The Search for Fulfillment
The first chapter from my upcoming book "Meditation Is Not What You Think"...
All human beings seek love, happiness and fulfillment and release from suffering and unhappiness. Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, male or female, British, Portuguese, Colombian or Chinese, we all experience this irrepressible longing for true happiness, true love, and true fulfillment. This mysterious urge, which seems to be inseparable from our experience of embodiment as human beings, propels us into the world of experience, shapes our individual and collective destiny and defines our restless search for meaning, significance and completion.
Your picking up and beginning to read this book on Meditation and Spiritual Awakening is an obvious expression of this search for fulfillment, for greater understanding and growth, for a wider and deeper life. And clearly this longing is now directing you beyond the habitual desires and preoccupations of conventional “worldly” life toward the discovery and realization of higher spiritual potentials, otherwise you would not even be attracted to such a book. But before I get into exploring those subjects specifically, I first want to invite you to join me in taking a wide-angle view of our universal trajectory through life and the nature of the human predicament and its search for happiness, fulfillment and love. This exploration will help to contextualize and clarify what I want to share with you about Meditation and, what I am going to call, the Awakening Process.
So to begin let us consider a brief history of what has transpired in our, and everyone else’s, human experience in terms of fundamental adaption to the life conditions of this world in which we all have mysteriously found ourselves. Firstly we will wind back the tape to the beginning of our current embodiment here on planet Earth…
We appeared here through a dramatic process called “birth” without a clue as to our origins and having made no conscious choice to be here of which we were even vaguely aware. The shock of being forcibly ejected from the all-encompassing warmth and preconscious contentment we enjoyed in our mother’s womb into the jarring, gaudy, shifting lights, shapes and sounds of the manifest world caused us to contract in primal fear and to cry uncontrollably. As we felt the comfort and womb-like warmth of our mother’s body, the reverberations of this trauma would subside and we would cease our crying and open our eyes to gaze upon the scene before us. Unknowingly radiating the pure, delicate, translucent light and fragrance of our undifferentiated consciousness and uncorrupted innocence, we bathed those who beheld us with our blessing and we were bathed in return by the cooing delight and adoration of our parents and other beings that beheld us.
As unselfconsciously happy and content as we were as babies much of the time, the psychic residue from the vital shock of our birth remained and began to contract in upon itself with the onset of our incipient awareness of our vulnerable state of bodily separateness. As we fed upon our mother’s breast we were instinctually informed of this vulnerability and separation from any sense of an Absolute Sustaining Reality. Thus when the sense of bodily pleasure arose through feeding, it was accepted as our primary consolation or “reward” for undertaking the ordeal of incarnation.
This inevitable rite of passage from the baby’s preconscious undifferentiated experience into the early stages of the process of individuation also brought with it our first emotional experiences of fearful pain or painful fear in tandem with a preconscious sense of deficiency or lack, the sense that we were hungry and therefore needed to be fed and protected. But as we developed this hunger was not only purely instinctual and physical, not only for the soothing ambrosia of our mother’s milk and the warm glow of womb-like bodily comfort, it was also an emerging emotional hunger. It was by turns an unconscious longing for the “paradise lost” of our previously undifferentiated state and an craving for the gratification of all kinds of newly arising impulses that cascaded upon us as we began to interact with the spectrum of experience manifest life presented to us. This shift signaled the period that is often described as the “terrible twos”, when the child is overwhelmed by impulsive emotional needs that demand immediate fulfillment. And we all know what happens when the child does not or cannot get the immediate gratification it hungers for!
Of course that is not the whole story as we also evinced spontaneous delight and disarming curiosity, as all children do in their unselfconscious innocence and playfulness. But as our young personality grew into its incipient awareness of itself as a distinct social being, sharing life in an expanded sphere of relations, this also brought with it a growing sense of separateness and deficiency created by this contraction of painful fear or fearful pain. All of our relationships were experienced from this sense of dependency and the reluctance to accept the situation of individual existence. We gradually learned that we could not ultimately depend on any of our relations for constant love, support, attention and sustenance and thus we began to feel anxious and betrayed. We would sulk, we would complain and we would break out in uncontrollable tantrums dramatizing our despair and the primal wound of “You do not love me!” And in conjunction with that, the movement of seeking for the remedy for this pain of isolation, of unhappiness, of abandonment and betrayal was set in motion.
As this painful process of individuation developed we began to consciously make the connection between the acquisition of our desired object, person or activity and relief from the pain and deficiency of separate existence. This correlation between the acquisition of objects, activities and relationships and the experience of happiness and fulfillment was then, as it was and is in all developing human beings, gradually established in our psychophysical lives as a foundational pattern.
