and they want my help solving it. And I say, no, you just don't want to.

That's really it. You don't want to. [laughs] And when you want to, you will. So one of the things we want to guard against is making an opposition between restraint or control or discipline that's difficult and therefore we don't do it, and restraint or control that we want to do and therefore it's easy.

That isn't the case. It's still likely to be at least difficult at some points, even when we desire it. So remember that difficulty does not mean, or resistance does not mean, it's not the right thing for you necessarily.

Resistance is basically a phenomenon that happens when karmic momentum is going in one direction and a different desire is going in a different direction and they meet, and there's friction.

So you can't really experience resistance unless you're trying to change something. So in that sense, people come and say, oh, I feel so much resistance. That's actually not a bad thing in a lot of cases.

It's better than I feel no resistance, I'm doing no sadhana, it's great. No resistance whatsoever. [laughs] The question is, have you reached that tipping point when there's some bigger desire that is going to help you to tip into what looks from the outside like control and discipline, in order to do whatever it is that you want to do.

But understand that when you don't do something, it's because you don't want to, basically. And the reasons why you don't want to, of course, vary. It could be that you just have a samskara, karmic patterning, that has a lot of momentum.

And you just want that more than you want the thing that you think is better to want. It could be that the thing that you think you want but that you don't really want, is actually not good for you, but you only want it for conceptual reasons. Because it looks good on your resume or something like that.

You think you should want it, but you don't actually want it. [laughs] So there's all different kinds of nuances there. But the basic principle is when there is desire, then you have willpower. [laughs] You don't have willpower if you have no desire, or low desire.

And then of course, karma shows up in lots of different ways, including the condition of our subtle channels. So there can be desires that would be helpful for us to fulfill, but that we can't because our channels are not functioning with any clarity.

Some of this can be approached through Ayurveda or Chinese medicine, or proper lifestyle, actually a lot of it. But then of course, we also have to want to do that.

And in Ayurveda, there's this idea of samprapti, which is the disease process from health to death, basically. And once you get into the later stages of samprapti, you actually desire the things that are not good for you. So this is where you have to call in a professional and get some help unclogging your channels.

When we do our meditation practice, what is the expected result? [laughter] Silence? Calmness in all situations? If you compare to people, like, Buddha who was alert in all situations and he's calm and dead like a rock. Or Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who is almost in an intoxicated and in an inebriated state, unconscious of the surroundings.

How you just described the condition of Buddha and Ramakrishna came out of a book or you just heard it. Someone was talking about it and you heard that. You actually don't know what condition they were in, and you actually don't know what the fruit of meditation practice is.

That's the great adventure. You have to find out for yourself. So you're in a limited condition, just like all of us. And any idea that you have about what the fruit is, is also going to be limited.

It's going to be a product of your limitations, your ideas about it. So the idea is very boring. Like what you should be doing is very boring, right? Because we like to have goals, we like to know what to expect.

I'm going to just head for that goal of bliss. I'm going to head for that goal of being like a dead rock. I don't know why anyone would do that. [laughs] So the idea is that you're just doing the practice without expectation, with a sense of receptivity and openness.

If this reality is actually alive and self-aware, it will communicate with you. If you have these very strong goals, these very strong ideas about what should happen, where can the communication get in?

You become impervious. So again, to use the example of a party, you go to a party and you have very strong expectations of an encounter with someone you're going to have there.

So you approach that person with your strong expectations. But that person doesn't know anything about your expectations and frankly doesn't care. They're just being themselves.

But you don't even notice that because you're there with your expectations. Trying to see if you can get what you think you should be getting. That's not a good way to relate. [laughs] So when you meet a new person, you want to be receptive, you want to have your perceptions open.

You want to be aware, you want to be receiving new, fresh knowledge of that person that you're meeting. So that's the attitude that you want to have. Receptive, not aggressively seeking a particular goal.

See what's there. This idea that I have to have this certain experience, in order to prove my spiritual value. Sorry, but that's just not what it's about. It's about becoming immersed in that alive awareness. How are you going to do that if it's all about you and your experience that you're trying to have?

So in a sense, there's much less to do than we want. We want there to be a lot to do. We want to be able to be on a mission, seeking. That's very fun and exciting, and it sort of distracts us.

But actually, we should just be there for whatever shows up. It seems more boring, but the process of doing meditation or sadhana will subtle-ize your senses, so that you'll be able to subtle-ize the nuance of things.

So the other thing you can think of is having sex. Most of the people in the world are having very bad sex. And one of the reasons is all the expectations around sex. So that creates bad sex. [laughter]

If you're going to have sex with somebody and they have all these expectations of you and of themselves and they're making a beeline to embody these expectations, nobody's there being with what's actually happening.

There's no communication happening and it's very very bad. Everyone pretends it's fine, but it's not.

