Guest blog by Ben van Geest, Ph.D. (Twitter: @BenVanGeest)
When you’re ninety and quietly evaluating your life in your rocking chair, many things that you right now regard as being of major importance will most probably not matter anymore. What matters is how much unconditional love you have been able to express during your lifetime, to help make yourself and others happy. This is seen as a major indicator of who you’ve become as a person. We find that many times we did not choose love. But who is this person that made these choices?
We all try hard to find meaningful occupations to make a valuable contribution to durable ‘growth’ of the world and of our personality. We plan a career, we raise children in a responsible way, we eat consciously, we practice sports, we join workshops and self-study groups, we read books about personal development and spirituality. We live a very busy life to convince ourselves that at the end of it, we’ve employed the time that was given us in an ‘optimal’ way. And yet, at the end of our life, the importance of all of these things becomes rather relative. So why do we pursue these ‘achievement’ goals so passionately? And just who is it that decides to pursue such goals?
Psychology and psychiatry have been exploring such questions for a long time, and have found some useful ingredients of the answer. Most of us are aware of the split we all share, in the sense of what is conscious and what is unconscious. Our mind is very ingenious at denying and repressing what we do not want to see in ourselves, and rendering it ‘unconscious’ – e.g., our nagging fear that we might be intrinsically inadequate; our depression at never having received the love from our parents that we feel we deserve; our anger at everyone and everything in the world that doesn’t meet our needs; the list goes on and on. We decide to make as much as possible out of life in an uncontrollable world. We get frustrated when fear, anger and/or depression resurface from time to time, for reasons most of us have no real clue about, because it has been made unconscious.
It is only when people start to really examine the unconscious part of their minds that they begin to see mechanisms such as repression and projection. For example, I experience anger at this particular person for failing to do this or that, and this often turns out to be a projection of something that I refuse to see in myself. I learn to see that my anger is really geared towards myself. We come to see that the unconscious part of us is the result of active conditioning that began since we were infants, if not before that. This conditioning becomes a major chauffeur on our life’s path as we strive to achieve something meaningful in our lifetime (conscious) and thereby desperately try to receive the missed-out love after all (unconscious). It also means that we our life’s destination is reached largely on auto-pilot.
What more and more people are beginning to discover is that we have a split mind of a quite different order than the well-known conscious/unconscious divide: we have both a conditioned mind and an unconditioned mind. The conditioned mind is the set of conscious and unconscious values, beliefs, choices and thoughts that we think make up our personality. The unconditioned mind is literally free of any conditioning and will always be so. This usually remains out of our daily awareness. Things are changing, though. Since the popularization of techniques such as meditation, Mindfulness, and Presencing, the unconditioned part of our mind comes into focus. The Maya transgression date of December 2012 has been a tipping point in the increased awareness of just this aspect of our mind.
So what characterizes this unconditioned part of our mind? It’s like an observer that does not judge, but merely watches and accepts. This observer knows not of fear, anger or depression. In spirituality, the conditioned part of us is more or less equated with the ego (not the Freudian notion of ego, but the far Eastern notion of ego), and the unconditioned part is linked to intuition, or to otherworldly outside-time-space concepts such as Big Mind, Inner Teacher, Holy Spirit, or even God.
Just because we’re not aware of it doesn’t mean that the unconditioned part of our mind hasn’t always been there. The old sages of India already explored this fascinating aspect of our minds a few thousand years ago. Needless to say, spirituality regards our unconditioned mind as the essence of who we are, our true reality, timeless and free, while the conditioned part of our mind is regarded as a feeble play to which we return lifetime after lifetime until we really choose to end the play and hear only this Inner Teacher. This relates to the often talked-about notion of Karma, in which the solving of our own guilt thoughts plays a central role. When we finally do choose this path, we do not materialize anymore and are forever at peace in undivided, unchangeable Oneness.
To science, both medical as well as psychological, this notion of oneness is unacceptable. Science is still founded on the notion of time, space, and senses that can provide us with reliable, verifiable data. Without the notion of a personality, there is no observer and nothing to be observed, which would render scientific progress meaningless. Science is still rooted in the notion that consciousness is a product of the brain, and therefore by definition bound by time, space and our sensory apparatus. Scientific research about near-death experiences that suggest that our consciousness doesn’t need a brain to survive, as well as scientific reports on remarkable healings of cancer, are systematically ignored or attacked. The unconscious reason is that if we would really delve into it, we might really discover something like an unconditioned mind outside of time and space, which would take away the very foundation of the current dualistic scientific paradigm. (Although science is making progress in, for example, quantum physics, this is still pioneering, and as yet not widely accepted.)
Moreover, science argues, why would we choose to remain in a conditioned world of time, space and senses, if true eternal peace would be there but for the choosing? Wouldn’t it be easy enough to convince ourselves that this conditioning really does not work, and then to choose to solely focus on the unconditioned mind instead? Why ever would we not make this choice once and for all? Since we obviously do not do that, non-duality is rejected as a whim.
As most of us are aware, indeed it does not work that way, as psychologists since Freud have keenly observed. The reason is that we do not want to give up our conditioning. Not only because that would make it impossible for us to function in this world, but also because it would mean giving up our notion of our individual personality, which seems to result into nothing but oblivion. We want the pain. We like our ego. Our fear and anger, depressing though they may be at times, define who we believe we are. We refuse to give that up because that would ultimately mean giving up our personal individuality, which the ego rightly interprets as its own undoing. Loudly our ego summons us not to be mindful, as this would ultimately result in annihilation. As long as we choose to focus on the conditioned part of the mind (i.e., our ego), the giving-up of our personality will not even rise in our awareness, or else be seen as preposterous. And so we try to be more happy in the world, but refuse the ‘cost’ of giving up our individuality. And so our fears and loneliness are repressed (but not gone).
As the spiritual message “A Course in Miracles” tells us, our real fear of letting go of our personality and choosing the unconditioned mind is the fear of God, our creator. At the deepest layers of our unconsciousness, we feel terribly guilty over having rejected God and making up a play of our own in time and space (since the Big Bang), in which we can play god. Or so we believe. Unconsciously we know that this play really does not work (just look at 3,000 years of miserable history) but our fear, which is really our ego’s fear, of an angry and vengeful God keeps us from re-choosing this unconditioned part of our mind which links us to The Holy Spirit, Big Mind or intuition (or whatever you call it). The ego convinces us that such a decision would mean oblivion. Spiritual paths tell us that such a decision would result in our awakening from the dream of duality. And so, the answer to the question about what we really are is: we are the decision maker: we choose either ego or Love. As spirituality nicely summarizes: “Would you rather be right (ego) or happy (Love)? For you cannot be both.”
Practicing meditation and mindfulness – i.e., choosing to be in contact with the unconditioned part of our mind – makes us realize that our outer world around us is really like our inner world. More than that, it makes us see that if we choose love & peace inside, this manifests as love & peace in the world around us as well. More and more people see that this really does work this way in real life. It is this daily practical experience, not just the reading of spiritual principles, that feeds our willingness to choose to spend more time in our unconditioned mind than time in our conditioned mind. And we begin to realize that this speeds up our own waking up from the dream of duality, ultimately leading to the Big Crunch, the end of physical rebirth, the end of time, the counterpart of the Big Bang. This is the waking up of life as a whole, which is only separated in this dualistic dream of time and space. From outside time and space, this dream is already over, since time is holographic, not linear. So in your rocking chair, mindfully evaluating your life, you can conclude that there is nothing to fear at all, but there is something to choose: the choice for Love. And this ends the cycle of rebirth; this returns us to our creator, not to be lost but found.