As we grew through the stages of our instinctive vital adaptation to the world as a baby and young child, then into our early emotional and sexual development as boys and girls, which occurred in tandem with the development of our glandular and hormonal system, we then began to inhabit our verbal mentality and capacity for the intentional directing of attention or “free will”. This stage marked the transition to rudimentary human autonomy wherein the first two stages were gradually adapted to a practical and analytical intelligence and an informed will or intention that progressively enabled us to gain a degree of responsibility over our vital lives. And undergirding and paralleling this more pronounced individuation was the continuing contractive process of self-definition founded upon this primary patterning of separation, lack and seeking for fulfillment. In this way this conditioned momentum gradually became hardwired, first into the physical, vital and emotional, and then the intentional and mental levels of our being, and it created, and still creates, in every moment, the felt sense of an “I” as a subject that is inward to the body.
So we can see that over the course of our development from babyhood to adulthood our sense of “I” contracted from a diffuse, unselfconscious, undefined and open-ended consciousness to a subjective point of independent awareness located somehow inside the body. For most of us that point of “I” is felt to be located inside the head behind the eyes somewhere. This inward sense of “I” then crystallized further through our interaction and adaptation to the spectrum of influences, relations and life conditions concretizing into our assumed self-identity as an adult human being. As our functions grew and matured from physical-instinctual, to emotional-impulsive, to verbal-mental-intentional, our adaption to life revolved around this recoiled position of contraction, which had its seed in the original unconscious trauma of birth. Since then all of the shocks that we have accumulated and absorbed from the unloving and unfeeling actions of others, the dehumanizing activity of our environment, and from our growing awareness of the horrors of the world, have all reinforced this primal recoil from life.
Understanding this progressive process of individuation helps us to see how it creates a kind of universal blueprint upon which our experience as autonomous human beings is based. While we are all unique human expressions that have been influenced and conditioned by so many different psychological and cultural factors, none of which are exactly the same in any given human lifetime, this universal blueprint is there and can be likened to our fingerprint. Our fingerprints are all unique, but we all have a fingerprint and they all look pretty much the same until we look at them more closely. In other words, despite the fact that we do indeed individuate and do become apparently distinct and unique through that process, we also all share one basic human condition.
So to summarize, this pattern of separation, recoil and reaction to birth and to life and the compensating conditioned movement of the inner, separated “I” to seek for relief, happiness and fulfillment outside of itself in the earthly and vital domains of body, mind and world is, as we have seen, embedded in us through the stages of our psychophysical adaption and development. And it is our largely unconscious identification with this pattern that marks what we could call the “conventional” pursuit of love, happiness and fulfillment, or the first form of humanity’s Great Search.
The first Great Search is, to varying degrees, the expression of the common or “worldly” adult man or woman who is never happy by tendency due to their problematic obsessions with the earthly domains of power, wealth, work, family, romance, sex, food and various forms of distraction and intoxication, commonly referred to as “entertainment”. They also tend to relieve the deep sense of meaninglessness and alienation that they intuitively feel undergirding their existence, by exclusively attaching themselves to various political, national, racial and religious belief systems, and other collective identifications (like football teams for example!) in order to feel some sense of wider belonging and consolation in an unpredictable and fragmented world. Because the energy and attention of the common man or woman is habitually focused on the earthly and vital domains of existence, they tend to be endlessly lost in thought, constantly preoccupied with the problems and difficulties of daily life, and at the mercy of random emotional impulses and physical cravings of all kinds. Thus they generally live a discontented, restless and enervating life that is rooted in a more or less constant process of acquisition, manipulation and exploitation of experience.
Along with the developing capacity for self-conscious intelligence that emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood, some more sensitive people may begin to glimpse the hard truth of impermanence. They may notice momentarily that even if they do manage to experience or possess their desired object, relationship or activity, the happiness and fulfillment that it provides gradually tends to fade over time. They may feel how once the “honeymoon” period is over, once they have satiated themselves and possessed the alluring object or person or experience of their desire, that their acquisition of pleasure gradually turns into some subtle or gross form of discontent or pain. But rather than stay with this disconcerting sense of emptiness and consciously acknowledge its presence they usually instinctively fall back once again into the deeply conditioned pattern of seeking for stimulation, gratification and fulfillment in the promise of yet another object, relationship or activity. Thus this pattern of compulsively seeking one object, relationship or activity after another in an attempt to secure enduring happiness and fulfillment, and to avoid the conscious confrontation with our underlying dissatisfaction and suffering, is the basic repeating pattern that almost all human beings remain unconsciously enmeshed in for their entire lives.