Why are people competitive? [laughter]

And how can they stop? Because I'm better. I'm not competitive. [laughter]

Oh, you heard the second part without me saying it out loud. Interesting. [laughter]

Well, personal experience. What can I say? Yeah. When I was in my twenties, one of my taglines was, I'm the least competitive person I know. Just like such an oxymoron.

But anyway, we have to have a sense of irony about ourselves. Or we just can't survive this kind of practice, or life probably. So all of the different configurations of how people show up are basically God's artistry.

The artistry of this alive aware reality, creating all different kinds of forms. And all different kinds of expressions. And infinite worlds and infinite beings. Like this explosion of mad diversity.

As Ma said, God has created a madhouse for his own enjoyment. So every single configuration is for the same thing. Basically the amusement of this alive aware reality.

Now we're born with human bodies, so we're born in human realm. And although we can sort of dabble in the flavors of lots of different realm characters, our major flavor is competitiveness. [laughs]

That's the major flavor of the human realm. So it's just something to do with human karmic realm vision, or configuration. This particular wing of God's gallery.

And if you read ancient puranas like the Mahabharata, competitiveness is still the main samskara that's being talked about. So this is just what we're working with.

And of course there are gradations. We're not all condemned to the same degree of competitiveness. But most of us are trying in some way to prove our value.

We have an issue with lack of contact with our eternal value, which causes us to want to be proving our value when it's already pre-approved. Pre-proved.

So we're just running around like hamsters in a cage trying to get to the top of the wheel, but every time we get there it just keeps turning. [laughs] So we never actually get anywhere.

And this can be relaxed, we can relax this. When we're looking for the explanation, we're also being very human realm. you know, trying to have that little neat explanation for why something is.

But there really is only one answer to that question and it's because this is what God does. This is a reflection of the creativity of this subjectivity that we call reality. And now we get to play with that and work with that and see how free of that we can become.

Do you have any suggestions for working with someone in a partnership where the other partner kind of puts a competitive feel on the relationship?

Yeah. That particular dynamic is the gendered version of that karma. Where there's all sorts of subtle ways in which the female aspect is being undermined and devalued. There's actually a modern word for it. Maybe you've heard it, negging? Have you ever heard that word?


It means using something that sounds funny, or even complimentary, or lighthearted, but it's actually negative and undermining and disparaging. But it's basically someone jockeying to make themselves feel better.

Because they don't have a sense of their own value. Which doesn't mean you should put up with it, and you can't really deal with it. In other words, you're not going to be the one who makes the other person change.

And there are different kinds of modalities people can use to approach that. I only know this modality. I only know how to do spiritual practice.

There is a very short meditation on the Jaya Kula website, the Golden Egg Meditation, which is precisely to try to put people a little more in touch with their eternal value.

I'm not saying that's going to be curative, but the only thing you can really do is kind of refuse to put up with it. Refuse to be disparaged. And the best way to do that is not to argue. It's just to leave the room.

You can do what they say in twelve-step programs, detach with love. While you're doing that. I'm just going to go into the other room now, honey. See you when you're done.

Often in very gendered relationships there comes a point at which a female-identified person ends up making choices we were calling disempower moves, that are sometimes about avoiding a conflict. They even may be borderline on the edge of manipulative. They're just to stay out of the mashing mechanism that can sometimes come after them.

Well, my own perception and experience is that every day, in so many ways, from subtle to gross, women are sidestepping and ducking and manipulating and strategizing. In order to avoid male violence.

Whether that violence is just verbal violence, or some subtle disparagement, or subtle anger, or subtle threat, or subtle rejection. Or to everything from that to murder, and everything in between.

So I think that it's so ubiquitous that we don't even notice a lot of it when we're doing it. And we've learned so many skills to try to avoid male anger, male violence, male disparagement, and it's a daily occurrence.

So we have choices of how to respond to that. And each choice is going to be based on a particular circumstance. There's not one paradigm that's going to work.

But we do have the choice of just calling it out baldly for what it is. And you may not get what you want. But it might change the dynamic a little bit in your situation, if you did that.

Sometimes ducking is completely appropriate. I duck a lot when I just perceive that there is no point to engaging in the inevitable situation that's going to lead to no forward movement and just a lot of aggression aimed at me.

So ducking is completely appropriate. But so is just really baldly stating what you're perceiving. And leaving it at that without a demand. Leaving it in the other person's court to do something with or not.

Rather than trying to strategize and get something, just say what it is and then leave. And see what happens. Sometimes people that are in these states of tension where their automatic reaction to something is anger or rage, if you just say something and then leave, that gives them time to think about it and digest it in a different way.

But you have to get to the place where you aren't asking for anything. Don't try to negotiate or solve the situation, and then they'll either come back to you with something or not. But it will change the energy of the situation, for sure.


Photo by Vlad Shapochnikov



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